One of the great gifts of my life as an editor is the opportunity to meet and get to know the wise and compassionate people who write the books Loyola Press publishes. One of my “wise women”—also a good friend—is Elizabeth Kelly, author of one of our newest books, Jesus Approaches: What Contemporary Women Can Learn about Healing, Freedom & Joy from the Women of the New Testament. Elizabeth explores our relationship with Jesus by unpacking stories of women who encountered him in the Scriptures. She also shares moments and stories from her own life and the experiences of women she has known. Thus she offers us a past-and-present viewpoint from which to approach Jesus and allow Jesus to approach us.
The overarching theme of this book is that Jesus not only approaches us—whoever we are and whatever our situation—but also that Jesus is approachable. His posture toward us is open, loving, healing, and merciful. Jesus regards and honors us as God’s beloved.
But why do we not approach this love and mercy more often and more eagerly? Elizabeth—a teacher, retreat leader, and spiritual director—is well aware of the many factors that threaten to pull us away from Divine love:
It can be the hardest thing when intuitively it should be the easiest—to let go of the pain, to truly and completely entrust it to Jesus, to place it at the foot of the Cross, and never pick it up again. Our pain is precious to us, like the tears in Magdalene’s vial. It defines us and marks us and tells us what matters. And to let it go can feel like saying, “This doesn’t matter to me anymore.” But that’s not what Jesus is asking. He is not asking us to let go of our identity or to deny what is precious to us or to say that our pain is unimportant. Letting go is a much more nuanced and liberating maneuver of heart than that. Instead, he is asking us to give him this most precious pain so he may put comfort in its place. He is asking us to anchor our identity in him, he who is able to redeem all pain, make it worthy, powerful, transformative, a force for good in the world and in us, to give it a proper and eternal horizon. He does this because he receives it perfectly, knows it completely, carries it entirely—easily—for us. He does this because he loves us so mightily. (14)
I like a lot about Elizabeth’s writing, and one aspect that really appeals to me is her honesty, her willingness to examine life as it is and to help her readers do the same. She recognizes the honesty and wisdom of Jesus in his dealings with us.
The Samaritan woman at the well stands out in a unique way because she experienced the fullness of this arc of merciful liberation in only moments—something most of us move through in a lifetime. She was moved in part by the countercultural Christ. He was engaging the least likely imaginable: poor, outcast, sinner, woman, Samaritan. He allowed the least likely to come close and look him in the eye. He treated her like a person, someone worth his notice and attention. But even more important, he regarded her as someone who deserved to hear the truth—about who he was and who she was. He revealed himself, and he revealed her too, telling her the full truth of her life. Mercy is always this two-way street, meeting Jesus and meeting ourselves in relationship to him. (171)
Here are two nudges toward reflection:
- What prevents you from approaching Jesus? Is it pain, confusion, anger, fear, busyness?
- Choose a phrase or sentence from one of today’s excerpts, and use it for prayer and meditation.