Diary of a Sunflower: 3 August, year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

Checking in last night was quite interesting. Everybody had the opportunity to say how it was going for them and where they were at bascially. I was very honest about why I had come on a Bhuddist retreat and the reactions of a few people were interesting. It’s good to declare who I am because I don’t feel so awkward today. Some people have asked me about what my religious practice is, and that’s OK.

I am getting to know Sedation better, yet it still seems that I don’t know him at all, like he is a complete stranger to me. Although he is open here and able to give himself more freely, there are already what seems to me, deluded thoughts about his dope smoking creeping in and I know that this is the difficult path to follow. I know that I should stay with him and that it won’t be easy and that he may slip back into his dope habit. I do know that my happiness shouldn’t depend on it though. This is where I need to work. I need to use my Al Anon program and I need to meditate regularly. It is the way of the cross, and it is difficult. The path is winding, rocky and dangerous, and there are more than likely a few cliff faces and scree. I know this will be difficult, but it is my reluctant path for now.

I trust J.C. He says He won’t leave me – all I have to do is maintain my contact with Him.

The way of the cross is hard.

I know.

Don’t leave me.

I won’t leave you.

I guess if anyone should know how hard the way of the cross is, it’s J.C. What right have I to be scared? Or even reluctant?

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 2

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2 part 1. Reading of this post.

The image of Julian gazing at the crucifix described in the second day of the Journey evoked conflicting emotions within me. In describing the blood running down Jesus’ face, she used the term:

…a living stream.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill

It brought back memories of the River meditation I had done during the First Week of The Spiritual Exercises, when contemplating the sinfulness of the world. I had been in the process of planning my Positive Penance Retreat day when I was praying with Day 2, so perhaps it is not surprising that this meditation was in my mind, since I was using it on my retreat day.

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2 part 2. Reading of this post.

During and since the Exercises, I have understood that my experience of this imaginative contemplation was a conversation with God about my work. It was as if He said:

We need to have a conversation about your work, but there are more pertinent things to deal with first.

As I notice the dates in my prayer journal now, my part one and part two of praying with Day 2 of the Journey straddle a meeting I had in my job which caused a shift in my perspective and from that moment, the writing on the wall was bright and clear, no longer invisible. Sure, it took a bit longer to make the actual decision, and then a bit longer for it to happen, but it did happen and I am living that decision now.

In the Quesions to Ponder section of the Journey, Lisa Dahil asks:

What images of Jesus’ crucifixion – scriptural, musical, or artistic – are most familiar to you? Do these images readily speak to you of love, as they do to Julian? Why or why not?

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill

I did not find that question so easy, and I am glad she introduced the possibility of it not speaking of love, because my experience of it was both. In thinking about the standard wooden crucifix with a metal Jesus on it, I have to acknowledge a sense of horror at the torture, oppression and martyrdom. Not just the horror of what was done to Jesus, but there is a sense of irredeemable guilt and sometimes a sense of looking at it and experiencing a feeling of emotional blackmail whenever I am not being as good as I “should” be:

Look at how I suffered for you, and you cannot even do this for me?

I recognise this voice as not being of God, of how it is used to exert power and control. It is fallacious reasoning that demands an account from us, which tells us we are not good enough and it cuts us off from the sense of God’s love that Julian is talking about. We spend time in the Principle and Foundation of The Exercises coming to recognise how we are loved by God, because without knowing God’s love for us deeply, facing the full reality of our sinfulness in the First Week might just be too much to cope with.

Another response I had to this image was of anger: anger at the injustice of what was done to Him. I also felt shame and confusion that sinfulness and hatred could have any small moment of triumph, and that people can be so fickle and can be turned so easily by lies. I find that frightening. Dahill states:

For Julian, Jesus’ death is not an appeasement of God’s wrath.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill

I do not think I have ever seen it as God’s wrath, more the wrath of humanity. I mentioned shame and confusion, noticing that this is the grace of the First Week of The Spiritual Exercises.

