Maybe you read part 1 of this blog. If you did, you’ll recall that I was struck by the motif—and brevity—of Mark’s Gospel this past Sunday and hypothesized that Yoda’s Jedi training manual took a page from Jesus’.
Most importantly, I wondered about what I’ll come face-to-face with this Lent, and if I’ll have the courage to call it what it is and lift it up—or strike it down. (And become more powerful than one can possibly imagine?) Because Lent isn’t just a diet; it’s a spiritual journey and a rigorous one at that. Our desert or cave might be our kitchen, the break room or the streets of the city in which we live.
I noted in a previous post that a more intentional prayer life was my goal this Lent. That’s meant journaling, meditating on the daily readings, working through a book by Henri Nouwen and using the Ignatian pilgrimage resources, Igniting our Values. Not bad, right? Neat and tidy.
But a more intentional prayer life must mean hearing God’s voice where perhaps I otherwise wouldn’t expect it—or would rather ignore it. It means taking seriously those thoughts my wife shares that can help me become a better version of myself—even when they point to parts of my personality that could use a little fine-tuning. It means allowing those uncomfortable memories of recent conversations to surface—and allowing God to point out where I might have been in the wrong.
It means being quite blunt and honest with myself and asking the Spirit for direction.
So, let’s return to Mark’s Gospel. Sort of.
An unexpected journey drove Bilbo into the goblin tunnels,
and he remained there, lost and alone,
confronted by Gollum.
He was among wild beasts,
and the one ring came to his assistance, or so he believed.
Specifically, I’m interested in this exchange between Gandalf and Bilbo. Gandalf notes that something has happened to Bilbo after his ordeal in the caverns—something good, new. And Bilbo is motivated in that moment to share with Gandalf a secret—to be blunt and honest. But then, well, something changes. He keeps his secrets.
His journey has indeed molded him, brought him to a better version of himself, but it demanded more of him and he was unwilling to give of himself.
There are tools for discernment in Ignatian spirituality that I think are particularly useful when contemplating our own “cave” moments. And they carry with them a particularly epic aura—also appropriate for this discussion. I’m referring to the Two Standards—think of a standard, a banner, you might carry into battle.
At the risk of oversimplifying (though I’m pulling from A Call to Discernment in Troubled Times by the spiritual genius, Dean Brackley, SJ), the Two Standards can be summed up as that of Christ (poverty, rejection, humility) or that of the Enemy (riches, honor, pride). Assessing ourselves—our choices, our paths, our experiences—against these two standards can give us a clear(er) sense of where we are and where we’re going.
The question, then, is: When we emerge from the desert, the kitchen, the cave or the break room, whose standard are we carrying? Whose do we want to be carrying? And do we have the courage to go back into that place, face down whatever darkness is troubling us, and pick up the standard we want?
Let’s not forget that when St. Ignatius emerged from a cave, he had penned what would become his Spiritual Exercises. There is great good to be found in what might seem a dark, dank place. It’s worth looking closely.