Green Pastures, Grains of Wheat and Dirty Feet

Ignatian Spiritual Exercises
Week of Prayer #23
The Road to Calvary

Waterfall in Pisgah National Forest. A beautiful image for self-emptying love.

A posture to consider in a slight variation on Psalm 23:

I experience God, who makes me
while I lie down in green pastures.
I experience God, who leads me
as I go to the quiet waters. 
I experience God, who restores my soul. 
I experience God, who guides me
as I seek out the paths of righteousness. 

God experiences me as I sit with God. 

Following an extended period of prayer in the Exercises, are these two questions:

How did I experience God?
How did God experience me?

Since God is an ever-present reality of our existence in this current expression of life (think “I am with you always, even to the end of the age” and “I will never leave you nor forsake you”), these questions become a daily reminder that God is present. The problem is our awareness; we forget that Presence of God never leaves us. And loosing the awareness of the Presence of God gets us into a lot of trouble! As we enter into the relationship with the living God, we discover just how oblivious we have been to this Presence. These questions press us into that awareness. 

This variation on Psalm 23 came to me as I reflected on the questions. It reflects the dynamic of living in the balance of God’s part and my part. God is doing a work in me. That is God’s part. I make myself available for that work. That is my part. I have to place myself in the green pastures and beside the quiet waters, allowing God to do the transformative work in my entire being. 

This came on the day I was meditating on Jesus Triumphal Entry in Jerusalem in John 12. (The ISE has days of “repetition” in which we return to a previous passage from the week. Matthew 21:1-11 is the Triumphal Entry passage given. John 12 is not part of the week, but I felt drawn toward John’s version of the Triumphal Entry.) This is the passage that I sat with:

The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified.
Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat
falls into the ground and dies,
it remains a single grain;
but if it dies it bears much fruit. 

The Way of God is an invitation to surrender, release, letting go, emptying and submission. But it is a way of no effort. I had to sit with this for a moment. What is that feeling of ‘no effort?’ 

There is no effort in emptying oneself. It is simply a pouring out done by Another. But there is also great discomfort in it as well. I could feel myself unsettled as I considered this, but at the same time I felt grounded. I felt the discomfort in my chest, but I did not feel like I was getting overwhelmed. As Jesus prays the prayer, “Not my will but Yours be done,” He is emptying Himself of “being in very nature God,” submitting to the path of his passion. But the path he is beginning is not a comfortable one by any means. 

Effortless discomfort. Hmmm.

I think there is a growing awareness in me that the path we are invited to, the path of emptying and submission involves a release into effortlessness (effortless effort?) that is not comfortable. This is a work that God does in me in the green pastures and by quiet waters. It is a slow growing maturity that brings me to a place of release into discomfort and being ok with it. 

The meditation for the following day is John 13, when Jesus washes the disciple’s feet. The context here is so important. Jesus knows He came from God and is returning to God. He also knows that Peter is resisting this action of washing his feet, Judas is about to betray Him and all the disciples are going to abandon Him. And Jesus washes their feet. If Jesus has done this for His disciples, an example set before them, they also should do the same for one another. This is a set up for issuing the new commandment:

I give you a new commandment
that you love one another.
Just as I have loved you,
you also should love one another.
By this everyone will know that you are my disciples,
if you have love for one another. 

Loving one another cannot happen without the self-emptying work that is done in the green pastures and by the quiet waters. 

Jesus demonstrates this in the washing of their feet. He empties Himself of “being in very nature God” and washes their feet. This self-emptying movement is the prerequisite for loving one another. The two are inseparably joined together. 

With “love one another” firmly in place and its accompanying self-emptying movement, problems that are experienced in the body of Christ are addressed in a godly way and the Church moves on. Without “love one another” in place, every problem becomes a major issue to deal with and can result in division. 

I believe that God is continually inviting us into this movement of coming to the green pastures and the quiet waters, that the work of emptying (dying) can take place so that we can love one another…over and over and over again. 

And then comes the invitation to live that out with the people placed in our lives out of the abundant goodness of God. 

Self-emptying love… this is the Way of God. 

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