Here it will be to ask for shame and confusion because I see how many have been lost on account of a single mortal sin, and how many times I have deserved eternal damnation, because of the many grievous sins that I have committed.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Trans Louis J. Puhl

Julian’s response to this vision has none of the turmoil I experienced in contemplating Day 2 of the Journey. She recognises:

…it was He…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill

And:

…suddenly the Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy…for where Jesus appears the blessed Trinity is Understood…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill

Then there was the other side to my conflicting emotions on praying with the material for Day 2. I imagined myself stepping into Rublev’s icon of the Trinity. In the Divine Dance, Richard Rohr tells that in Rublev’s orignal artwork, there was a mirror, which invited us to join in, to take a place within God. Julian says:

…the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill
40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2 part 3. Reading of this post.

It is here that I connected with the Love she is talking about. A sense of falling at His feet, of being Veronica and wiping the blood from His face. I am struck by Mel Gibson’s film of The Passion, and how, amidst the violence and the gore, there are moments of tenderness, where Jesus is seen, and those who see Him are seen by Him. It seems to me that He draws strength from those who love Him, and whom He loves. When I was praying with His passion in the Third Week of the Exercises, it was a feature of my imaginative contemplations that the moments of connection with those who loved Him and walked with Him as He made this journey, were significant in strengthening Him so that He could fulfill His task. It was in this sense of raw openness that I understood something of the love that Julian was conveying in her description. His response to my conflicting emotions:

I am Love. Never fear, I am always here, even there.

There was a movement in me through praying Day 2 of the Journey. I noticed the changes that were taking place in my life. They seemed such small changes, but in reflecting futher back I was able to recognise how far and by how much those small things had resulted in quite big shifts.

I know this is Your doing. You have answered me. Thank you.

My response to Psalm 118:22

Sometimes in prayer, what we are talking about is not what we are talking about. While I was contemplating Julian’s image of the crucifix and experiencing conflicting emotions within me, I moved from fear to experiencing the Trinity as my bliss; an eternal moment of being lost in God, where everything disappeared and there was only God. Nothing else mattered. What I was left with afterwards was a clear sense of where and how God was with me constantly in my life, where growth was happening and my own gratitude for His presence and love.

Diary of a Sunflower: 2 August, Year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

Interesting times! I’m settling down into the retreat and I’m meeting some impressive people. It’s both stimulating and quietening at the same time. The scenery of course helps. I love the mountains and the way the mist caresses the top of them in the morning. 

I saw Him there this morning, singing in the mountains and dancing in the sky. 

From one of my own poems.

The Meditation guide is a wise man. His name means the joy that springs up from deep inside. It suits him. I think, I feel, that he is someone I can talk to and ask questions of. He has a deep serenity and I think wisdom. He reminds me of Fr. James. The meditation practices I have learned are interesting and useful. I reckon I can use them as a basic, a staple or in-between the Jesuit way of prayer – maybe even as a light relief from it! Hmmm…that’s not quite what I mean. Sometimes, it’s hard to get into the imaginative prayer and you feel like you’re not going or getting anywhere. Resorting to the mindfulness of breathing or metabarvna might be the most constructive thing to do in those situations to keep me there and to keep me meditating. That’s what I mean. 

I have lots of questions. Maybe academic, because I am not soul searching here. I want to know my partner better and to understand where he is coming from. I think that this retreat is doing just that. We are getting to know each other better. 

Diary of a Sunflower: 29 July, Year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

Things have changed a bit – there has been a change of perspective on both sides. He has given up smoking dope, and I believe he is serious about it this time. He is starting to work on himself. I am also trying to shift my position in the way I relate to him by using my Al Anon program. We’ll see, but I am hopeful that we really so have a future together. We both have to change really. 

At the moment we are in Dhanakosa, a Buddhist retreat centre in Scotland. There is a curious marriage of traditional Scottish and this Eastern Buddhist style. The images are quite confusing to me. We did a meditation tonight and it wasn’t so different from stuff I’ve experienced before – just feeling your body and relaxing. Not the same as the Ignatian imaginative prayer. 

