"God comes to us disguised as our lives." –Richard Rohr
Just as thoughts must be released not once, but over and over again during contemplative prayer, so our human weaknesses and flaws must be recognized, acknowledged, and surrendered again and again in our daily lives. Perhaps this is why Jesus does not say, "Lay down your cross and follow me," but "Take up your cross and follow me." The Christian path of self-renunciation and deepening interdependence with God and others is a lifelong journey. Francis de Sales knew this and counseled Jane de Chantal, against her will, to return to and embrace the circumstances of her own life. Seeking visions and "ecstasies," Jane wanted to disappear into God, but Francis proposed instead an "ecstasy of love" lived out in humble service to others. Otherwise, her faith would remain a mere abstraction or sentiment.
"In our vulnerability we break open the compassionate heart of God in others and for others." –Jody Johnson
I encounter the limits of my solitude in an unexpected way in my own particular circumstances. I've moved to an urban monastery in Phoenix, much like our own Visitation Monastery, to continue my retreat. The vibrant community life hums all around, complete with its shadow economy: an impromptu barbershop is set up on the patio of my retreat house; a neighborhood 'restaurant' springs up in someone's garage on weekends and vanishes by Monday.
My retreat house sits at a distance from the main house. I am alone, by design, and during the day the solitude is nourishing. But as darkness sets in on my first night, I feel afraid. I try to recall the day’s scenes that bespeak a tight-knit and safe community, but it is not enough. I pick up the phone and call the main house. Sister Lydia answers. I explain what is happening and ask if I can spend the night there. "Sure, come right over," she says. Still, I feel weak and stupid, lacking in faith. If Jane’s spiritual challenge was her strong will, mine is pride, a close cousin. I gather my things, walk to the house, and sheepishly ring the doorbell. I’m greeted with a warm "Come right in; I'll show you to your room." No questions asked. This simple act of hospitality is laden with compassion and mercy, and I see clearly in this moment that I am called to do the same for others.
Live Jesus. Love now.
Jody Johnson is an oblate and formation director at Visitation Monastery in Minneapolis. She wrote her "In The Desert" series while on a two week study and prayer sabbatical. Jody also teaches contemplative practice and spiritual formation at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. This article is cross-posted from Jody's blog, with her permission.