MCIP Essay: “I Thought About Not Coming”

Sep 11, 2023

How often have I thought this when I am tired after a long day and don’t have the energy to do the one additional thing I don’t “technically” need to do. Very often, that is prayer. “Perhaps I don’t need to do it tonight.” And I don’t.

“I thought about not coming.” I heard this same expression during one of the spiritual conversations in Meeting Christ in Prayer. There is always one retreatant in every session that expresses this; unlike me in prayer, the speaker has chosen to come. More often than not, the speaker is not even conscious of a decision; he has simply come.

I had never focused on this, but upon reflection, I now see the pattern. The speaker expresses this thought out loud in the course of faith sharing, and invariably, all of us nod sympathetically. The speaker’s face reveals vulnerability and uncertainty about the group’s reaction to her words. But, once she has voiced this self-perceived failing, we listeners can sense that the speaker is now also describing how God is meeting her where she is.

And what follows is invariably the most beautiful and poignant confession of love, humility, and gratitude, with the speaker almost surprised of having—and uttering—such deep feelings, often saying, “I know this is not coming from me.”

A sense of wonder and reverence overtakes us; words are superfluous, and we simply bask in the mystery surrounding us, which is a loving presence. This is not an experience that we imagine and project. We sense this reality outside us as we sense the warmth on a summer day. God’s presence is so unmistakable that we could almost shake His hand.

In Meeting Christ in Prayer, we follow the spirituality of St. Ignatius Loyola, who realized that the Gospel stories are also about our encounters with God in our daily lives, whatever they may look like. Through this version of his Spiritual Exercises, we use different prayer methods with Bible passages throughout the week, and then we talk about our experiences in prayer. Pope Francis so aptly states that these conversations are less about the content that is communicated and more about souls opening up to one another. When “I thought about not coming” is uttered, the retreatant brings what he has, which this time is his sense of failure. And that is the moment when he encounters God’s love, and through the generosity of his sharing, we do as well.

How long does the memory of this encounter with God last? How many of us say “Thank you, Lord,” like the leper who came back to Jesus to thank Him for curing his leprosy? How many of us go on with our lives, like the many other lepers, we don’t know whether they thanked Jesus later or not. I know I do both at different times, and I suspect many of us do as well, but this is a reflection for another day.

For now, I stay in Jesus’ loving ultimatum to Peter at the Last Supper: unless you allow me to wash your feet, you cannot follow me. Unless I experience God’s tender love through prayer, spiritual conversations, or other encounters, I cannot begin to respond or act in faith in service. When I stay back, wanting to bring God only the very best in me, there is no spiritual pat on my back. Sometimes, I don’t even acknowledge my failure. But others do, bringing their weaknesses, their illnesses, and their hopes, and God’s infinite love is so expansive that it reaches all of us—even those who did not come.

God does come to Meeting Christ in Prayer, just as Jesus promised to be with the two or three that gather in His name. We invite you to find yourself in our next session. You will want to do the exercises and the readings. But if you don’t the one time, just come. And bring your failings with you.

— Rosario Conde-Johanek, MCIP Co-coordinator

Please register via Zoom for the next MCIP retreat on eight Wednesdays, beginning on September 27th. Registration is required no later than Sunday, September 24th at [email protected].