I saw Aslan in my meditation: C.S. Lewis’ lion representation of Christ. Appropriate, since I’d perceived this to be a little bit like Daniel in the lion’s den – need to be true to my faith. I must find a harmony with Bhudda which is respectful, but he is not my God.  

Alsan pressed His face against mine and I stroked his ears. He us brave, I am brave. I must have the heart of a lion (big) to keep it open. I rode on His back and He ran – fast. It took my breath away. 

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 1

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 1

40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (i)

What is interesting for me to notice as I read back over my prayer journal for the first “Day” of my journey with Julian is that I am still, even now, wrestling with the same old patterns of resistance. Sometimes they are not so strong in distracting me from my prayer, and sometimes they are. Watching films or box sets when I should be doing my Examen and going to bed. There is that word “should” : I always raise an eyebrow when I hear it in Spiritual Direction. My desire is to spend the time with Him, to live differently, more in tune with Him, and yet, there is an inertia to doing just that when it comes to it. You might know what I mean. I do not believe I am the first person to ask why I do these things that are self destructive when I want to do something different. And my head ties me up in knots. I see that I began my journey feeling a lot of resistance, not just in the arguments in my head as I fought the inertia, but I was restless and uncomfortable in my body.

Even when prayer is like this, and I drag myself to it; even if it is on the reclining seat of the sofa and not in the more alert position in my prayer spot, just by putting myself in that space, I am expressing my desire to encounter God and I am opening myself to the opportunity for connection with Him.

Julian says in day 1 of the 40 Day Journey:

He wishes to be sought.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill

I heard a story once of a reporter asking Cardinal Hume how long he prayed for every day. He replied:

Oh, for about a minute.

The reporter was apparantly quite shocked and queried his lack of commitment not being commensurate with his leadership position in the Church, to which he replied along the lines of:

Yes, but it does take me about twenty nine minutes of sitting still to get to that point.

I did meet Cardinal Hume when I first moved to Norwich and I shook his hand. This does seem like the kind of thing he could say, from my brief experience of listening to his talk and shaking his hand. This story always encourages me when I am restless and resistant to prayer. I know that if I can just put myself there, I am more likely to make that intimate connection with God, to experience that eternal moment, even if my head will not stop spinning for the whole time and I was distracted by all the things I have to get through that day. It is not something He holds against me.

…our Lover desires the soul to adhere to Him…it is so preciously loved by Him…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill
40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (ii)

So I acted against my restless body and my busy head, and I put myself in that space because I knew that I desired Him, and I knew that He desired me. Somewhere in that first part of The Journey, I noticed myself:

…clad and enclosed in the goodness of God.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill

I felt it as a warmth – emotional and physical – that lingered with me for the rest of that day. It brought to mind an imaginative contemplation I had experienced when I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I was a servant, a wine pourer, at the wedding feast at Cana, and after Jesus had turned the water into wine, YHWH and JC (the Holy Spirit as I call Him) appeared at the party. YHWH asked me to dance a rumba with Him. I became vapour, a fragrance, lost in the dance with Him.

I noticed that during this first prayer with Day 1 that I became aware of people that I interacted with in my daily life. One person in particular, where the relationship was difficult, I got a sense of the huge problems this person was dealing with in their life. I was moved to compassion for them and a desire to help, even if my ability to help was limited to regarding and interacting with them more kindly and to praying for them.

Image by karin smulders from Pixabay
40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (iii)

During my second prayer with Day 1, I was focused on the extract from Psalm 139. There were again distractions at the beginning of the prayer and an odd interaction with what appeared to be God, but my response to this character was to go limp and floppy like a rag doll. My spiritual director on The Spiritual Exercises had said to me in one of our conversations about what happens in prayer:

If something feels odd, it probably is odd.

