Over the next few days, up to and including Easter Sunday, I will post an image with a more generic guided prayer for praying with images to use in this great climax to Holy Week. I will also post a Lectio Divina for Sunday. It did not feel appropriate at this point to present prayer on Sunday’s scripture, as I would usually do. I have also used different background music for this prayer, as befits the grace of sorrow for this Holy Week.
But when our courteous Lord of His special grace shows Himself to our soul, we have what we desire, and then for that time we do not see what more we should pray for, but all our intention and all our power are wholly directed to contemplating Him. And as I see it, this is an exalted and imperceptible prayer; for the whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of Him to whom we pray…with so much sweetness and delight in Him that we cannot pray at all except as He moves us at the time…And then we can do no more than contemplate Him and rejoice, with a great and compelling desire to be wholly united into Him, and attend to his motion and rejoice in His love and delight in His goodness…And [ultimately] we shall all come into our Lord, knowing ourselves clearly and wholly possessing God, and we shall all be endlessly hidden in God, truly seeing and wholly feeling, and hearing Him spiritually and delectably smelling Him and sweetly tasting Him. And there we shall see God face to face, familiarly and wholly.
Reading: 1 John 3:2
Psalm 27: 8-9
I learned some ballroom dancing when I was a university student and one of the most memorable moments of that dancing was at the social “practice” evening. I was about eight lessons in, and had only just learned the basics of the waltz, with the pivot turn being the subject of the previous lesson, when they played a “snowball” waltz. The way it works is that a couple, who were partners on the university team, would waltz for a bit, and then they would separate and each choose a new partner from the crowd gathered around the floor. This process would continue until everyone who wanted to dance was on the floor. After a bit, I was asked to dance by a PhD student, a few years older than me, who was part of the University dance team and from my perspective, a phenomenal dancer. As we got onto the floor, the music stopped and the DJ put on a new song: this one was a Viennese waltz! I was horrified. I told my partner that I was just a beginner, and that I did not know this dance. He smiled softly, told me just to relax and follow him, that it was his job to lead me, and asked me to trust him. I struggled for a bit, trying to work out what to do, to anticipate what the next steps were and I could feel the tension in my body as it put up some resistance. That is until a few bars in when it clicked – I did not have a clue, why was I trying to work it out? He knew what he was doing, all I had to do was stop trying to control where we were going, to stop over thinking it, and to give myself over to him in cooperation and trust. So I did. The next few minutes were absolutely amazing, and forever imprinted on my soul: I learned to trust, I learned to follow, I learned to dance. We went whizzing round the floor, round and round, then slow on the spot almost, and then round and round in the other direction: I was giddy, breathless and euphoric. It occurred to me how fantastic this was, and immediately I became self aware, my right heel caught in the front of my left shoe and we both went sprawling across the floor. My partner got up and offered his hand to help me up saying:
I am so sorry, that was my fault. Please forgive me.
I tried to tell him that it was really all mine, but he would not hear of it. And then it was time for us to change partners again.
Of desolation and consolation in the Exercises Ignatius says:
He who enjoys consolation should take care to humble himself and lower himself as much as possible. Let him recall how little he is able to do in time of desolation, when he is left without such grace or consolation.
On the other hand, one who suffers desolation should remember that by making use of the sufficient grace offered him, he can do much to withstand all his enemies. Let him find his strength in his Creator and Lord.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Dancing with God, in a variety of different ways, is a frequent theme of consolation in my prayer. I have stored up many, many memories of dancing with God in my prayer life which sustain me when the going gets tough. As when dancing with the PhD student above, I have to relax, cooperate and trust, to let God lead and to follow where He leads. When I do it allows the flow and the magic happens. When I hold back, when I resist and try to control the movement, it is stilted and laborious. Dancing with a partner in this way is about relationship, communication and sensitivity; it is about call and response. In his book, The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr says:
Now we are prepared to say that God is not, nor does God need to be, “substance” in that historic Aristotelian sense of something independent of all else but, in fact, God is relationship itself.The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr
He attests that the relationship is the vehicle, and of metaphor he quotes the Canadian writer Donald Braun :
That which is belittled in plain speech finds the respect it warrants in the subtleties of metaphor.The Journey from Ennuied, Donald Braun
In the inner experience of my prayer, dance is indeed an excellent metaphor for my relationship with God.
