Friday Week 25 Year I

‘Jesus was praying alone in the presence of his disciples’… isn’t that a strange phrase … ‘alone in the presence of his disciples’. There’s a horizontal oddness about it as you try and imagine what the scene would have looked like: Jesus alone yet among his disciples… but there’s a vertical oddness too: how could Jesus, of all people, be alone while in prayer?
So I’ve been thinking that maybe he could … maybe he knew the kind of experience that we are only too often aware of … we are praying but it feels like we are alone. Even on a retreat where, with grace, our sense of presence outweighs and outnumbers our sense of absence – even here we know that sometimes we settle down to pray and there’s no one home, nothing happening, no one listening.
I’ve always presumed Jesus had a permanent connection – sort of spiritual broadband – but today I’m thinking maybe not. Maybe I need to take the incarnation more seriously.
If I’m right, it’s no wonder Jesus rouses himself from his prayers and turns to his friends with a question of identity. ‘Who am I?’
A while ago, before he was Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams wrote a beautiful little article entitled ‘The Body’s Grace’. In it he says that we only come to know who we are as a child of God by seeing ourselves in the eyes of others. We learn we are beloved of God by discovering ourselves beloved by our friends. That’s the body’s grace – to be the place our relationship with God is revealed to us.
People often fret at the end of a retreat that the peace they have found, the stillness, the silence will all be wrecked by the rush and fluster of work and family and community and noise.
St. Ignatius invites people praying the spiritual exercises to begin their prayer each time by considering how God looks at them, how God beholds them. That way all our prayer is rooted in a sense of who we are in the eyes of God.
But we understand the gaze of God, recognise the look on God’s face, because we have seen ourselves in the eyes of many others. We have asked, with Jesus, ‘who do you say that I am?’ and been answered.
Our challenge is not to be on retreat the whole year round, not even to try and hang on to a retreat feeling, but to be like Jesus praying alone among our friends, community, family, and colleagues.