Lectio Divina: The Suffering Servant

Twenty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

Isaiah 50:5-9a

The Lord God has opened my ear,
    and I was not rebellious,
    I did not turn backwards.
I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.

The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
    he who vindicates me is near.
Who will contend with me?
    Let us stand up together.
Who are my adversaries?
    Let them confront me.
It is the Lord God who helps me;
    who will declare me guilty?
All of them will wear out like a garment;
    the moth will eat them up.

Lectio Divina Isaiah 50:5-9a : Guided prayer with background music.
Lectio Divina Isaiah 50:5-9a : Guided prayer without background music.

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Serenity to Accept the Things I cannot Change

This is not the post I was intending to write for today but I find myself sitting in my car not too far from Bury St. Edmunds waiting for the RAC To come and rescue me. I have no idea when I will get home. I know for sure that I really like this little mobile internet device I thought I would try for a few months before I committed to a longer contract. I have a low boredom threshold, I don’t mind admitting, and I have already been here for two and a half hours.

Issues with the house or the car have long been a stress point for me, a sense of panic usually ensues and the fear that it will be terrible, or so expensive that I can’t afford it, or awful or even dangerous. My car insurance company – and I am very pleased with my car insurance company, they have always done the right thing by me – they used to give you a credit card sized card with all your details on it: very useful. They do not do that now and the number on the one I still carry does not work any more. Trying to find the number for the breakdown assistance was when the panic almost began to set in. I say almost because it was so fleeting, I almost did not notice it. I’ve broken down before, sure, it is irritating, but I know exactly what to do and it is why I buy a policy that has breakdown cover. The movement to accepting the things I cannot change was as quick as it was certain. I can trust in the process, because it has all worked out before.

I have been talking to my own spiritual director this week about serenity. He pressed me on what it meant and looked like to me. I remember discussing it with a friend some years ago and we both went away to decide what serenity meant to us. My answer to the question was:

It’s about being aware of the presence of God with you, no matter what you are doing.

After a brief interlude – it is the alternater for the battery – I am now sitting in my car in a petrol station, waiting for a pick up truck to collect me and my car and take us to my garage in Norwich, where I will leave it with a note and get a taxi home. The road side assistance chap, who lent me a battery to get to here, says it could be a couple of hours. Still, he has left me in a place where I can get food, have access to toilets…and my car is my bubble after all.

I could get frustrated…it is not so far under the surface…it is not how I planned, or wanted to spend my Sunday, but frustrated is not how I want to be. My desire is for serenity, and my attitude is mine to choose. I trust that all will be fine. My past experience with both my insurance company and my garage tells me that it will all be fine. I can trust and I do not need to worry, they have not let me down before.

To me, trusting God is the same. I do not need to panic. I can trust Him because He has never let me down before. I know He never will. Ignatius advises us when we are in consolation to store up these consolations and remind ourselves of them when we are in desolation. Accepting what we cannot change is serenity and even more so when we are aware that God is with us throughout. As always, I am going into my room of indifference, sitting in the chair in the middle of the room and telling Him:

I will wait.

Patience, I think, is also one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Praying with Images: That Which Defiles

Twenty-Second Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

Mark 7:1-8,14-15,21-23

That Which Defiles

7 The Pharisees and some of the teachers of the law who had come from Jerusalem gathered around Jesus and saw some of his disciples eating food with hands that were defiled, that is, unwashed. (The Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they give their hands a ceremonial washing, holding to the tradition of the elders. When they come from the marketplace they do not eat unless they wash. And they observe many other traditions, such as the washing of cups, pitchers and kettles.[a])

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, “Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?”

He replied, “Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

“‘These people honor me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.’[b]

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.”

14 Again Jesus called the crowd to him and said, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand this. 15 Nothing outside a person can defile them by going into them. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles them.”

21 For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

Praying with Images: Guided prayer with background music.

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Diary of a Sunflower: 20 August, Year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

Well, we made a breakthrough on that retreat, so here we are, still trying to work it out. Something has changed and he is working on himself. I need to look to myself too though. I’ve been quite grumpy recently. I need to put in the structure to keep myself grounded, wherever I am. I’ve cut my coffee down to one cup a day and I’m beginning to feel less groggy now. I’ve arrived to start my silent retreat and I’m just about to go to meet my director. 

Humbly asked Him…Step 7 and The Spiritual Exercises.

Humbly asked Him 1: reading of this post

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 7: Alcoholics Anonymous

Well, it has been a while since my last reflection, when I was writing about the need to reform my manner of living to take in the new state of being I find myself in. I have been on a discernment journey in this time. I continued working too hard for a while; I completed an activity journal for a week for the ME/CFS service and I went on retreat. I arrived at St. Beunos completely exhausted and it took about three days for my energy to even begin to pick up on the retreat so that I could walk up to the labyrinth there. I wrestled with myself on that retreat. The director suggested prayer with the passage where Jacob wrestles with the angel, since she thought I might be wrestling with God, but I knew it was myself I was fighting, not God.

