This post is based on Week Seven of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.
I never seemed to have enough bug spray in Bolivia. Not that it really mattered—the mosquitos were supercharged. They’d bite clear through my jeans, and I’d have these welts up and down my legs. Mosquitos aren’t known for playing fairly.
This is what I was focused on when I should have been praying the Stations of the Cross. We trudged through the muck of the farming community—squelch, squirt, squelch—holding our flashlights as we moved from one home to the next. It was dark, my boots were covered in mud, and the omnipresent buzz of the mosquito swarm hovered all around us like the Holy Spirit itself.
En el nombre del Padre…
The Stations of the Cross are a beautiful invitation to prayer and contemplation. They invite us into the story of Jesus’ journey to Calvary and challenge us to walk in his footsteps, to look to the crowd in hope and compassion and fear, and to suffer under the weight of the wood of the Cross. There’s something uniquely Ignatian about this traditional prayer experience; we see ourselves with Jesus in the story.
And each year, we ask ourselves again: Am I Simon? Am I Veronica? Or am I one of the nameless members of the crowd, too afraid to speak up, to reach out?
But until that evening in Bolivia, in that small farming community a few hours outside of Santa Cruz, my experience of the Stations had been confined to cozy chapels and air-conditioned churches. The most uncomfortable I ever felt was a knee on the hard marble—and that, for just a moment.
Those Bolivian Stations set a new record.
At least there are only 14, I thought, clutching my well-worn prayer booklet and shuffling to the next house. One neighbor after another stepped out to the front porch, leading us in prayer.
Here’s the thing, though: We didn’t stop at 14. We didn’t stop at 21. We blew right past 30.
“What’s this station?” I muttered. “Washington crosses the Delaware?”
The particular beats of the Passion story melted away into simple prayers. We no longer named a moment from the life of Jesus but rather named the neighbor hosting our ever-growing, never-ending parade of pray-ers.
And the mosquitos buzzed, and my boots squelched, and I had completely sweat through my t-shirt. Eventually, I just headed home.
In the Third Week of the Spiritual Exercises, we’re invited to consider the Passion and Death of Jesus. We spend time walking the same road to Calvary. And we’re invited to place ourselves in the story, to engage our friend Jesus as he struggles and suffers and ultimately dies.
The grace we ask for as we pray through the Way of the Cross is an important one: “sorrow with Christ in sorrow; a broken spirit with Christ so broken; tears; and interior suffering because of the great suffering which Christ endured for me.” (Spiritual Exercises 203)
It’s personal. Jesus isn’t dying in the abstract; Jesus is carrying this burden because of the love he has for me. I am part of the story.
And my response—our response—should not be an exercise in navel-gazing but sorrow and tears for Christ. He looks to us; we look to him. And we hold that gaze.
As we walk the Way of the Cross in our time and in our own way, it’s very tempting to give in to those distractions that keep us gazing inward: the buzzing mosquitos, the dirty shoes.
“I just have to tend to this thing first; then I can be present to your need.”
But Jesus doesn’t want us neat and tidy, welt-free and air-conditioned on the road to Calvary. We’re invited to sink into the moment and the very real concerns we have now—big and small—as we accompany him to the Cross.
Because the road, really, is unending. We know from our lived experience that the Way of the Cross isn’t 14 easy steps; it’s one heartache after another, and the end is so often nowhere in sight. We blow right past station 30 and just keep going.
But if we have the wisdom to look up and out and away from those buzzing irritations that scream for our attention, we see a growing cloud of witnesses, accompanying one another, praying for one another, carrying one another along, light standing resolute against the darkness.
The sorrow Christ endured for me so seamlessly becomes the sorrow Christ endures for all of us, everywhere, always. And we make our response in love.
Image by uroburos from Pixabay.