I think I may have objected at the time, but I have never forgotten it, and it comes to mind whenever I realise that something is odd in my prayer. On my spiritual direction course, they talked about St. Bernard (I think it was St. Bernard) who once had a vision that “Jesus” appeared to him, dressed as a Roman Legionary. The point of discerning if this vision really was Jesus is that it did not seem like Him. In the Rules for Discernment for the Second Week, Ignatius says:

It is characteristic of the evil one to fight against such happiness and consolation by proposing fallacious reasonings, subtilties, andcontinual deceptions.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Trans Louis J. Puhl

It is a mark of the evil spirit to assume the appearance of an angel of light. He begins by suggesting thoughts that are suited to a devout soul, and ends by suggesting his own. For example, he will suggest holy and pious thoughts that are wholly in conformity with the sanctity of the soul. Afterwards, he will endeavor little by little to end by drawing the soul into his hidden snares and evil designs.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Trans Louis J. Puhl

The point here is that not everything that appears to be God, or of God, is God, or of God. There are times when we may be dealing with the imposter. Discernment is the process by which we learn to recognise what is of God and what is fallacious reasonings, subtilties, and deception.

40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (iv)

When I sensed the oddity in the prayer, I imagined myself back in the Room of Indifference from the my experience of the Exercises. This was the moment of grace during the Principle and Foundation when I experienced indifference. I described this experience before. Ignatius tells us to store up these moments of consolation in order to strengthen us when we are in desolation. So I imagined myself once more sitting in the chair at the centre of the room, my palms face up, and I said:

I will wait.

And He was there, no doubts or oddness.

I recalled some conversations I had had that day. My mum is ninety now and much to her frustration, has developed a stutter. A young man in my church is autistic and finds social interactions difficult. I remembered a the beginning of a retreat as a student, where we were asked to briefly introduce ourselves. There was a student there from Zimbabwe, who told a winding story about one day when he went out on a walk back home. I remember at one point wishing he would hurry up and get to the point when it immediately dawned on me, that was the point. It was not a summary list: this was someone who was present. By telling us a story, he was revealing who he was , he was introducing himself. As I recalled my conversations with the two people who struggled to talk that day, I recognised that there had been a similar movement within me, a movement from impatience to patience, as I saw the person in front of me. The fact that someone may struggle to express themselves does not invalidate what they have to say. It only requires for them to be seen, and for the other to be patient and listen.

When I prayed the second prayer with Day 1, I said to Him:

It was You. I praise You, I am wonderfully made.

And His reply:

You are wonderfully made. I made you.

To really see the other, to see them as God sees them is the Contemplation to Attain Love. It is to love as God loves. There are moments when it cuts through into our consciousness. This was the fruit of Day 1 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich. It was to look at those others and recognise in my heart:

You are wonderfully made.

Diary of a Sunflower: 23 July, Year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

My life is unmanageable. God, how did it get to be this way? It occurred to me that I’m a bit of a martyr and that I give way to emotional blackmail a bit. I need to stop doing that. I need to be clear on what is my responsibility and what is not. I will give this living together until Christmas I think – if I’m still having doubts – well, maybe I’ll be more certain one way or another. Also, I’m going on retreat so I need to be open for that. 

So much about myself is frustrating me. But it always seems to be the same old stuff as always. Was the six months after leaving my ex an illusion? Or was it a glimpse of how it could be? Was I lonely then? I am caught up in this moodiness and somehow, I must learn to detach from it again and not be so affected by it. I think I resent the fact that I have to though – I did not, and do not want to spend my life coping and handling the difficulties of living with a man. I’ve had enough of it to last a lifetime. 

