Be the child

A first crack at the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius


A couple of posts back I reflected on Luke 10:21, when Jesus praises the “Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and the intelligent and have revealed them to infants; yes, Father, for such was your gracious will.”

I reflected on the infant as a symbol of surrender, of relying through absolute faith on God’s provision, and surrendering, as an infant does to its parents, to God’s will.

Last night, Thursday, Aug. 8, at Evening Prayer, my attention focused on this passage from the Gospel reading:

They came to Capernaum. When he was in the house, he asked them, “What were you arguing about on the road?” 34 But they kept quiet because on the way they had argued about who was the greatest.

35 Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”

36 He took a little child whom he placed among them. Taking the child in his arms, he said to them, 37 “Whoever welcomes one of these little children in my name welcomes me; and whoever welcomes me does not welcome me but the one who sent me.”

“If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea. Mark 9:33-37,42

My reflection on this passage was, no doubt, colored by my thoughts, and the thoughts of a great many of us, about the children affected by our nation’s current immigration policies, and the ways we enforce them. It was affected by the research I did earlier in the afternoon on childhood poverty and hunger in our obscenely wealthy nation. It was affected by the all-too-routine article my colleague was writing about the latest child molester caught by police — the tip of the iceberg of physical, emotional and sexual abuse suffered by children in our community.

All of these were rattling around in my head, on some level, when I sat down last night to pray. And they all came rushing to the surface when I read this passage.

We all, as humans, want to be “great.” In America, we have a constant desire, like the disciples in this passage, to be “the greatest.” As the Gospel is wont to do, this passage turns us on our ear. If we want to be great, we must be the least. If we want to be first, we must be last. We are only as great as the least servant we serve. We are only as grand as the smallest, poorest, most despondent child we love and serve. That does not speak very well for our society.

My next inclination probably would have been to start looking for necks — including my own — that deserved millstones. But, instead, I dug into a new prayer practice I am just beginning to work with — the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. This is a method we are using in my aspirancy group to spiritually prepare us for the journey toward possible ordination. I want to expound on the methodology in another post, but for now, suffice to say it involves reading the Scripture, meditating on it, reading it again, contemplating it, then immediately journaling what comes to mind.

I’d like to simply share the reflection that came to me on this passage last night. It is only slightly smoothed from the stream-of-consciousness mess I ink-vomited into my notebook last night, so bear with me.

  • Love is the source of all. The child in Jesus’ lap is love. To love, we must be vulnerable, like the child. We have to be vulnerable with each other. This demands selflessness.
  • Like the child, we must be fragile, open-hearted, willing to listen, ready to surrender to God’s will and constantly relying on God’s provision, sure, in faith, it will come — even if it’s not what we thought we needed.

Then, while journaling, the child became those children I carried into my prayer nook. The migrant. The refugee. The destitute. The hungry. The abused.

  • As I approach Jesus, the child pulls away from me. He pulls away from the darkness in my own heart. He pulls away from the coldness of heart in our society. He pulls away from anything that would take him from Christ, and finds love, and safety in the arms of Jesus.
  • I am that child, pulling away from myself. I am constantly in a struggle between being that child, and the influences of this world that would draw me from the love and safety of Christ, of complete surrender, as a child, to God.

I want to be that child. I want to rest, in complete surrender, in the arms of Christ. And I never want to let anything tear me away. But, only I can refuse the forces that would pull me away. I know only in that state of vulnerable surrender can I pray to tap into the true strength of Christ within me, and in any small measure let my life become the hands and feet of Christ in a hurting world. I pray, today, to step toward that goal.

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, we are your children. We know you love us, and provide for us. We know we do not care for your children, our brothers and sisters, as we should. We beg your forgiveness, and ask your help in doing better — as a society, as a Church and as individuals. Give us the strength, dear Lord, to fully surrender to you. In that surrender, use us as instruments of  your peace, to create a better world, and to ultimately help build your Kingdom. Fire within us the Spirit of Love, and make us worthy vessels of your Love and Grace, that they may be poured into a world that sorely needs you. All this we pray in the Name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, who is eternally one with God the Creator and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Please let me know what you thought of this format. It’s not as polished as my usual style, but I am thinking that’s OK. As I go through the Ignatian Exercises, I’d like to share some of these reflections. And, I welcome feedback from those more experienced in this and other forms of prayer. God bless you all.

3 thoughts on “Be the child

  1. James, I believe people are genuinely interested in prayer–as in how one prays. People often ask me what happens during my prayer time, and I explain as best I can. Writing about it can be more difficult (for me) because prayer is often not a straight line. I read scripture and a memory comes and then I sit with that memory trying to be open to the message for me right now. I think that is the beauty of Ignatian prayer–it is immediate and it engages all the senses. About the format, it seems that when you switch to the prayer (at the end) you move away from the “I” of your prayer (“I want to be that child…”) to something more universal (“We…universal…”) Perhaps sticking with your own prayer for yourself will help clarify the message of your prayer time for you (just my thoughts). thanks for sharing.

    • Madeline, thank you for your feedback. Yes, I unconsciously switched gears there at the end. Prayer should be intimate (I) and I tried to make it universal (We). Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Do you practice Ignatian prayer? It is new to me … but loving it.

  2. James, it takes great courage, vulnerability, and generosity of spirit to share your prayer online as you’re doing. I applaud you for wanting to bear witness to the work of God through your prayers.

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