I went to my spiritual director on Wednesday. I’m trying to think of a spiritual director as a guru for Christians. It was strongly recommended that I find a spiritual director because I had started the process to decide if I was being called to the ordained ministry in my church, specifically as a deacon. While that process is on hold, I’m still going to my spiritual director. I find she is very helpful. It is like therapy without any drugs or annoying office music.
We talk about all sorts of things, and a lot of them don’t seem to have anything to do with getting closer or farther away from God. She’s stated that her goal is for me to have “intimacy with Jesus.” These words are totally foreign to me as an Episcopalian. We don’t talk about Jesus being our buddy and pal in church. We don’t talk about inviting him into our hearts. We talk about him, sure, but we don’t really talk with him. We certainly don’t invite him to hang out with us.
She offered me a thought exercise yesterday that I found to be very powerful. Think of the story of Zacchaeus in the 19th chapter of the book of Luke. He was the short tax collector who wanted to see Jesus in the crowd, so he ran up ahead and climbed up a tree. Jesus saw him up the tree and called for him to come down and then invited Himself over to Zacchaeus’ house to have supper. Now that you have the story in mind – imagine that you are Zacchaeus. Imagine climbing up that tree. Imagine Jesus looking at you, noticing you up in that tree. Imagine how you would feel. Imagine him saying he wants to come over to your house to have supper. Your house. With you.
Try to get over the terror that your house isn’t clean enough. Do you have enough food? Where will everybody sit? Feel through how will Jesus respond to this. Remember, this is Jesus. He made a feast out of a few loaves of bread and some fish. He can handle half of a leftover hamburger and black olive pizza and two bottles of Killian’s.
That is the kind of intimacy that she is aiming for. To see Jesus as a real person who wants to be with you. Who wants to come over and spend time with you. Her recommendation is to invite him into everything you do, all day long.
I didn’t go right to work that day after seeing her. I went to tutor ESL kindergarteners, teaching them English. I think Jesus is totally down with that idea, so I had no problem inviting him along. I think Jesus is all about welcoming the stranger and making him feel at home.
Then I went to work. So I invited Jesus to hang out there too. Part of my job that day was cleaning up damaged books. I felt a little weird inviting him to hang out with me while I was cleaning muddy books. I felt a little weird inviting him into being with me while going through the mundane task of checking in armload after armload of books and movies that get returned. But then I thought about it. I like hanging out with my husband. Perhaps this is the same kind of thing. Real friends just like being with you, no matter what you are doing.
I’m OK with the idea of looking for Jesus in other people. This is seeing them in the way that Mother Theresa did – that every person was Jesus in disguise. I’m also OK with serving every person as if I was Jesus. This is serving them in the way that Saint Theresa of Avila did. She said that Christ has no hands or feet on this Earth but hers. The idea is to literally be the Body of Christ.
But I feel odd about inviting Jesus in to everything in my life. This sounds selfish of me to ask. Surely He has better things to do. Surely He has other places to be. Now I don’t think I’m proud. I eat leftovers. I regularly shop at Goodwill. I ask for financial assistance when I need it. But to ask Jesus to be with me, all the time? Isn’t that needy?
When I was writing this I felt the answer. He’s bigger than I can imagine. He is everywhere. He can handle being with me and with everyone else who needs him. And we all need him, even if we think we don’t. Even if we think we’ve got it all covered and everything is fine. Especially then.
I suspect Jesus wants to be with us, to be invited into everything we do, all the time. I suspect he’d love to be with us in our joyful moments as well as our sad ones. He’s just like a good friend – you share birthdays and graduations with them, but you also share the news of your cancer diagnosis and the funeral of your parents. Real friends want to be with you all the time. They may not know what to do in those hard situations, but they know that just being around is helpful.
I thought of those people who refuse to take Communion because they feel unworthy. I remember a conversation at church with a friend who didn’t want to let the priest wash her feet on Maundy Thursday. I think of both things like this – it is like being invited over to a friend’s house and then refusing their hospitality. They have made lemon and ginger tea and cooked up some fine snickerdoodles for me. And I say I’m not hungry? Actually, I am hungry, but I think I’m being polite by refusing. What really is polite is to eat the cookies and drink the tea and say thank you. To refuse hospitality is rude. They went to the trouble for you. They want to make you happy – and you can make them happy by drinking the tea and eating the cookies that they went to the trouble of making for you.
So in the same way it is polite is to accept the friendship that Jesus wants to offer. Again, this is a totally foreign concept in every Episcopal Church I’ve been to. I don’t know why. I hear that this isn’t the case in all Episcopal Churches. I know it is very Pentecostal, but I’m too Orthodox to think I’d enjoy that kind of service. I like the ritual, I admit it. But I digress. Perhaps if more people were introduced to this concept they’d open up to it. I certainly think it is a good idea. I just had to be told about it. So I’m telling you.
So I invited Him into every hard thing yesterday. I invited Him to help me with my painful feelings, and feelings that I’m uncomfortable with. I saw a cover of People magazine that talked about an actress’s “brave goodbye.” It was a story about her death from cancer. I was reminded of my Mom’s death from cancer and got angry at how her death was just as sad but nobody knew about it. She wasn’t mourned by thousands of people. And then I started to think about all the other people who die anonymously. There is no reason that a celebrity’s death is more heartwrenching. I remembered – invite Jesus in. So He stood with me with those feelings of hurt and loss and betrayal and pain. He stands with me now as I remember those feelings.
This is part of what we are to do. This is part of what I learned in the pastoral care class. We aren’t there to solve problems. We are there to listen. We are there to be there. We are there so people aren’t alone in their times of pain and loss and darkness. But in order for me to learn how to be there for someone else, I have to learn how to let Jesus be there for me.
Perhaps part of my problem is I’m not sure how to be a friend. Perhaps part of my problem is I don’t know how to be on the receiving end of a friendship. I’ve spent so much of my life with people who I thought were friends who it turned out were only around when they needed me. When I had a problem they vanished, like a backwards version of Casper the friendly ghost. I remember several people saying after my parents died that they didn’t know what to do for me. So they didn’t do anything. They didn’t even call like usual. They left me alone. So I learned how to stand on my own.
I think I’ve been that way a lot with Jesus. I’ve seen him as an idea, a historical figure, instead of a real person who is immediately available. I’ve seen him as out there, instead of in here, in my heart, in my life. This is a work in progress.
(I’ve intentionally not capitalized the pronoun “him” in here, in referring to Jesus. I’m trying to not distance him by using it that way.)