This is one of a series of posts I’m writing this week about a retreat I attended at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY on March 3-5, 2017. The theme of the retreat was “Living Hidden in Christ with God,” a reference to Colossians 3:1-4. I can’t talk about it all in a single blog post, because there was just so much. It was an incredibly powerful weekend for me, and it is taking several blog posts to unpack it.
So, in yesterday’s post, I discussed the theme of the retreat, how the deepest part of ourselves is hidden from our consciousness, hidden even from thoughts and feelings, yet somehow accessible through intimations we receive through contemplative prayer. And how the living, risen Christ lives with us, or in us, or through us (the right preposition is hard here) in that hidden place.
Today I want to discuss briefly a few of the implications of this, a few of the ways I find this to be an important insight, a few bits of wisdom this opens to me.
One set of footprints. It means that living a life with Christ isn’t quite the way we often think of it. We often focus on being “followers of Christ,” which certainly also has scriptural foundation. But this insight allows us to shift our focus away from some sort of conscious “following” to a more mystical deep “union” with Christ. I imagined the famous Footprints poem, which describes two sets of footprints walking in the sand, mine and Christ’s. Through the insight of being hidden in Christ with God, I can picture that scene being different…only one set of footprints…because the only feet Christ has are my own.
Many sets of footprints. Or more accurately, there would be many sets of footprints, because if Christ lives in me, then Christ also lives in you. And in her. And in him. And in all people. So Christ’s footprints would be all over the sand, but the prints would be made with my feet, and your feet. Her feet and his. This means that we are all connected, in a mystical way, through the Christ who lives within us, completely and fully within me. And completely and fully within you. And therefore you and I are unified through Christ.
My breath is not poison. Do you remember when I posted a few weeks ago about my breath? I wrote this:
Breath flows into my lungs, rich with life-giving oxygen. In the lungs, this air is transformed. The oxygen enters the bloodstream through the pulmonary vessels, and is replaced by carbon dioxide, which is a poison, and needs to be exhaled. The process continues…good in, bad out. Good in, bad out. The breath in and the breath out are not the same. Health in, poison out. God’s grace comes into me, but inside me it is transformed into poison…my heart alters it, makes it dark and wrong, and what comes out through my mouth is not what came in.
Well, this way of looking at our union with Christ changes that image significantly. If Christ is within me, if Christ is at my core with me, then the breath that comes in, pure and rich, is not poisoned by me. Instead, it is replenished and revitalized by Christ. And what flows out of me is just as pure as what came in. This is really good news to me.
Recollection and Remembering. Dr. Smith discussed that a word commonly used at monasteries is recollection. In this context, the word means to “re-collect,” to see the fragemented pieces of our lives “collect together” again. Of course, in common parlance, the work recollection means remembering, but then again, look at the word remember. It’s the same word: to “re-member,” to “bring the members of the self back together.” Dr. Smith said that this is what Christ does for us: collect our diverse parts, and bring us back together. Christ is at our center, and when we focus on the center, we receive recollection, remembering, integration. The exact thing that we find so hard to come by in our fragmented, post-modern world. As I reflected on this, I realized that this process is exactly what I’ve been up to throughout my medical leave: recollecting and remembering my life, through contact with old friends and re-reading old emails; through therapy work on old wounds and traumas; through a visit to the place where I was baptized; and more. I’ve been recollecting and remembering, and God has been using that to re-collect and re-member me. This has been a great part of my healing.
The Spirit prays for us. In Romans 8:26-27, Paul writes, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (New Revised Standard Version). If the Spirit of Christ is within us, in the hidden part of us that is beyond thought and words, then perhaps when we pray, it is not only us praying. Perhaps as we flail about with our words and our feelings, the Spirit within us is simultaneously interceding with those sighs too deep for words. And our hidden inner self is praying that as well, even if we can’t “feel” it. That makes prayer seem so much more free and doable, since we can trust in God to actually pray with us.