Each week of Lent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Lent. The video and prayer for Palm Sunday, Cycle B, are based on Mark 14:1—15:47. The art is Caravaggio’s “The Denial of Saint Peter.”
While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, “You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.” But he denied it, saying, “I do not know or understand what you are talking about.” And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, “This man is one of them.” But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, “Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.” But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know this man you are talking about.” At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, “Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.” And he broke down and wept.
The union in openness of body and mind and heart that is prayer begins with attention to each.
First your body: Sit upright, legs crossed or not, feet on the floor or not, lower back pressed against the chair. Or not. Breathe.
Now the mind: As you are able, let these words spill through the mind and down your spine into the earth. Let your thoughts puff away with each breath. As new ones come—knotted as they are with joy or pain—hold them like wounded birds. Set them aside to heal. Breathe.
And the heart: Vulnerability means able to be wounded. Of course there is resistance. Notice it. With your breath and with energy, pull back the vines and push open the gates. Breathe.
Tilt your chin up to the heavens and, with eyes open or closed, look back at the One who gazes at you with great affection.
Sustained attention in our sound bite age is among the greatest gifts we can give. Love is this gift of attention multiplied by time.
One aim, perhaps the central aim, of those oft-referenced Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius is to stir up our own love for Jesus by using this same formula: Attention x Time = Love. We practice over and again giving Jesus the gift of attention to his words, to his healings, to his labors, to his rest—all aimed at the interior computation of this formula.
- When is it easy for you to give your attention? To whom?
- What distracts you from giving this gift?
- What happens to you when you give sustained attention to a person over time? How does it make you feel about him or her? About you?
Perhaps the greatest sign that our attention has been multiplied into love is our willingness to join the one to whom we have attended in her or his suffering.
It is just this sign that Peter, clenched hands pointed inwards, refuses to give in today’s Gospel.
- What is it like to give your attention to Peter, to the furrows of fear on his brow or the pinch of his eyebrows above his nose?
- What tone animates his words to the maid: “I neither know nor understand…”?
- What is he feeling in the darkness as his heart pounds beneath his robes?
- Let your attention return for a moment to yourself. Are there memories that rise to surface of your own mind as you consider Peter? Are there times you have felt similarly?
- Are there times you have turned your back on that which time and attention has taught you to love?
If we are attentive, we will notice two betrayals in the long Passion narrative: Peter’s and Judas’s. One betrays Jesus with denials in the darkness, the other with a kiss.
But the real difference between Peter and Judas is not in their mode of betrayal; it is in whether they are willing to accept forgiveness. Judas’s hands, we might imagine, remained closed fists; his broken heart remained sealed. Peter’s self-accusatory hands, however (eventually, much later, at the seashore after a meal), were able to open. He was able to weep at what he had done.
- Look again at Peter in the painting. Look at him as Jesus might have looked at him. What feelings arise in your heart? Betrayal? Resignation? Sorrow? Love?
- Was Jesus, even in such a moment of darkness, able to give this beloved disciple his attention?
- How might Peter have responded to such attention even after the cock had crowed? How might you respond?
- What do you want to say to the One on whom our hearts have been trained for so long about the times we have taken our attention away?
Speak with the Lord. Speak with him about any memories that have arisen, about any denials or any hesitations you feel in being forgiven. Speak with him as one friend speaks to another about what has happened in your prayer.
Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.