For example, I was always very comfortable, familiar and friendly with Jesus and although there was a “God the Father”, who I just called God, He did seem very far away and formal, and the Holy Spirit, well, to be very honest, I did not really have much idea what the Holy Spirit was like at all: ethereal, intangible, mysterious – who can get a handle on the Holy Spirit really? And then on one of my annual retreats, I bought my little traveling icon of Rublev’s “The Hospitality of Abraham”, AKA The Holy Trinity, and I started to have it in front of me every day while I was painting mandalas. Over the retreat I began to realise that I did know the Holy Spirit, and that I had always distinguished between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was the scene from the film “The Prestige” that surfaced in my mind that made this revelation to me:
Here, Sarah is not consciously aware that it is not her husband she is talking to, but his identical twin brother. Her husband is the one lifting their daughter away from the argument, ostensibly Alfred’s assistant. They are living their trick, and not even the respective loves of their lives are in on it. Earlier she had said to him:
Some days I think you love me, and some days I think you don’t.
Or words to that effect. So here, when he answers her:
No, not today.
he is being very honest, because he is not her husband. Her husband does love her.
What was it that this scene revealed to me? While Sarah might not have been conscious of it, she was able to perceive differences between her husband and his identical twin (and she did not know there was a twin). It dawned on me that sometimes in my prayer journal I wrote “Jesus” and sometimes I wrote “JC”, and I always had done, even when I kept a diary as a teenager. I realised that I was intuiting subtle differences in the aspect of God that I was perceiving from my prayer, and that I was distinguishing between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Some people I know do not experience the Holy Spirit as a person, but I definitely do. JC is what I call Him by.
This revelation made God the Father seem even further away than before: I had in mind those distant, English Victorian fathers, of the sort depicted in Mary Poppins. When I talked to the spiritual director guiding me on my retreat about this, he suggested that I ask the Father in prayer, what He would like me to call Him. When I did, He asked me to call Him by His name:
The most personal name of God revealed to Moses, and treasured as a sign of intimacy and favour.Theological Glossary, The New Jerusalem Bible
And He invited me to slow dance: He invited me into intimacy with Him. Suddenly, He was not so far away, but up close and personal as in the picture featured at the top of the post. I could sense His strength, incredible strength, and a poignant loneliness which touched me: even as He said with a deep longing:
I have waited for this moment for a long time.
Imagine, God is lonely for us! All of God is longing for intimacy with us. It is as Julian of Norwich says in Day 8 of the 40 Day Journey:
God’s thirst is to have [us], generally, drawn into Him…40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill
In the Spiritual Exercises, through use of our memory and imagination in prayer, Ignatius invites us to experience and live with God and to grow into a deeper intimacy with Him. It is to enter wholeheartedly into the Divine Dance.
Another time I might tell you about morris dancing with the Holy Spirit, but for now I will leave you with a song that I understand God is especially fond of. Enjoy.
Nearly done now. I didn’t go with the Passion or the Resurrection. I reckon it would have taken me four days to recover from it and I don’t have that much time. I went back to the well for some rest, and I feel tranquil and calm again. I also went to confession last night so now my halo is positively glowing! In a way, I’ve already left here. I’m not getting deeply into prayer anymore but I’m staying until the end anyway. It’s been a good retreat all in all. Despite the original difficulties with my companion, we seemed to get there in the end. There are some things I want to explore when I get back home: Mary, from a different angle, Theresa of Avila, Julian of Norwich and St Francis de Salles. I might start with Theresa because my companion said she had ideas about Mary that she wanted to preach about if she had been allowed to be a priest. It seems such a long time ago since the beginning of the retreat. I’m looking forward to going home to see Dance and Song, and Sedation.
This blog post from Deacon Greg Kandra was shared with me recently. I will be participating.
A beautiful idea for Palm Sunday
How can we publicly acknowledge this important day on our calendar when so many of us will be behind closed doors?
The Missionaries of the Holy Spirit posted this idea on their Facebook page:
What if everyone on Sunday April 5 in the morning, puts a branch on the door of their house or on the window, to celebrate Palm Sunday?
It could be any green branch you can get. This would help, despite the social distancing, to be connected as we enter into the Holiest of Weeks.
