Man of Sorrows by Albrecht Dürer
A long time ago when I was young and quite newly married, a series of events brought me completely to the end of my own resources and gave me a real thirst for knowing God. I started to read the Bible at every spare moment, and, because writing seems to be my first language, I often communicated with God in writing while I was reading Bible passages.
After a while, I found myself writing the Bible passages imaginatively, from the viewpoint of some of the characters in the stories, and as I did so, really entering into the stories as never before. By doing so, I learned more about the character of God, especially as seen in Jesus, and also more about myself and my relationship with Him, than I had ever done before. I have whole files of the handwritten pieces, beginning from more than thirty years ago.
It wasn't until many, many years later that I learned this was a well-established method of Bible reading, described by St Ignatius in his spiritual exercises, and that people had been entering into the experience of the word of God by this method for centuries. If you've never tried it, I really recommend it. It seems to be one of the ways in which the Holy Spirit slips under the radar of our human intellect and engages directly with our spirit.
I recently went on a retreat in which my pastor encouraged us to use our imaginations to engage with passages of Scripture which he had chosen for us. The passage he had selected for me was Matthew 26. 1-14, a passage I have meditated on in this way several times before. I have approached it from the viewpoints of the disciples, of Simon the Leper, of the bystanders and of the woman who anointed Jesus with her jar of pure nard. But this time I saw it in a new light, from the viewpoint of Jesus Himself. Here's what I wrote (it will probably help if you read the Bible passage before reading this):
Of course I knew.
I had known, not quite all along;
it had been a dawning realisation.
But by the time I took up the mantle of ministry
that my Father had prepared for me,
I knew how it was going to end.
I had learned to trust it to my Father
and not let it play on my mind.
But now here we were, the end almost upon us.
I tried to share with them the burden of my heart.
“Two days – only two days more.
By the time we reach Passover
I will have been handed over for crucifixion.”
“Two days, guys! Only two more days!”
Their eyes glazed over,
blind to my anguish, so that in time to come
they could truthfully say
they didn’t know what was coming.
And so I hugged my secret to myself,
the loneliest man since the dawn of creation,
and I walked those streets all by myself,
surrounded by the twelve of them
and yet utterly alone.
And when we entered Simon’s house
to sit down at his banqueting table,
I scarcely noticed the insult,
the failure to wash my feet as for an honoured guest.
I felt rather than observed it,
another pound or two added to the weight
of desolation that pressed down on my shoulders.
But then, like a ray of light from God’s throne,
She crept shyly in, hugging the shadows,
shuffling round the walls to where I sat.
She broke open her soul in the form of an alabaster jar
and poured liquid worship over me.
And in that moment I remembered,
I was not alone; I had a Father who would never leave me.
I was not alone.
The sovereign Ruler of the Universe had seen
the shattered fragments of my spirit
and, through this lowliest of women,
had bathed me in His love.
The others were mumbling, something about the poor.
I wasn’t listening.
I was like a man rescued from the wreck
Of a fishing vessel in the nick of time,
Just before the waters closed over his head.
I reached out, took her hand in mine,
smiled a smile of relief and gratitude,
and told them, “Wherever the Gospel is preached,
this woman will be remembered
for the beautiful gift she has given me.”
And looking round, I could see they still didn’t get it.
But it didn’t matter any more.
As a postscript to this, my pastor reminded me of something when he read what I had written. What I had seen in this passage was the fact that when Jesus' closest friends were missing the moment and failing to read Jesus' feelings, God wasn't. And he pointed out to me that what the Holy Spirit does when we read Scripture in this way is speaks into our own lives - that when I see what God is doing with Jesus in this passage, He wants me to see God doing the same for me. He is anointing me, lifting me, dealing with my sense of being unnoticed or not understood, or my feelings of emptiness, for the same reason He does with Jesus - His love and care for me.
If you haven't tried reading the Bible in this way, I really recommend it, you will be amazed how God will speak to you and minister to your spirit through it. And if it is something you're in the habit of doing - keep it up!
Ros Bayes has 10 published and 4 self-published books, as well as some 3 dozen magazine articles. She is the mother of 3 daughters, one of whom has multiple complex disabilities, and she currently works for Through the Roof (www.throughtheroof.org) as their Training Resources Developer, and loves getting paid to write about disability all day. You can find her blog at http://rosbunneywriting.wordpress.com and her author page at http://www.amazon.co.uk/Ros-Bayes/e/B00JLRTNVA/. Follow her on Twitter: @rosbwriting.