Yesterday I questioned whether, with practice in prayer, the distinction between those choices which are life-giving and those which are not becomes more apparent.
I often think, when I ponder that question, about a couple of people close to me who have made decisions which they, and many around them, would identify as life-giving, but which have had a draining, and sometimes even devastating, effect on others. Had they chosen otherwise, had they moved counter to their immediate inclinations, they might have discovered a potentially more generous life for both themselves and those for whom they they care. (And then, yes, I wonder about my own proclivity for poor choices and its effect upon others.)
This morning, I found myself imagining Jesus on this same morning in his own life, the Monday prior to what we now call Palm Sunday. Awakening, rising, beginning his day with a heavy heart, a frightened heart. Making his plans and preparations for his final walk toward Jerusalem, knowing that, for him, God's holy city, the high place toward which the prophet envisioned all people streaming in joy and delight, would become a cauldron of torment, torture, and death.
When we read or hear those words in the Gospel of Luke, "he set his face toward Jerusalem," we may not register the depth of meaning they convey. Unless, perhaps, our lives have demanded something almost impossibly difficult of us. Unless we have been required to stand up in defiance of a weight that threatened suffocation and to place one foot in front of another with a courage we had not suspected ourselves to possess.
Then, perhaps, we have a sense of how Jesus experienced that Monday morning.
In a very short video for this morning's venture into Ignatian prayer, Paul Brian Campbell, S.J. urges us to focus on Jesus rather than upon ourselves.
In response, I reflected again on what I had only a few minutes previously been imagining about Jesus. How much easier it might have been for him to head in the other direction, to conclude that a life-giving choice for him pointed far from Jerusalem, as far as possible.
I have to use the word "might," however, because for Jesus, whose magnanimous nature had been honed in a lifetime of prayer, the decision that seemed to portend nothing more than bleak and futile suffering, the decision on which he might reasonably, from our point of view, have turned his back, was the one that would ultimately be life-giving for all.
If, when we are faced with a seemingly insurmountable and unendurable path, we look at Jesus and imagine his thoughts and words during the first days of this final week, perhaps we begin to understand how to envision hope where it seems that despair reigns, how to recognize life even in the face of death.