by Tim Belben
from Signs of the Times No. 57 - Apr 2015
The spiritual literature is full of suggestions that we should invite Christ to 'dwell in our hearts' and similar passages, but what do we actually think it means?
Does the one who has so invited Christ feel that Christ is accompanying them? If not, why not? And what do we do about it?
My first suggestion is that this indwelling is not, in any circumstance, to be treated as a figure of speech: If Christ's presence is to mean something, it must be practical. Christ is - in metaphysical language - pure Act, pure existence. If one invites his presence, it is real, not potential, hypothetical or metaphorical.
Consequentially, one has to cherish an awareness of his indwelling, and cultivate a recognition, a welcome, and, above all, a realisation. It does not do to dismiss the invitation as fanciful or imaginary. Is that what you mean, too easily - when you sing Abide with me?
It does not do to think that nothing will happen, that no further response is required. If you ask, he will come - you must welcome his presence, even hug it to you - conversationally, if that is your style - say 'Hi there! Welcome!' Know, of course, that you must respect his presence (or her presence) personally.
For any guest, you would clean the room, remove the lumber - do you not have to do this with your mind, or your soul, if Christ is to dwell there? Are there not now places in your mind that you would not visit, if Christ is at your side? We each have our own private places; so let them be 'swept and garnished'.
The theologian Torrance sometimes implied that the Holy Trinity's presence was a matter of the Son welcoming the Father's indwelling, to the extent that the Trinity was present, and active, whenever the Son's presence was invoked. That approach lends a qualitative difference to the so-called 'Jesus prayer', so that 'O Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy'... becomes an invocation of the Trinity. Indeed - would anyone wish to exclude the Holy Trinity when praying the 'Jesus Prayer'?
I heard a diocesan spirituality adviser say 'The "Jesus prayer" is too long' - implying, I think, that it is cumbersome to use in repetition, as a mantra. It may be, if taken as a phrase. But if taken word by word - 'O' for worship, 'Lord' for obedience, 'Jesus' for healing, 'Christ' for the Kingdom, and so on, the prayer becomes manageable - an invitation for 'indwelling' and all that presence implies.