The Labyrinth at St. Beunos
Humbly asked Him 2: reading of this post

The movement to accept my new limitations with this health condition had centred around the Principle and Foundation of The Exercises, as I described previously, around the grace of indifference.

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things…we should not prefer health to sickness…our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created.

The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl

And I oscillated about this point of indifference for a while. During my retreat however, something else began to happen, a different movement. I came out of my retreat perceiving that this long term health condition as a gift. Let me explain – because I am not being all idealistic and mushy here, and to see it as such is difficult and challenging. Nevertheless, it connects with Step 7, and humbly asking God to remove our shortcomings.

I have said before that I can be a bit work obsessed, and I have used the term “workaholic” frequently to describe myself. The teaching profession as it is today in the UK is conducive to bringing out the worst of the workaholic in anyone. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could survive teaching without being like that. I have seen too many good teachers buckle under the unreasonable demands, and perhaps I include myself in this group too.

I associated the River Meditation that I did during The Exercises and I used in my Positive Penance Retreat days with a conversation with God where it was understood we were talking about work. I was standing in the river in front of an outflow pipe and a black sludge, like crude oil – toxic and carcinogenic – was coming out of it. There were students I teach behind me, and I was tryng to block the black slime from getting to them. It was making me sick. And I could not stop it all, because some of it still flowed around my body and reached them. I could not protect them from the poison. At the time, my sense of it from God was:

We need to have a conversation about work sometime, but not yet. We have other things to deal with first.

Five months later, I got glandular fever and my first experience of chronic fatigue syndrome. One day, driving home from school and struggling, there was a moment when it occurred to me, and I said it out loud to Him:

One day I will look back and recognise that this is the moment I decided to leave teaching.

It is as St. Ignatius describes a First time choice:

When God our Lord so moves and attracts the will that a devout soul without hesitation, or the possibility of hesitation, follows what has been manifested to it…

The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl

From there, my desire to leave the teaching profession increased. I prayed for a slower pace, to have time to breathe and to pray, to be still and not so over worked. My sense on retreat was that this prayer was being answered here and now, at this point in my life. It is one of those be careful what you wish for moments, or as I read once:

It is laudable to ask God for what we desire, and dangerous.

Sculpture in the Main House at St. Beunos
Humbly asked Him 3: reading of this post

In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius talks about Exterior and Interior Penance: we can act from the interior movement within us or our actions can effect the change within us. Either way, the practice of penance is a serious expression of our desire for freedom from our inordinate desires that lead us away from God into spiritual desolation. People laugh when I say that I have to actively rest several times a day and that it is a real penance, but it is. I have been overworking for too many years and wearing my workaholism like a badge, a joke – something that is not to be taken too seriously. My soul has also been praying from release from this compulsion since that day in the car, perhaps even longer than that. I have been working Step 7 in this context for a while now, humbly asking Him to remove this shortcoming. In the few months I have already been self employed, it has become clear that I am not able to free myself from it and that here is some Divine Intervention: ME/CFS is a gift in the sense that it is freeing me from my workaholism compulsion and it is an answer to my prayers. It is not a piece of cake, it is penance – there is a part of me wrestling with sitting and resting several times a day, that is impatient to be cycling or walking around, even doing housework! There is also relief and gratitude too, I do not have to push so hard any more, I can let it go. This week, as I recorded my guided prayers for Radio Maria, I felt it acutely.

…the Lord hears, and rescues them

Psalm 37:17

This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?

John 6:60

In Pray as you go this morning they used the Gospel passage, and asked if there are things you have heard Jesus say, perhaps this week, that you have found hard to accept and they asked how you have dealt with that.

AMDG In the centre of the Labyrinth at St Beunos
Humbly asked Him 4: reading of this post

Step 7 seems deceptively simple on the face of it, we humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings like it is all we have to do and then to wait to be released from them. When He answers our prayer and it may not be the light and fluffy answer we envisaged when we asked. It may be difficult and painful and we have to work through it with the support of others. It is a gift nevertheless.

Imaginative Contemplation: The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

Mark 6:1-6

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

6 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence[b] at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Imaginative contemplation guided prayer: Mark 6:1-6. This version has the background music.

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Imaginative contemplation guided prayer: Mark 6:1-6. This version has no background music.

God’s Desire, My Desire.

God’s desire my desire 1 : Reading of this post

My dear old mum is ninety and recently fell over and broke her hip – a common injury in people of her age. I visited her a few weeks ago, once the lock down restrictions on travel were lifted and stayed for a week. Suffice to say, she is struggling a bit and has suffered loneliness during the long months of lock down. It was nice to be there with her, even if the conversations circled round every ten or twenty minutes and the ever constant television was awful. We talked about our faith naturally enough. One of our conversations was around why God lets or makes things happen. She is a very traditional Catholic of her generation and not given to questioning perceptions and images of God handed down in the popular culture. I am not going to change that. With a certain lightness of tone, I told her that I thought it was quite simple. If we want what God wants for us then God will always give us what we want. I am aware that it sounds flippant. I centred it around the the structure of the Ignatian prayer period I use in the guided prayers. It goes like this: I ask that all my intentions and actions be directed purely to His service and praise as preparation: I place myself in His gaze and become aware of myself there to get a sense of how He is looking at me; I then contemplate His desire for me, before I ask for my desire. This order is deliberate. I ask for grace in response to His desire for me. If He is asking me to have that difficult conversation with the friend or sister who has offended me, I might ask for the grace of courage or compassion to enable me to open the conversation to make it right, and to forgive the harm that was caused.

