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Once a month…

Once a month I go and see a spiritual director. If you’re not familiar with what a spiritual director is, he or she is someone whose role it is to listen with you for the movement of the Holy Spirit in your life. It’s a simple practice really. No bells and whistles. Just intentional presence and careful, holy listening. I started this practice a few months before my renewal leave last year, as a way of preparing myself and making space in my life to listen to God, and it has been a tremendous gift to me. Once I returned from my leave, I knew that I wanted to continue.

When I walk into my spiritual director’s office each month, I have no plans for what we’re going to talk about. Or, if I do have plans, they always change. I never know what’s going to be stirred up in our conversation. We usually start by lighting a candle and then sitting in silence until I’m ready to speak. Initially I’ll ramble into some subject or other, and then he asks a question or two. It’s amazing how one simple question, posed without judgment or expectation, can open up my heart to hear God. Suddenly we’re talking about something else, something deeper, something closer to my heart than I’d realized. It’s not like he instructs me or advises me or tells me new things. All he does is pay attention and ask a question, and inevitably I end up seeing something in myself that I had forgotten was there. I end up hearing the still, small voice of God that had been whispering within me all along.

One afternoon as I sat in his office waiting for him, I turned around and saw an icon that I’d never noticed before. It was an image of the face of Jesus, and something about it gripped me. I haven’t used many icons in my prayer life, but when I saw this one I knew I wanted to spend more time with it. When he came back into his office, I asked him about it. Turns out, it is the oldest image of Jesus that we have, painted in Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai.

One thing I love about this icon is that Jesus’ face is different on each side. One half of  ghis face is painted to represent his divine nature, the other half is painted to represent his human nature. My spiritual director also suggested that one eye looks upon us with judgment, the other with grace. His gaze is piercing and loving at the same time. It is a holy and striking image, inviting us, as icons do, to gaze upon it as a window into prayer.

As we wrap up Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount this coming Sunday, we may be feeling the heaviness of the demands within it. We may feel the judging eye of Jesus upon us as we recognize our own weakness and inability to live up to these teachings.

But gazing upon us is also the loving eye of Christ, the one who came to save us because we cannot save ourselves. Yes, we are called to respond to God’s love with our very best. We are invited to choose the “narrow gate” and live a disciplined, holy life. But we will fall. We will sin. We will slip off that path again and again. That’s why we need Jesus Christ, because we cannot do it ourselves. Remember, we are “poor in spirit.”

As we move closer to the cross together, let us remember why we need it: we cannot achieve a holy life on our own. Only God’s grace can make us whole. Let us find ways in these last days of Lent, to gaze upon the face of Christ and prepare to witness again all he has done for us.