This morning I read Ignatius of Antioch’s Letter to the Romans as a continuation of my quest to understand the spirituality of the early church; to better understand Christian living as it was in the beginning. Ignatius was a bishop in Syria at the beginning of the second century. This letter was written to the Roman church to dissuade them from interfering in his martyrdom. The exact date of his death is unknown as one source reports his death as early as 108 AD, and others as late as 140 AD.
As I read this letter (which is easy to find for free on the internet with a simple search), the lessons I learned from my spirituality class came to mind. Early Christians saw spirituality as imitating the life of Christ, especially in regards to carrying one’s cross. Carrying one’s cross meant, at least in part, accepting one’s circumstances as a way of surrendering to the will of God, just as the all-powerful Jesus, true God and true man, surrendered to his crucifixion at the hands of Pilate.
In one paragraph, Ignatius describes the guards who transport him from Syria to Rome as leopards. These wild animals responded to kindness (i.e., to Christlike behavior) with scorn and bad temperament. In other words, he described them the same way the authors of the Gospels described the behavior of the Jews and Romans who led Jesus from the Praetorium to Calgary.
He then goes on to describe his anticipated end in the Colosseum with horrific yet exultant words. He wanted his body to be mauled and mangled by the beasts. He described his joy at becoming the pure bread of Christ as the animals devoured his body, which he described as a grain of wheat. This and other images created by his letter brought several scriptural images to mind. I saw Jesus preaching that a grain of wheat must fall to the ground. I saw images of Paul’s body of Christ. I saw Jesus holding up the bread while saying, this is my body. In all of this, I saw Ignatius’ understanding that his surrender to martyrdom reflected a Christ-like life.
As I pondered whether there was a blog behind these images, I was reminded of a class I took while working on my Masters in Theological Studies: Theological Reflections. TR teaches a process of reflecting on one’s experiences through the lens of Christian teaching (especially Scripture) and culture. The process is intended to bring more meaning to one’s life, just as Ignatius saw his martyrdom as being more than a meaningless death at the hands of the Romans. His death was a way of imitating Christ, attaining Heaven, and empowering others to make difficult decisions when society, culture, and personal fears worked to get in the way.
Spend some time with the Holy Spirit analyzing your own life. What experience comes to the surface? If more than one, then prayerfully choose one. Ponder this experience in light of the Gospel. What scripture(s) come(s) to mind? How do these Scriptures shed light on the experience? Do the Scriptures help you figure out how to better interpret the experience? Do they give you insight into how to respond to an ongoing experience? While this is only one half of the TR process, it is a good beginning. I encourage you to jot down your findings with as much detail as you can muster. Sometimes, these notes find their way back into our lives at moments when we need them. The notes can likewise form the basis of an intentional process of reflection that helps us see more clearly how God works in our life.