Diary of a Sunflower: 29 August, year 2

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. 

Glorious and Impassible

Christ of Maryknoll by Br. Robert Lentz OFM
Glorious and Impassible: prologue. Reading of this post.

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.

Glorious and Impassible 1: Reading of this post.

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?

Cambridge University
Glorious and Impassible 2: Reading of this post.

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

and:

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
Ely Cathedral
Glorious and Impassible 3: Reading of this post.

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.

Mellieha, Malta
Glorious and Impassible 4: Reading of this post.

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.

Diary of a Sunflower: 28 August, year 2

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:

It’s okay.

That makes me cry even more and I cling to Him, sobbing. He strokes my hair and still says:

It’s okay.

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. 

Dairy of a Sunflower: 27 August, year 2

Sunflower spent a day in bed, feeling ill. 

Yesterday was okay – I’m starting to feel better today. I’m also communicating better with my companion, on the level that he needs to work with – not the big picture, just what I feel about it all. I like him a lot. He is a lovely, gentle man, but I feel that there are constraints and I find that limiting if I’m being honest: and I feel pressure to feel something when I’m praying so that I have something to tell him about. 

I meditated on Matthew’s gospel, where Peter gets out of the boat during the storm and walks on the water. 

At the beginning, I am perplexed about how Jesus is going to get to the other side. I get into the boat anyway, with Peter and two others. I ask them how, but they don’t know. In the end they tell me to shut up and stop going on about it. As the storm breaks out, there are two things that I think are really strange: one, I don’t feel sick and two, no water is coming up into the boat – not a single drop – even though the waves are crashing around. I feel safe. I should be scared, but there is not a single moment when I believe we will go under and drown. It’s sitting in the middle of all this turmoil and knowing that it cannot harm you. Me and one of the apostles keep rowing and it’s like that dream, where you are trying to cross the railway line or the road and you can’t, and there’s a train (or car) coming, and you know that if you don’t get off you’re going to be hit. It is like that dream, going nowhere, BUT without the fear. Then Jesus appears, walking on the water, which is calm and flat all around Him. He calls out, telling us it’s okay, and Peter gets out of the boat. I shout to Peter: 

Peter, you daft eejit! What are you doing?

…but he goes and walks on the water! Anyway, when Peter sinks, Jesus pulls him out and brings him into the boat.

What do I feel? Regret. That not only did I not do what Peter did, I didn’t even think about doing it. Peter has the desire to be with Jesus and he acted on impulse, without even thinking about it, or what the consequences might be; and he achieved something both impossible and amazing. Did that impulse come from Jesus? And does it matter? There was Peter’s desire and his faith, and God bailed him out when it went wrong. 

Diary of a Sunflower: 25 August, year 2

What do you want?

I want to be with You.

That is the extent of my prayer today. There were no technicolour pictures – just the question and my answer. I had a slight feeling of anguish that He might refuse, but a stronger feeling (hope) that of course He wouldn’t refuse – because that is what He wanted me to want. There is no more. What do I want from this retreat? I want to spend time with God – one on one, up close and personal. And this is His call to me. Being there is important. How can I explain this to my companion? The well is where I find Him, and where we stay when there is nothing else to do, and nowhere else to go. He is my refuge. There is nothing more blissful than being held by God; saying nothing, thinking nothing – just being safe, peaceful. Is it any wonder I don’t want to leave there? Protected. Loved. 

Diary of a Sunflower: 24 August, year 2

I’m quite angry and upset with my companion. Maybe justifiably, maybe not. He asked me (in a roundabout way) how did I know I wasn’t putting words in Jesus’ mouth. It’s not the question itself that upsets me, because I recognise it as a danger – I do, but it’s the implication that that’s what he feels is going on. I feel he already had that question in his mind before we met yesterday. And it raises the question in my mind – is he stepping onto my path to walk with me or am I expected to walk on the one he had laid down for me? Maybe I’m being unfair in putting it as bluntly as that. How do I know the words are not just what I want to hear? Where do they come from? How does God speak to us really? Through the people we meet, the things they say, what happens to us and through scripture – all of these ways. So where does the Jesus in my prayer find these words? Perhaps from all of these sources that I have read, that people have said, and He focuses them all into something that has meaning for me. How do I know it’s from Him? The same way that I know He is there, real, and not some fool who died on a cross two thousand years ago! Faith. Meeting Him up close and personal like this has enriched my prayer life and my faith. It is the difference between describing what it is like to breast feed a baby, for example, and actually experiencing it. Maybe I do need to move away from the well – and I did in the Samuel reading, but here is a place where I can meet and experience being with Jesus, where I can find refuge that is so much more than words. I am angry with my companion because he cast doubt on that. Praying like this makes Jesus real for me. 

I think I also feel that he contradicted, defended against, my viewpoint on Mary and didn’t really acknowledge it. I then become defensive and try to explain and the transaction continues. I recognise on a rational level the faults in my (feelings) ideas about her, but it is my experience of being a woman in the Roman Catholic Church and my companion did not come close to recognising or grasping that. How could he? I am angry with the Catholic church and her traditions. What keeps me there is JC because I find Him there – in the Mass and in some of the people I know. If it were just the institution and structure and traditions, I would not be a Catholic. 

I feel better after the meeting with my companion today. I think. I need to explain myself more clearly to him. He feels I’m giving him intellectual ideas rather than my feelings and what the whole thing means to me. So, we should put it down to a communication block and try to move on from there. Apart from that, I think I have been feeling ill today. My temperature is higher than usual in the last two days and I’ve slept a lot today. I just felt so exhausted. 

Diary of a Sunflower: 23 August, year 2.

