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.
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?
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.
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.