Want to join?
We may be physically isolated, but not separated. We are united as the body of Christ.
We are the Church.
Yes, we are. We’ve got this. Let’s do it.
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Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, Cycle A
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.
Jesus’ Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem
21 When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2 saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3 If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.[a]’ 4 This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,
5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,
Look, your king is coming to you,
humble, and mounted on a donkey,
and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’
6 The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7 they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8 A very large crowd[b] spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9 The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,
‘Hosanna to the Son of David!
Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!’
10 When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11 The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’
Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey
But still our trust is often not complete, because we are not sure that God hears us…for often we are as barren and dry after our prayer as we were before. [Here Jesus says]: Pray wholeheartedly, though you may feel nothing, though you may see nothing, yes, though you think that you could not, for in dryness and in barrenness, in sickness and in weakness, then is your prayer most pleasing to me. [W]e ought to pray…that He may rule us and guide us to His glory in this life, and bring us to His bliss…So He means us to see that He does it and to pray for it. For…if we pray and do not see that He does it, it makes us depressed and doubting…And if we see that He does it and do not pray, we do not do our duty…It is our Lord’s will that we pray for everything which He has ordained to do, either in particular or in general. And so I saw that when we see the need for us to pray, then our Lord God is following us, helping our desire.
Reading: Luke 18:1
NB: I have stayed with the word “impassible” as written in the 40 Day journey with Julian of Norwich. Wiktionary defines the word as meaning : unable to suffer or feel pain, unable to feel emotion, impassive, incapable of suffering injury or detriment; misspelling of impassable. For the word “impassable” wiktionary says: incapable of being passed over, crossed or negotiated; incapable of being overcome or surmounted. I acknowledge that Julian is unlikely to have misspelt the word she intended to mean – in the context of Day 8 of the journey that makes sense . However, when I prayed with it, the meaning I experienced with it was that of “impassable”. The misspelling is mine, and maybe also deliberately God’s, because of what He wanted to say to me in that prayer. I use the word in the sense of “impassable” in this post. Please excuse my poor spelling.
I bought this icon with some money I was given as a Christmas present and it has occupied my prayer spot this season of Lent. I first saw it on retreat a few years ago and spent several days praying with it. I have a deep affinity for it. It arrived on the morning when I was praying day 8 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, and I put it out immediately for my prayer. The words that struck me that day were;
He is glorious and impassible…40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
and I commented in my prayer journal in my review of prayer:
This image does show Jesus as Glorious and attractive, and it is impossible to get past Him in this image. I had absolutely no desire to get past Him….
In the text at the back of the icon it reads:
It strikes me that the second paragraph is also particularly pertinent to the lockdown situation in which many of us are now living. Is Christ imprisoned or are we?
On day 16 of my journey, Julian writes:
For everything that our good Lord makes us to beseech He Himself has ordained for us from all eternity.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
This is the Lord’s will, that our prayer and trust be both equally generous.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
Day 8 has resurfaced in my prayer recently because it was all about desire: God’s desire and God’s thirst to have us drawn into Him. Day 16 encourages us to ask for our desire, a common practice in Ignatian spirituality, because Julian recognises that that very desire is God given: I want it because God wants it for and of me. It is a subtle movement. How many times have you heard:
I want, doesn’t get.
In God in All Things Gerard W. Hughes writes:
If I were Satan’s adviser…I would suggest that Satan ensures that Christian leaders emphasise the danger of human desire, and the need to subject it totally to the will of God, constantly warning the flock that anything they desire must be rooted in their own selfishness, which they must constantly oppose. This will ensure that they always feel bad about feeling good…God in All Things, Gerard W. Hughes
and he also says:
Human desire is the rope attaching us to the God in whom we have every particle of our being.God in All Things, Gerard W. Hughes
I am sure that I would have made these connections anyway because of my direction of travel on this journey, but maybe, like many people who are currently in lockdown because of Covid-19, my reflections on what is important are augmented and my desire to change the way I live enhanced: to work more for God and less for Caesar, to live more simply and with less. I hear friends expressing the same sentiment. I have been moving in this direction for a while now, and the more it happens, the stronger my desire for it, and Him.
