“To know the forest thaws” – Horizons of the Heart 9

Horizons of the Heart is a retreat-in-life inspired by the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius and my own notes from a thirty-day Ignatian retreat in 2022.

The grace we are asking of God: a deep heartfelt knowledge of how God has chosen to fulfill his vision for all his creation through Jesus

In Chronicles of Transformation: A Spiritual Journey with C. S. Lewis I happily discovered the poem “On Knowing Him Here for a Little, A Poem in Seven Parts” by the poet Madeline Infantine. Each of the parts of her poem introduce one of the seven essays, one for each of the Narnian Chronicles. The first line of the poem immediately seized my attention. Like a magnet it brought into line my fragmented awareness:

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

My inner world immediately stood at attention as these words pierced my heart. In a trice my imagination was activated, an intuitive response thawing my own inner world. Yes. When God meets me on the road of life, when he stares into my eyes to  catch my attention, my outer world crashes into silence…and my inner me thaws.

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

To know.

To know him.

To know him here.

To know the forest.

To know the forest thaws.

Image by FrauLehrerin from Pixabay 

As I read these words for the first time the veil that covers the spiritual reality of the material world that I see with my senses was pulled aside for one very long expectant hush. And at that moment I knew. I touched what was beyond touch and saw what was beyond sight. For just a flash, this poem had touched my imagination and I knew with a felt experiential knowledge that could not be doubted.

St. Ignatius and Lewis both reverenced the imagination as the organ for deep meaning, the opening to the soul onto what is truly true. When the imagination is startled into silence, as mine was when I read this line of the poem, the eyes of the soul are lifted to the Really Real, as Lewis would say, to the land of the True North we are all seeking, our everlasting home.

In a similar way the Ignatian Exercises baptize our imagination by immersing it again and again into the Really Real. He guides the retreatant to contemplate the life of Jesus and the heart of the Father using their imagination, or more deeply, baptizing their imagination, blessing it, transforming it, redeeming it.

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

The Annunciation, public domain via Wikipedia.

The angel quietly enters a humble house in Nazareth to announce that the world was about to thaw: she was to be the mother of the long-awaited Messiah, the Fire of the Father’s Love sent upon the earth to gather souls to salvation in the Kingdom.

Mary travelled to assist her elderly cousin Elizabeth. This elderly woman felt her child leap in her womb, as she proclaimed—the first human to do so—the Lord present on this earth, hidden now in the womb of the Virgin. She intimately knew that the frozen ground was beginning to thaw.

St Joseph, asleep when assured by an angel that he was needed as foster-father, protector, guide, provider. Bethlehem, a city packed with Israelites who were there for the census proclaimed by the Roman authorities… Even the forest thaws….

This “thaw” is God’s vision for the world.

There is a difference between reading and meditating, between pondering a mystery and entering into it, between being spiritually moved by religious truths and existentially changed by them.

In the second week of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius begins to lead the retreatant through a number of Gospel contemplations of the Incarnation. Beginning with the Annunciation, Ignatius invites us to enter into the Gospel stories surrounding the Incarnation of the Son of God and his birth and childhood. Why? Because “to know him here is to know the forest thaws.” Another line of Infantine’s first poem opens up the amazement of meditation: “where once was silence, only song.”

“God sent his Son, born of a woman, born in the fullness of time” (Gal 4:4). “God so loved the world that he sent his only Son that whoever believes in him might not perish but have life everlasting” (Jn 3:16). “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16).

“For this is what the Lord has commanded us: ‘I have made you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring salvation to the ends of the earth’” (Acts 13:47)

Image via Pixabay

During my Ignatian retreat, I found great healing as I prayed with the Gospel stories around the birth of Jesus. Very tenderly, Jesus touched me in ways that gave me new insight. He opened my heart to experiences of mercy I could never deserve. He wrapped up the broken places of my spirit and helped me stand again in his service.

These days I am praying through the Spiritual Exercises once more and find myself in a very different place. As I enter into these meditations my heart is being moved by the humility of God who lowered himself to come down on our level, to babble in our language, to walk our streets and take an interest in what concerns us. And why did he do this?

“To know him here is to know the forest thaws.”

To a world frozen over with idolatry, mediocrity, sin and death, Jesus came to bring a new warmth, a new hope, a new life.

As I pray now with these Gospel meditations I feel my heart thrill. I too want to give my life that others might live. I too want to lay down my life for the salvation of others. I too want to labor at the side of my humble Savior, to wash the feet of others that they might experience the radiant glory of his mercy.

Infantine invites us at the end of this first poem to come and to see, to witness, to behold, to ponder, to burst through frozen silence (where all has been subjugated to the powers of sin and death) into the praise that leads to adoration and contemplation. There, she says, we will discover life in the fire of his touch and the thaw of spring from the warmth of God’s breath.

In the next segments I will be offering Gospel meditations of Ignatius that make up the journey of the second week of the Exercises, that you might know anew that the forest thaws.

Featured image: by Ирина Кудрявцева from Pixabay 

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