God’s desire my desire 2 : Reading of this post

Here I am now, a few weeks on, being challenged with this very idea. I have been feeling quite tired for a while now – since before Christmas in fact, and in a conversation with someone recently it dawned on me that it was since the last time I was ill, at the beginning of December. You may have noticed the frequency of my reflections and other posts has declined in this time. It is not all about the fact that I am setting up as a self employed online Chemistry tutor, alongside my spiritual direction work. After some normal blood test results I was finally diagnosed with ME/CFS last week. The doctor is certain that the illness I had in December was in fact COVID, even though my own test was negative, since some of my close colleagues had it, and it is this that has triggered the ME/CFS. I would not be honest if I denied that I was a bit gutted about that. I experienced it before, five years ago after glandular fever. It brings into play a conversation with God during the Spiritual Exercises during the River meditation I used in the Positive Penance Retreat Day. It raises that age old question about God allowing disease, and it would be easy to be filled with self pity. Is this really what God desires? And therefore, is this what I desire?

God’s desire my desire 3 : Reading of this post

I am reminded of the Principe and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises:

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things…we should not prefer health to sickness…our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created.

The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl

When I put myself here, back into the Room of Indifference I found during my experience of the Spiritual Exercises, my inner dynamic changes. As a human being, I am limited and I feel pain, tiredness and I get sick. Here, I am still limited, it is just that those limitations have changed. Ignatius talks about different ways we can make a choice in our lives, and he also talks about how to live well within our situation when our freedom to choose is limited. He says:

It will be very profitable for such persons…in place of a choice, to propose a way for each to reform his manner of living in his state by setting before him the purpose of his creation and of his life and position, namely the glory and praise of God our Lord…

The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl

It raises, not the paralysing question of why does God let these things happen, but the more pertinent question of how do I reform my manner of living within my new limitations so that it praises, reverences and serves God? From shifting my focus from wanting to be well and healthy to what is God’s desire for me in this – in this moment, in this day and at this point in my life – as I say in my guided prayers, my attitude changes. I let go of self pity and my trust in Him deepens. I make it sound easy: I know that it is not. I experience fear and uncertainty just as everyone else does, and I yearn for that carefree exertion and freedom of cycling out for the day to visit a church and pray with the Pray As You Go app as I have done in the past with my Holy Trinity Cycling Tours. But the movement within me is real. What is God’s desire for me now, in this moment, in this prayer, in this day and at this point in my life? That is what I desire. It is as it was before ME/CFS, and it is as it is now with ME/CFS. The specifics might be different, but the Principle and Foundation remains.

God’s desire my desire 4 : Reading of this post

Going forward, my posts may be shorter or less frequent, or both. They might even be less tidy and contain more mistakes – sorry, brain fog is an ME/CFS thing. I am no longer living as if I will get better tomorrow but I am looking at a way to reform my manner of living in this state, as if this is my state in life. I will still be writing and probably more frequently than I have been, because now I know I can manage my energy better. He would still have me tell my story and share my journey. Thank you for following me this far.

Lectio Divina: Job 28

Twelfth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

Job 38:1, 4, 8-11

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind:

‘Where were you when I laid the foundation of the earth?
    Tell me, if you have understanding.

‘Or who shut in the sea with doors
    when it burst out from the womb?—
when I made the clouds its garment,
    and thick darkness its swaddling band,
10 and prescribed bounds for it,
    and set bars and doors,
11 and said, “Thus far shall you come, and no farther,
    and here shall your proud waves be stopped”?

Lectio Divina Job 38:1, 4, 8-11 : Guided prayer

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Praying with Images: The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ

The Solemnity of the Most Holy Body and Blood of Christ, Cycle B

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

Mark 14:22-26

The Institution of the Lord’s Supper

22 While they were eating, he took a loaf of bread, and after blessing it he broke it, gave it to them, and said, ‘Take; this is my body.’ 23 Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he gave it to them, and all of them drank from it. 24 He said to them, ‘This is my blood of the[a] covenant, which is poured out for many. 25 Truly I tell you, I will never again drink of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.’

Sieger Koder – The Last Supper
Praying with Images guided prayer

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Diary of a Sunflower: 5 August, year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

5 August Year 4. 

Hmmmm! I feel very tired today. We had a row yesterday about an incident that happened when we were away on holiday before and it spiralled from there, as it usually does. I want to give up on it sometimes, I really do. I feel weary with it all. I want to escape today. I don’t want to be around anything Buddhist.