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By Gretchen Crowder

Twenty years later, I can still hear the crack as his knees struck the gym floor.

In a high school gym in the spring of 2004, I was lying covertly behind some makeshift dividers with one hand lying close to the play button and the other hand clutching the volume dial of the CD player. I was waiting to hear the student narrator utter Peter’s denial one last time before pressing play on the song Can’t Take the Pain by Third Day. I still remember spending hours on my computer that Lent looking for the perfect pieces of various songs (this a few years before Spotify) that would match the vision in my head. I had one particular verse keyed up for this precise moment. When I finally heard the narrator say “I do not know this man” a third time, I pressed play. The song began: “I didn’t see this one comin’.” The student playing Peter was so engrossed in what he was doing that he fell to his knees with an audible crash and then pounded his fist into the ground just as loudly as the last line played: “I can’t bear the shame of knowing I was wrong.”

That moment of Peter’s knees and then fist hitting the floor has stayed with me for 20 years. I think of it every time we read the passion first on Palm Sunday and then again on Good Friday. Part of the strength of this particular memory is due to the deep connection I still feel to the first students I worked with as a teacher and campus minister in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. The students I worked with those two years profoundly affected me not only as a teacher but also as a woman of faith. They helped me identify what it was that God was calling me to even though it took years afterward to lean into it fully.

I think the main reason that sense memory from 2004 continues to come back to me is because of the connection I still feel to Peter in that moment. Even though it is just my script and not the words of the Gospel that had him falling to the floor after the third denial, I can so clearly imagine the real Peter doing just that. I can feel the intensity of his sorrow and pain, both in his physical body and his struggling spirit. I relate intimately to both the feeling of the sudden weight of his sin overcoming him so much that he fell and the instinct to protest as he did that he didn’t see it coming.

I have felt time and again the internal struggle that I know Peter must have felt in that moment – the strong desire to be there for his friend battling the equally strong desire for self-preservation.

In the third week of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites us to walk with Jesus through his passion and death. In fact, Ignatius does not just invite us to walk with Jesus but to enter into Jesus’ passion, fully engaging all of our senses. He invites us to feel the ground beneath our feet, to taste the dust in the air, to hear the sounds of the angry crowd, to see the blood upon Jesus’ face and even smell its metallic scent lingering in the air. He invites us to utilize imaginative prayer placing ourselves not on the perimeter of the experience but as an integral part of the scene.

This exercise of entering into Jesus’ passion is not just a one time invitation. Ignatius invites us to do it again and again because each time we do, we will learn something else about who Jesus is and who we are as well.

Back in 2004, I did not know that I was utilizing imaginative prayer when I wrote out the script for the passion play, but when my typed words finally played out in front of me, it was like I was there. Looking back now, I recognize that moment as one of unexpected grace and the start of the friendship the Lord and I are still developing to this day.

As we imagine ourselves in the Passion, St. Ignatius invites us to pray for the following grace: “for grief, deep feeling, and confusion because it is for my sins that the Lord is going to his Passion” (SE 193).

There is an intentional week in the Spiritual Exercises to experience sorrow and grief over Jesus’ passion and death, to make an emotional connection to the story and recognize our own part in it. At that moment in 2004, I was in the midst of starting my life as an “adult” while still feeling like a mixed-up kid. I was simultaneously pushing away Jesus while spending all my time working to draw others nearer to him. As Peter’s knees hit the floor that day, it was me on that ground kneeling in front of Jesus saying, “I’m sorry” and “I need you.”

Going through the Passion each Lent starting on Palm Sunday, never fails to place me back on my aching knees in front of Jesus, asking again for forgiveness and expressing my deep desire for a renewed relationship with Him.

It never fails to do something else as well.

Going through the fullness of Jesus’ story reminds me that Peter’s story did not end there, overcome by intense sorrow and pain over his denial of his friend. Instead, Peter was not only forgiven by Jesus, he was given a role in bringing about the Kingdom of God on earth. Later in the Gospels, Jesus comes back to Peter and asks him three times: “Do you love me?” When Peter replies “Yes” three times, an echo of each of his previous denials, Jesus invites him each time to feed his sheep.

Jesus fully recognized that Peter was a work-in-progress and did not give up on Peter when he fell. Instead, Jesus offered Peter mercy and love and kept inviting him to more.

As we head into Holy Week and conclude our Lenten journey of Leaning into Our Belovedness, let us consider the following questions:

  • Are we willing to fall on our knees before Jesus, our friend, and say, “I am sorry” and “I need you”?
  • Are we willing to accept his offer of forgiveness even as he hangs on the cross for our sins?
  • Are finally able to accept his magnanimous love and make a return of love to him by saying a resounding “yes” when he asks us to feed his sheep?

Prayer Suggestion

As we head into Holy Week, we have one last leg of the journey to take with Jesus… the journey of his last moments on the cross. Once again utilizing imaginative prayer and colloquy, I invite you to dialogue with Jesus as he reaches his final destination and makes the ultimate gift of love for us, his life. Then, I invite you to consider: What will your response of love be in return?

Please note: The closing prayer in this video was first shared by me in an article for Ignatian Spirituality located here

 

Gretchen Crowder wrote Leaning into our Belovedness, an introduction to her theme this Lent. Full of inspiration and prayer suggestions, you can download it as a PDF to pray with throughout the Lenten season. Gretchen is a campus minister and educator at Jesuit College Preparatory School of Dallas, as well as a writer, retreat director and podcaster. You can find her at gretchencrowder.com and on Loved As You Are: An Ignatian Podcast, available anywhere you get your podcasts. 

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