This post is not the one I intended to write this week. I was planning to write about “The Fragrance of God”: I said in a previous post that I would at some point, and while at the beginning of the week I spent a few days pondering it and bringing it into my prayer, I have found myself unable to write it at this time. I was just not feeling it. Maybe what it is is writer’s block. I considered that perhaps I should write a different one of my planned posts, perhaps Science versus Religion, but again, I am not feeling that one either at this moment in time. So what am I feeling? I will tell you – the eight days in between Thomas hearing from the disciples that Jesus had risen and Jesus appearing to them again in the upper room. I said in my post for Easter Sunday that when I made the Spiritual Exercises, I had found the transition from the third to fourth week disorientating, and I called myself a “Doubting Thomas”. Of course, the gospel reading for this Sunday is all about Thomas, and it is what I presented my guided prayer on this week. It has been playing on my mind.
In my experience of imaginative contemplation, sometimes it is an easily missed or overlooked phrase that is magnified and becomes significant in the prayer. In the passage from John 20, where we hear about Jesus appearing again to the disciples in the upper room, and about Him speaking specifically to Thomas, it was the simple phrase:
Eight days later…
Eight days! (or a week, depending on which Bible translation you read). What went on in that time in between? I spent my prayer as Thomas, during those eight days. How was I feeling? Confused, restless, lonely, awkward. I became increasingly isolated and withdrawn from my friends, and angry with them. I was listless, trying to motivate and discipline myself, and failing miserably; I was uncomfortable in my body – both imaginatively in the prayer, and literally, in my room praying. Imaginatively, I started to sleep a lot, not knowing if it was either necessary, healing or avoidant. I went out only when I had to, and sometimes to get away from the others. I stayed in most of the time because I did not want to miss it if He appeared again, even though I thought they were lying to me and I did not understand what was going on, there was a part of me that wanted it to be the truth.
Apart from the being angry with my friends and thinking that they are lying to me, it is more or less how I am feeling these last few days in lock down. The discomfort in my body is mostly down to hay fever – I tend to suffer it between the middle of February and end of April each year, and I know that it is particularly bad when I am mildly asthmatic with it. The rest of what I imagined as Thomas is literally what I am feeling at this point: the restless awkwardness and not quite believing what is going on around me, and yet believing it at the same time. Confusion, disorientation. Up until recently I have been doing quite well, taking one day at a time, planning my tasks out carefully for the day in order to stay purposeful, and marking them off at the end of the day in order to feel a sense of achievement. I have even decided to learn something new – line dancing! You know already that I like dancing I think, and there is a woman who runs classes locally – I was thinking of joining them before lock down happened – and she has been putting them online. It is something I can do alone at home and it is making me laugh and enjoy myself so much. Here is the first dance I have learned:
But in the last three or four days, I am living those eight days in between!
And so, here am I asking myself, spiritual consolation or desolation? And the answer would be to say it depends where it is leading: it is not so much the feelings themselves that are the consolation or desolation. The temptation in front of me is to binge watch something on Netflix (now that lent is over), to escape, to take my mind off it, but that would be to get in the way. I recognised a while ago that television was something I used to numb the discomfort I feel within myself, so now I try to be discerning about what and when I watch anything. Temptation is another opportunity to choose God, and I notice that my feelings are directing my thoughts back into my experience of the Exercises. Perhaps there is more for me in this place; lock down being my eight days of Thomas in the Upper Room.
There is also something about knowing who I am in God. I talked before about rhythm and described myself more like a harmonic rather than a sine wave. A similar sort of restlessness can also present itself when I have been too long in the same routine and the pressure is building for it to change. The return to work and online learning this week will soon sort that out.
Otherwise, I will stay here and wait for Him in this Upper Room. So here is a question for you if you are also in lock down: spiritually, what does it mean to you?