Discerning in the Experience of Impasse

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But they [the scribes and Pharisees] were beside themselves with anger.
They began to discuss with each other what they might do to Jesus.
During that time, he went off into the mountains to pray.
He spent the entire night in prayer to God. When it was day, he summoned his disciples.
He chose from among them the twelve, whom he also named apostles . . .
Luke 6: 11-13

Luke’s context for Jesus’ choosing of the apostles is as a response or reaction to his rejection by the scribes and Pharisees. There is clearly the historical significance of a change in religious authority and leadership, although the very name “apostle” suggests that the new leaders are those who are commissioned or sent out to others rather than those with power over them.

The context, however, also invites us to consider how it is that Jesus discerns the call in this experience of rejection by the scribes and Pharisees. Jesus has infuriated the recognized interpreters of the Law by his “authoritative” response to their criticism of the disciples, an authority based on his own wise and “heartfelt” understanding of the spirit and meaning of the Law. This inner authority of Jesus stands as a threat to their recognized and exalted place in the religious and cultural structure, and so the scribes and Pharisees are “beside themselves with anger” and begin to discuss “what they might do to Jesus.”

In the face of this violent reaction to himself, Jesus withdraws “into the mountains to pray.” We have no idea of what Jesus’ emotional reaction to this experience was, yet we can imagine, based on our own experience, that he may have found himself a bit overcome with anger, fear, and hurt. Such moments in our life tend to carry with them a sense of confusion, darkness and ultimately of impasse. Luke tells us that Jesus spends, “the entire night in prayer to God.” We all know the experience of how difficult it is to “sit” with the agitation of powerful negative feelings, and with the confusion and sense of impasse that they bring. Strong emotions and a sense of darkness are always pushing us to move and to react. But discernment comes out of a capacity to “step aside” from these compulsions and to remain with ourselves and our experience and the God who we trust is somehow in this experience of darkness and impasse. It is to wait in faith for the light in the darkness to show itself.

This is easier said than done. In its deepest sense, prayer is not an experience of the fanciful, of being “cheered up” in the midst of difficulty. It is rather a disposing of ourselves to be taught the will of the One whose loving direction creates and moves all. At some of life’s most critical moments, we are not discerning a choice between clear and readily understood alternatives. Rather we must sit and wait until what seems to have no future or direction begins to show its direction to us. For Jesus, as understood by Luke, the rejection of his call by the religious authorities is the situation out of which he learns that he is to chose and commission those who will become a new kind of leadership for the “new Israel.”

Ruusbroec teaches that the Spirit of God is always pursuing our spirit. So, for him, the great dynamic by which we come to be possessed by God’s love and so live out God’s will is the ongoing struggle, in our human experience, between our spirit and God’s Spirit.

In this storm of love two spirits struggle — the Spirit of God and our spirit. God, by means of the Holy Spirit, inclines himself toward us, and we are thereby touched in love; our spirit, by means of God’s activity and the amorous power, impels and inclines itself toward God, and thereby God is touched. From these two movements there arises the struggle of love, for in this most profound meeting, in this most intimate and ardent encounter, each spirit is wounded by love. These two spirits, that is, our spirit and God’s Spirit, cast a radiant light upon one another and each reveals to the other its countenance. This makes the two spirits incessantly strive after one another in love. Each demands of the other what it is, and each offers to the other and invites it to accept what it is. This makes these loving spirits lose themselves in one another. God’s touch and his giving of himself, together with our striving in love and our giving of ourselves in return–this is what sets love on a firm foundation. This flux and reflux make the spring of love overflow, so that God’s touch and our striving in love become a single love. Here a person becomes so possessed by love that he must forget both himself and God and know nothing but love.

The Spiritual Espousals, II, ii, c

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