A conversation between friends.

I went to the meditation event run by the Norwich Christian Meditation Centre and it has given me much food for thought. The first, and maybe most obvious thing to explore is that Fr. Korko, being a Jesuit, has integrated aspects of The Spiritual Exercises with other aspects of his Indian culture. St. Ignatius tells us that:

The Spiritual Exercises must be adapted to the condition of the one who is to engage in them, that is, to his age, education and talent.

Annotation 18; The Spiritual Exercises trans: Loius J. Puhl, S.J

Fr. Korko used the specific term “Spiritual Exercises” near the beginning of the day and from his Jesuit background, and from his teaching on the day itself, we can infer that he means:

By the term “Spiritual Exercises” is meant every method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual activities…so we call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments…

Annotation 1; The Spiritual Exercises trans: Loius J. Puhl, S.J

His interweaving of the Exercises and his Indian culture was seamless, and presented as a conversation between East and West, and between West and East, a true representation of God in All Things.

For example, there was an image of Christ the Guru, not this particular one, but the video illustrates the principle I am trying to elucidate.

It reminded me of a time I visited the Westminster Interfaith project and I met the founder/director, Brother Daniel Faivre SG, one of the most inspiring people I have ever had the privilege to meet in my life. Like Fr. Korko, his mystic character, as described by Wayne Teasdale in The Mystic Heart, was evident.

Summarised from The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

And I remembered visiting the mosque, and the Sikh and Hindu temples that day, seeing how highly regarded Br. Daniel was by the other faith leaders, and how our group was welcomed into each by the communities there as guests and friends. This conversation moved me and has stayed with me all these years: as has another comment about the day from one of our group:

Yes, but all of those deities would have to go.

It saddened me. Here “Deep is calling to deep” as the psalmist sings, and the blue note was not heard by all who were there. It is the insistence that I am right, and you are wrong, and you need to come over to my way of doing things.

It’s let him live in freedom. If he lives like me.

Jim Croce. Which way are you goin’?

It seems to me that God is far more generous than this – we only have to look at how Jesus behaves towards Samaritans, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Roman centurian. Openness, listening, seeing, profound peace – these are some of the fruits of the spiritual journey.

Summarised from The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

A few years ago, I was on retreat at St Beunos in North Wales and I was wandering in the herb garden. There was a bed there that had seven different varieties of lavender: all clearly recognisable by their scent, even though each was subtly different. I had a conversation with God about it, as one friend speaks to another:

“Why have you made so many things that are very similar but are variations on a theme?” I asked Him.

“When you draw and paint mandalas, why do you do so many that are similar, but with slight variations?” He asked me.

I thought about it for a moment before answering. “Well, I have all of these ideas in my head, and I can’t decide which one I like best, so I do them all.”

“Exactly.” He said. “That is how it is for me. I have all these fantastic ideas and I can’t decide which is best, so I make them all.”

It seems to me then to be very disingenuous for one variety to turn round to the others and say:

Yes, but you’re not true lavender, are you?

When I was a teenager and in my early twenties I spent some years attending a twelve step fellowship, and I wrestled with the third step:

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 3 of the Twelve Steps.

There is a whole journey in this step alone, but here, I’m specifically referring to the last part: God, as we understood Him. When I listen to people in my capacity as a spiritual director I realise that everyone understands God differently, according to their own unique experience of being in relationship with Him; and I am listening for the One I know in what they are saying. When I hear of Him, my love for Him deepens, as does my love for the person telling me about Him: I get to view my beloved through the eyes of another. And I do recognise Him in the story of the other when I think: “Yes, that is just like Him.”

That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare.

You might have experienced such a thing by meeting someone who is a friend of a friend. It’s natural then to swap some stories of the mutual friend, and this only enhances love for both your friend, and the friend of your friend.

I don’t consider it my place to deny or criticise another persons experience of God, wherever they are coming from; I do consider that I have a role, as a spiritual director, to listen and to help someone to discern for themselves what is of God, and what is not of God, just as others do the same for me. And here, as further food for thought, I offer Natalie Merchant’s song of the poem by John Godfrey Saxe, and a mind map of the guidelines for inter-religious understanding discussed in The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale. This inter-mystical bridge is good ground from which open-hearted, respectful and loving conversations can take place with others that have a different perspective from our own. The Ignatian way is that God is found in all things, and we can ask for the grace to find Him in all things, including in conversations with others of different cultures, denominations and faiths, and even of no professed faith, as one friend speaks to another. Imagine a world where we all spoke to one another as friends.

The Blind Men and the Elephant. Poem by John Godfrey Saxe, song by Natalie Merchant.
Summarised from The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

3 thoughts on “A conversation between friends.”

  1. Your final comment on speaking to each other of whatever faith or none as friends struck me as the most vital message that we have to take to heart. When we listen to another we can learn much, understand more about different cultures – how other people think about issues that we may have strong views about. But we hae tolisten as friends, not superiors. with love.

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    1. Thank you. I love that this has struck you and that you have shared it with me. So many people make negative judgements about others who think differently from them and to me, that feels contrary to the generous, loving heart of God.

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      1. On further pondering, I would also like to comment that when I come up against someone expressing differences of opinion on my sensitivities, and I bristle internally, it is mostly because I am fearful of their negative judgment of me. When I become aware of my bristling, and look for the seed of God in them by listening to their story, the fear dissipates and the dynamic of a conversation between friends ensues. I’m not pretending that is always easy, but it is more loving than animosity, and I am transformed in the process.

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