"Jesus will not risk—no, he must not risk!—the clarity of his mind, the strength of his will, and the control of his emotions in this most significant and final trial of his life and calling as Messiah. For King Jesus, there can be no escape."
—From Ch. 31 ("No Escape"), Jesus Journey
What struck me about this chapter was that Jesus, even in the midst of incredible pain mentally and physically, chose not to let anything ease or bring momentary relief to him. He wanted to remain fully present.
“The desire to escape life’s circumstances, particularly its challenges, is a deeply human experience, a predicament that each one of us can identify with and relate to in one way or another.” (pg. 192, Jesus Journey)
We all have something that we go to in order to escape reality. Some of these ‘drugs’ are stereotypical, some are not: busyness, achievement, alcohol, technology… the list goes on. None of these are bad in and of themselves, but they can become the means through which we escape being present.
It is probably harder to be present in our current age than any other point in history. We have everything at our fingertips—access to more information than we could possibly process.
Is it possible that Jesus’ ability to be fully present, even at his most painful and vulnerable moment, was made possible through a life of being present in the every-day moments?
“In the hour of his greatest suffering, the beauty of Jesus’ life is resplendent. A lifetime of prayer, of walking close with Abba, of making the hard choices, of ‘beating’ his way forward against the tempting pull of broken humanity; all of the fruit of what it means to be filled with the Spirit—to be ‘Christlike’—in the purest and truest sense of the phrase; all of that and more is now seen in Jesus.” (pg. 193, Jesus Journey)
It’s in the little, daily choices of being present, of turning our hearts to God, others, and creation, moment by moment, that cultivates a life that will stand strong in the face of challenges. Always choosing our preferred method of escape to ease our various realities will leave us unable to cope without them when hard times come.
Who do we want to be? One of my favourite contemplative thinkers and writers is Richard Rohr, who makes a distinction between the ‘True Self’ and the ‘False Self’. Jesus spent 33 years cultivating this life of connectedness with his Father, and in doing so discovering his ‘True Self’ and daily choosing to live out of the depths of that identity. Jesus continually resisted the ‘False Self’—resisting the bigger temptations in the desert and the garden and the smaller ones in the each and every day. In his final hours, Jesus decided—at great cost—to remain true, to be fully present.
Trent portrays such a beautiful image of Jesus’ strength in his desire to be present in his final hours before the crucifixion, but it doesn’t end with his refusal of something to numb the pain. Instead, we get a window into the fruit of a life lived in that pursuit. Love cannot help but flow from him even in his greatest moment of pain. As Jesus is hanging on the cross, four stories of his deep compassion unfold: the women mourning for him, the soldiers driving nails into his flesh, the criminals hanging next to him, and, finally, making sure his mother would be cared for.
As Rohr explains, living from your True Self, is marked by a life of love, of compassion. It’s not just about our own personal development or spirituality. It is a life that is marked by being oriented to the ‘other’. Our pursuit of God, our pursuit of being present to the life He’s given us will lead to an outward focus. It is the natural overflow.
“The True Self does not teach us compassion as much as it is compassion already," explains Rohr in Silent Compassion. "And from this more spacious and grounded place, one naturally connects, empathizes, forgives, and loves just about everything. We were made in love, for love, and unto love.”
Nowhere better than in this moment of the crucifixion do we see a life completely present and overflowing in love.
Today's guest post is by Katie Sampson: Katie lives in London, England with her rockstar-turned-nerd husband, Mark, and their three little adventurers. She spends her days homeschooling them, while they teach her how to love deeply, be present, and keep a sense of wonder. Katie keeps her hands very dirty as the head gardener in a local urban farming cooperative. She and her family are part of a missional community in London which they have been part of for eight years.