“There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle. The other is as though everything is a miracle.” — Albert Einstein
The campus chimes begin to toll as I step out onto the labyrinth at University of Central Oklahoma, one, two, three, four, five o’clock. A lovely, simple melody follows, and I continue on the red winding path. The music ends, and the chimes from a nearby church echo the same tune back, then play a hymn. It is Good Friday and the campus is deserted; I love the quiet and the peaceful setting. Perfect for my walking meditation today. I am in the first hour of a four-hour silent retreat and prayer vigil.
As I walk I think back over the past six months; I have been part of a group engaged in the spiritual exercises of St Ignatius. This daily retreat focuses on the entire life of Jesus and places the participant emotionally into scenes of his life with prayer, meditation, contemplation, and journaling. Total immersion. I first participated in the exercises sixteen years ago, and as my first experience, this one has been intimate, imbued with spiritual integrity, tolerance, and revelation.
Seldom have I been able to draw an analogy between my life and the life of Jesus. It’s been difficult to fathom what the life of the Son of God (I can hear tympani drums.) would have to do with my life. The Son of God. What could I conceivably have in common with him? It is overwhelming to think of his divinity, blamelessness, patience, and wisdom. After all, he’s Holy, and I’m Not-So-Much.
Life can be unsteady for those of us missing the “Holy” gene. My own life is sprinkled with lesson after lesson learned in the most trying way possible; sometimes we press up against life harshly. We can learn through deep relationship and earned spiritual maturity or through painful experience. The latter, I know well.
What has expanded my perspective recently is grasping the thread flowing between Jesus the man and my own humanity. As long as I regarded him as singularly divine, the reach was too immense to allow me to feel that deep connection. Jesus was not particularly accessible to me.
Over the past months of meditation, examination, sharing and relationship our group of like-minded souls has wondered how God looks upon us. On occasion, we laugh at our own antics, often so flawed, raw, and self-concerned. We conclude that God must get a kick out of us too. Spirit knows we are doing the best we can; it is in fact, our humanity that is treasured.
Last month we shared our meditations on the early ministry of Jesus-going into Galilee to preach to anyone who would listen and to recruit some disciples.
This time I was struck by the similarity between his profession and mine. Jesus was a minister and carpenter, but also a salesperson, like me. From all appearances, his sales figures were substantially better than mine. But still, so similar. Jesus made cold calls, just like me. He strolled into villages where no one knew him, introduced himself, established rapport with folks, gained their trust, and sold them on making massive changes in their lives. What a tough product to sell!
Selling takes tremendous energy and tough-mindedness, especially when you are making cold calls all day each day. For those who have never made sales calls, a cold call is the most difficult type of in-person sales call. You walk into a business you have never set foot in and speak with someone you have never met about a concept they are unfamiliar with, which will cost them. They don’t think they need your help but starting from scratch, you manage to sell them something. It is not for the faint of heart.
This requires a certain kind of energy and sometimes personality. As an introvert, I employ a special mojo to get through it. I wonder if Jesus was an introvert too, and like me had to call on the fringes of his comfort zone.
How he felt walking into a new village and introducing himself, I can imagine. Did he have butterflies in his tummy as he approached a group of leaders or wealthy residents? Did he straighten his hair in place so he could look pulled together? Did he ever walk around the block to summon courage before he could go up to them? Did he occasionally walk away thinking to himself, “I need a do-over on that one!”
He felt the sting of rejection when his words were discounted, or folks shooed him away, and exhilaration when someone actually welcomed him into conversation.
Like me, Jesus also knew betrayal by loved one, and it broke his heart. I remember how deeply injured and sad I was when a loved one betrayed me. I’ve been on a first name basis with chronic physical pain now for twenty-six years and experienced multiple instances of acute severe pain. These pale in comparison to the emotional trauma of betrayal. Like Jesus, I was neither shocked nor surprised, but that inner knowing does not shield you from heartache, it heightens it. The reality of what you must face going forward fills you with a sense of dread. These feelings Jesus and I shared.
Jesus, the man, was smart, verbally adept, direct, caring, and uniquely faithful. He knew exactly what to say and how to say it. He was honest to a fault; potential followers can spot dishonesty in an instant and don’t have to put up with it. He was most assuredly out-of-step with others of his time. This average mortal knows that feeling well.
When in Matthew 11 Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden.” he had been there, done that. He knew the bite of winter’s cold wind and the ache of sore shoulders from working long hours. He also knew the sweet smell of his mother’s bread baking and had seen love reflected back at him when he looked into the eyes of siblings.
Jesus, the man, came to show us how to live differently and live deeply, to live better, more genuine lives. My favorite prayer from the St Ignatius exercises is the Anima Christie. I often pray its phrase, “Jesus, may all that is you flow into me.” Perhaps if it did, not only would my life unfold with strength, spiritual maturity, and authenticity, but my sales numbers would go up.
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. ― Marianne Williamson, A Return to Love: Reflections on the Principles of “A Course in Miracles.”