            I tried to meditate on the Annunciation this morning (Luke 1: 26-38) but I couldn’t get with it. Perhaps I put up barriers before I even went in. I find the way Mary has been portrayed  really hard to take. She is held up as the “perfect woman” and since there is no way the rest of us are going to measure up, we are set to fail before we even start. I don’t even like her ( the her in the common images that is). She is so holy and untouchable, such a martyr, and seemingly so pliable that she doesn’t have a mind of her own. I find it difficult to respect even her passive obedience when she is being held up as an unrealistic example to follow, and the subsequent doormat is then there to be abused by men? (those with more power) and who would take it all and be holy and sanctimonious about it. Playing the martyr. We do not make ourselves martyrs. Martyrdom is the consequence of standing up, against the grain, for what you know to be right, even if you can’t explain it rationally. I don’t like the images of Mary because, from the story on Anger by Kate Saunders in “The Seven Deadly Sins”:

They all think they have a right to that.

I think she is a misogynist’s  woman and to that end, I find her unreal and difficult to accept. I much prefer the woman in the picture I have in my bedroom at home.

            JC and I talked a little about it though. He asked me what I would have said, apart from telling Gabriel to:

Shut up and get a life!

I’d probably say:

I’ll think about it.

Would He ask me again? Probably; nag me and shout at me like He usually does. I asked Him:

What if she had said no?

I would have asked someone else to do it. Jesus would have been born anyway.

But what about Mary?

She would have missed the opportunity to do something amazing. She might never have known this, or she may always have regretted it. But that’s the likely outcome of saying no – you miss the chance of doing something amazing.

            That’s why being open to God is important. Even though I may be reluctant sometimes, there is the blank cheque I gave him a while ago. He’s still claiming on that.

            I also said I might be more open to Gabriel if he was a woman, to which Jesus replied:

Who said Gabriel was a man anyway?

I think JC did last year when we were talking about football.

            Sometimes I do act immediately, on the prodding of my subconscious.

Diary of a Sunflower: 22 August, year 2

Taking a bit of time to get into it. In my first meditation JC wasn’t there; the second time He was though. We talked a lot about my marriage break up and the question of annulment was raised again. Leaving that one here. I feel quite tired. I’m not sure about my companion. Perhaps he’s too nice, or a bit syrupy in the religious dimension. I don’t know. He’s given me the call of Samuel to meditate on – seems like a good place to start. 

I’m getting into this now. I managed to sit for fifty minutes this time – meditating on the call of Samuel. 

I went to the well to start with, but there was no-one there. I threw a stone down the well and called:  

Hello…

but there was no answer. I lay on the seat and looked at the sky through the trees. I was feeling a bit agitated but I tried to go to sleep like Samuel in the reading. The next thing I was sleeping on one of the beds at the Samaritan centre (the one with the window and the desk in it) and the phone was ringing. When I answered it, it was silent. This happened twice more, but on the third call, instead of just saying 

Samaritans, can I help you?

I then added:

I am here, I’m listening.

JC came into the room then. He told me it’s about being there – that’s the important thing. I know this. No matter what happens in the course of a duty, it’s important to be there. I saved a life the other night. The caller, when he first came on the phone, intended to take his life that night. By the time he went, he wasn’t going to – at least, not that night. He realised that he had lots of stuff to sort out – reasons to stay alive another day – and I was there to help him through that crisis.

When I went round to see English Rose, there was nothing I was going to say or do that could take her pain away, or to bring her husband back, but being there was important. It gave her the space and an opportunity to talk about him, and to remember him and some of the good times that they had had. JC also pointed out that it was possible for two spirits to entwine, it just hadn’t happened to me.

He also asked me why it always took me so long to answer the call, why He practically has to shout at me before I would respond. I said it was because I needed to exert my own free will. Even if my doing something is inevitable, I still had to feel that I had “chosen” this, even if reluctantly so: resistance may be futile but to a certain extent, necessary. Commitment is a big thing. Being here is what is important now. So much of my life is focused and driven – and even last year I made a lot of progress before I could just be. He said: 

You should climb some trees, sing, look at the sky through the branches. Be a child again, be open and just enjoy being here. There is no need to resolve anything or move on. Just stay here for a while with me.

Sounds like a good plan. I did picture spirits entwining and thought perhaps it’s what me and Sedation were beginning to do. Perhaps that is not what is actually happening, merely my desire for it; but perhaps it is what is happening. No wonder He says:

Wait and see.

Diary of a Sunflower: 21 August, year 2

Here I am again for another retreat. It’s comfortingly familiar, yet different, all at the same time. I have a male companion this time. He seems nice enough, but I’ll have my first meeting with him tomorrow. My room is bigger than the one I had last year, and the bed is firmer. I doubt I’ll have to put the mattress on the floor this time. The walls are bare, so perhaps I’ll do some paintings to make them more interesting. I brought my prayer cloth and icons with me, so I’ve set up a little shrine in my room. They didn’t have any of those scented candles they had last year, so I’ve bought one of the oil burners and a fragrant oil. I don’t think this companion will set up a display like the one last year did. I wonder how much different it will be with a man. Tonight, I’m just going to get myself prepared and tomorrow, we start. 

Diary of a Sunflower: 9 July, year 2

Sunflower has been living with a friend and her family for a few weeks while she is waiting to move into her new house. 

My last night at Solidity’s. One important thing I have learned through all of this is how valuable it is to take people up on their offers of help. I could never have managed without my friends and I really do know who they are, and I appreciate their friendship. Because I have friends that I can rely on, I know that I will always be safe. I understand this explicitly now and it has been really good for me to be vulnerable and to be able to let go and trust other people around me to take care of me – and they have. It could have been tense here, but it hasn’t been. There is a serenity. I didn’t know that families could live together with such little conflict. There has always been conflict at home – except when I lived on my own with Dance and Song. That’s the only time I have found peace.