What gives you life? John writes in his gospel that Jesus came so “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Such life may manifest itself as joy and happiness, but that’s not only what this life Jesus speaks of is about. When he says he is “the way, the truth, and the life,” what does he mean? I’ve noticed that the question with which I started this post is commonly asked when one is trying to figure out what life choices to make. Do I stay with my current job? Do I stay in my current relationship? Well, does that job give you life? Does that relationship give you life?
In the Ignatian sense, this life is what Ignatius describes as consolation. It’s a growth toward God, just as a plant would tend to grow toward a light source. In his Spiritual Exercises Ignatius calls consolation “every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one’s soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.” In other words, when something is life-giving, it moves you toward the love of God; you find joy in that something because it moves your heart toward a sense of peace. Even a sorrow for one’s sins, says Ignatius, can be considered consolation or life-giving because it moves us toward a desire to be transformed so we can serve and love God more deeply. Jesus’ mission was just this: inviting us to transformation and a love-relationship with God. The Pharisees’ obsession with the law was not life giving for them. It did not help them grow toward God in peace and joy, which was actually the intent of the law. God’s law was meant to be life-giving, keeping us in relationship with God and one another, drawing us into that relationship. If you follow the law and its spirit, you will find life. What the Pharisees found instead was smugness, judgement, bitterness, and ill will. Thank God for Jesus reminding us that the law is supposed to be centred on love!
So Jesus calls us to move our leaves and branches toward the life-giving source that is God. Each decision we make ought to move us closer to that Source. Jesus came to help us find that abundant life! Do we let ourselves be caught up in that natural movement toward the life-source or do we dwell in moments of desolation, where unquiet and our own smugness pull us away from love of God? When we ask the question, “Does this give me life?”, we’re examining how and if some thing in our life moves us toward the peace and warmth and hope of God’s love. Does it transform us? Does it warm our hearts with a desire to love others more? Does it engage the gifts and talents God has given us?
Notice the life imagery throughout the Bible, starting with Genesis. God places humans in a life-giving garden with trees and plants and fruit. God provides life-giving manna in the desert for the Israelites. God shows Ezekiel a stream of life-giving water from the temple which will be filled with fish and will produce fruit trees on the riverbanks. Jesus offers the Samaritan woman life-giving water at the well. Ignatius ends the Spiritual Exercises with images of God’s life-giving presence dwelling in all creation, “in the elements, giving them being, in the plants vegetating, in the animals feeling in them, in men giving them to understand: and so in me, giving me being, animating me, giving me sensation and making me to understand.” He says that God’s goodness and life descends on us like rays from the sun or waters from a fountain.
God wishes to give us life.
All that we do as human beings must consider this truth. God does not desire to harm us or keep us in a place of darkness and desolation. The movement of the Gospel message—and all of salvation history—is toward life. Knowing what gives us life and joy lets us get caught up in this movement.
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