Of course, the critical voice is there as always, telling me that I am lazy, selfish, that I will never manage on less; that I need security – that is a big one for me. What happens if I am unable to look after myself? What then? I am just being fanciful…blah blah blah. And of course, that voice can sound very reasonable, sensible. I am a reasonable, sensible person, so I may think I am discerning with due care; and maybe I am.
But I know that when I was praying a lectio divina with Julian’s words:
For everything that our good Lord makes us to beseech He Himself has ordained for us from all eternity.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
something in me moved and it felt like both affirmation and confirmation.
In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius offers three ways that we might make a decision about our lives: he calls them first, second and third time choice. I have mentioned these three ways before. To oscillate backwards and forwards around a decision as I have been doing for the last few months, with experiences of consolation and desolation, Ignatius describes as second time choice:
When much light and understanding are derived through experience of desolations and consolations and discernment of diverse spirits.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
And after this light and understanding have been derived and a choice has been made, Ignatius continues:
After such a choice or decision, the one who has made it must turn with great diligence to prayer in the presence of God our Lord, and offer Him his choice that the Divine Majesty may deign to accept and confirm it if it is for His greater service and praise.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
What does it feel like when it is accepted and confirmed? If I ask for my desire in prayer, how do I know it has been given? What if I am just convincing myself that God wants what I want because I want God to want what I want? And these are the ways the desolating spirit can tie us up in knots. I know this one from my own experience.
Julian writes of the need for as much generosity in our trust as with our prayer.
In the meditiation on the Two Standards in the exercises, Ignatius talks about the different ways the evil one acts:
…how he goads them on…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
And of Jesus he says:
…by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Spiritual directors might notice or ask are we being driven or drawn?
There is no rush with God, no fear. There is God time. It seems to me that these desires He implants in our hearts are mustard seeds and they take time to grow. He gives and allows them plenty of time to grow. I read a long time ago, prior to my engagement with Ignatian spirituality, I think it was in Shiela Cassidy’s autobiography “Audacity to Believe”, that one of the ways you can tell if it is from God is that you make a decision and hand it over to Him, and you live as if that was it and it was final. What happens in the space in between making the decision and putting it into action will let you know where the decision has come from: if it is of God, it will bring peace, a deeper desire to fulfill the choice and patience; if it is not of God it will lead to restlessness, anxiety, impatience and turmoil. It is as Ignatius suggests: make the decision and offer it to God in prayer to see what happens. Listen for His response.
Currently, I am in the space in between; the choice to live differently and with the next step to live that choice identified, is made and offered, and I believe confirmed. It will take some time, and there is much work to do in the meantime in preparing the way. For now it is to live with it, to work to prepare the way, and most importantly, to trust and to pray and to be patient. As I continue to pray with this icon, from within my lockdown “imprisonment” (although as I have more time at home which is my sanctuary), as I do not respect the social distancing as regards to Him and I meet Him face to face at the fence, it feels like more freedom to me. I do indeed find Him Glorious and Impassible.
While I am deeply grateful for all of the gifts He has generously given to me, I grieve and pray for all who are struggling with confinement, whatever the reason.
I meditated on the scene where the woman comes in when Jesus is at dinner at the Pharisee’s house.
This time I am her, standing behind an arch with my bottle of oil, waiting. Jesus has his feet under the table and they are all chatting – about transubstantiation and intercommunion, I guess. (priests and ministers). He is listening, not participating. I’m waiting anxiously for my chance. Terrified of walking into a situation where I know I will feel their disapproval like a living thing, but wanting to be defiant all the same. I know I must do this or I’ll regret it. He turns sideways on and turns to look at me – He knows all along that I’ve been there. He beckons to me and says:
Come on then.
I go then, and cry at His feet and rub the oil into them. He lifts my face, wipes away the tears and kisses me gently and says:
That makes me cry even more and I cling to Him, sobbing. He strokes my hair and still says:
I’m then aware of, but I don’t hear the words, that He is in conversation with one of the others at the table. A silence has fallen gradually as they began to notice me. I am aware that He is defending me and telling them off.
The people at the dinner represent the Church and tradition and I am at odds with them. He understands and stands by me.
My companion asked me to also meditate on the passion story. I read it, but it is so devastating to me that I can’t bear to be with it at the moment. I am distancing myself from it.