I have now made this 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich three times. These reflections are from my first time making the journey. The second and third time I shared my reflections directly in the online sessions I led with The Friends of Julian of Norwich. Current day retrospective reflections on the journey are in italics.
…filled full of everlasting surety…
…weary of my life…
…God gave me…
I will fill you full of surety.
This was an interesting prayer. Julian is describing the oscillation between desolation and consolation, and notes that this is how life is. I am writing this review the morning after the prayer and noticing that I am not feeling the same consolation , the surety, that I did during the prayer and immediately afterwards. I am feeling more weary of my life.
I have been asked to consider standing for a position on a spirituality network and I have oscillated from “I can’t possibly” (it would mean taking days off school) to “I can ask and leave the discernment up to school” to “I can’t possibly ask because they are threatening me with “formal” attendance procedure because I have had more than ten days off sick this year. In my prayer, there felt like a surety , that I should ask, that it was the answer to a prayer, more spirituality work and less teaching. Even if it only amounts to five days, it is in line with what I asked for and the discernment is up to to Head in the end.
This reflection on my prayer was written in January 2020, before the pandemic and the changes it wrought on the world at large and personally. For me it is fascinating to look back on the previous paragraph now that I have moved some distance away from it. I can see clearly the flattery and appeal to my pride in my work, the underlying message of “we think you would be really good at this and we need someone to take it up”; the temptation to overwork. I can see clearly the desire for more of God by asking for more spirituality work and less of the education system which was making me sick. Even the seeds of my poor health now were sprouting at that time. As I reflect on this passage now, I feel a deep sense of peace and joy at how this prayer has been answered in my life, yes, even though I have a permanent health condition.
Questions to Ponder
What is the danger of relying too heavily on one’s present mood or feelings on gauging God’s love for you?
The danger of relying too heavily on one’s mood or feelings in gauging God’s love is evident on the above reflection. I’m not gauging God’s love on my mood, only trying to discern His will for me.
In Ignatian spirituality, it is important to notice our feelings and moods, because they are telling us something about what is going on deeply within us and discernment is helped by noticing. In this day of the Journey, Julian in describing what Ignatius calls turmoil of spirits.
…I call consolation every increase in faith, hope and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly…
…I call desolation…darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl
It is not just about feeling good or bad though, sorrow can also be spiritual consolation:
It is likewise consolation when one sheds tears that move to the love of God, whether it be because of sorrow for sins, or because of the sufferings of Christ our Lord, or for any other reason that is immediately directed to the praise and service of God.
Our moods and feelings are our own, an indicator of what is happening within us, not a projected conclusion about God’s regarding of us. Discerned listening to our emotions is the conversation, as one friend speaks to another, that cements our relationship and intimacy with God.
How do we help people in depression?
I went through a period of depression once, so I answered this question in terms of how I wanted to be treated during that time. I do not know if it generally true, but I expect at least some of it might be.
Just be a loving presence, making no demands of them; just letting them know that you are there; including them in things – even if they regularly refuse, ask- ; not criticising them or getting upset by their abruptness. (I remember trying to make light-hearted jokes when I was depressed, but they came out as sarcastic and acerbic.)
…I seek refuge…rescue me…be a rock…a strong fortress…
I’ve been feeling tired and low, and desperate to get out of teaching. Even though I’ve decided that I need to stay for another two years, I want to leave. I want to be rescued from it. But He asked me:
What do you want to be rescued from?
And I replied:
The destructiveness of my job; what is destructive to the kids and to me.
It felt like asking to live well within this election, while at the same time knowing that the choice is already made about when to leave. Then I was standing on the rock with the sea swirling all around but I was grounded and safe. The choice is between a rock and a hard place and I will always choose the rock. To wear it as a strong fortress is to live well within this election. I am not a dewey eyed NQT – I have grown cynical of the system within which I work, but I will stay and work the best I can within it, without being open or giving my heart to it. I will protect myself: or, He will protect me actually. Time to be the warrior in the garden.
Again, reading about this first journey now that I am a little removed from it in time and experience, I am still amazed how God hears us and answers us; how when we accept the here and now and express our feelings and desire to Him as part of the ongoing conversation in our relationship with Him; how when we hand over ourselves in trust to Him, He delivers us. Maybe by strengthening us in where we are now, or maybe by answering our prayer directly to save us or fulfill our desire, or maybe a combination. In retrospect, I didn’t stay for the two years that I had discerned was necessary at the time I made this prayer, I stayed for just over half of it. It reminds me of something I read once that stuck in my head:
It is laudable to ask God for what we want. And dangerous.
I would liken it to a monkey trap or the hand in the sweetie jar situation. While we are holding on too tightly to how we want or think it ought to be, we are stuck. But when we ask and trust and then let go, we get out of God’s way, we are free. Sometimes it is then that our desires are fulfilled, but in God’s way, not necessarily how we imagined it.
Write about your times of highs and lows in prayer.
Highs in prayer:
The feeling of safety and that absolutely nothing else matters but this; the experience of the eternal moment; God time.
Lows in prayer:
Not being in it; waiting for the alarm to go off and feeling physically uncomfortable or bored with it.
When you experience despair or need are there any biblical stories or characters whose experience echoes yours?
Does it help to find your experience in the Bible?
Experiencing despair or need:
Job; Jeremiah when he laments that God has overwhelmed him; Psalm 31 -Out of the depths. These are the places of scripture that I find my experience. Also The Good Samaritan and the Woman at the Well are among my favourite places. It does help to find my own experiences in scripture and imaginative contemplation is excellent for that.
What helps to anchor your experience of God beyond your changing moods or shifting perceptions of yourself?
Prayer helps to anchor my experience of God beyond my moods; and sometimes carrying a prayer card or a business card with and excerpt from scripture (or Al Anon) on it also helps, as well as a totem eg. holding cross or my travelling icon.