40 Day Journey’s End: Examen

40 Day Journey’s End Examen 1: Reading of this post.

I finally finished my 40 day Journey with Julian of Norwich on Shrove Tuesday, just in time for the beginning of Lent. While the time since then has certainly been very full – I have left the classrooom and I am setting up as an online tutor – I have been pondering the Journey in the back of my mind. Here feels like the suitable point to make an Examen of my journey and the fruits that it has borne. I began the journey on Thursday 5th December 2019 and in that time, completely filled the prayer journal that I had started at the beginning of the third week of the Spiritual Exercises, and I finished the journal with the last entry of the Journey, the day before the beginning of Lent! A strange convergance: endings an beginnings. It had been my intention, in preparation for writing this post, that I read through my journey and summarise it all here, in a nice tidy blog post, a beautifully wrapped package; a wonderful display of the glory of God and the graces He so generously gives. And then I read my journal entries for Day 1 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich. I realised immediately how impossible it would be to do that – there is too much. Each day warrants its own post. I will endeavour to do that as I continue posting on this blog. So, I closed my journal and decided to write an Examen here from my memories of this time on the Journey.

40 Day Journey’s End Examen 2 : Reading of this post.

Gratitude

I am grateful for all of the graces that I have received in this journey: the intimacy with God and the deepening trust; the fulfilment of the conversation about my working life which began during The Exercises and the courage to take that path. I am grateful for the affirmations of my work received through the people I am directing, through my guided prayers with Radio Maria England and through the retreats I have led. I am grateful for the friendship of Bill Stebbe, which grew in the time of that retreat day where I bought the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich and made the decision to make this pilgrimage. I am also grateful that I was able to accompany Bill in his dying, and for the grace of humility which I received during that time. And as Julian herself lived in the time of plague, and the current pandemic was an event waiting to happen at the time I picked up the book and began this journey, I am grateful for the relative safety in which I have been able to live and work throughout, and continue to be able to do so, even as I am weary of it.

Grace

I ask God for the grace to see my journey as He sees my journey.

40 Day Journey’s End Examen 3: Reading of this post.

Account

The predominant image I have from the Journey, and also from The Spiritual Exercises, is of myself as a child: not the memories of me as an actual child, but of my inner free child, Sunflower. I described her in the post All Things in a Hazelnut, where I picked up the book. This child is always open and honest with God. She says things as she sees and feels them, without dressing them up to make them palatable or acceptable. Even when she is restless and fractious, refuses to be held and wriggles in His arms saying:

Put me down! put me down!

He does, with some amusement, and watches over her tenderly as she does her worst and comes running back to His open arms when she realises her trouble and her need. And God loves and adores her, and regards her as precious. This is where God has been for me in this journey, and how I have turned away to those inordinate attachments that are self destructive to me, and then turned back again when I recognised that I had messed up again. As always, my tender loving God has picked me up and held me close once more.

Pardon

The free child is also open and honest when she recognises her mistakes. She does not try to justify or explain. Moved by her sorrow, her desire is simply to repair the relationship that she sees she has hurt by her behaviour. Asking for forgiveness is her expression of that sorrow. He listens and forgives.

Resolve to Amend

From here, the world is different. Things have changed.

And they have – I have been writing about the changes taking place in my life throughout this last year. It is not to say that these inordinate desires have been vanquished – they most certainly have not. I am still wrestling with the same distractions and resistances that I was dealing with at the beginining to the Journey. Sometimes, I am that little girl planting sunflower seeds with Him in the garden, full of wonder and awe. Sometimes I am still that fractious child, wriggling in His arms, trying to break free to do those naughty things that are not good for me and cause me, and perhaps others around me, pain and harm. To me on a bad day, it may feel that I have not made much progress, but to Him, well, maybe that Sunflower stalk is just a little bit taller as it reaches for the sun.

Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God

by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, Miranda Francisco (Illustrator)

Diary of a Sunflower: 21 July, year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

Sunflower continues to oscillate and to question her relationship status and her disordered attachments within it.

I mustn’t let myself become dependent on him for anything – nor let him become dependent on me. I need to keep myself separate and be careful of making myself vulnerable – I think. It contradicts the understanding that I have that to love somebody unconditionally, you need to let go and be completely open to them. The ideal, I guess. All this up and down and the extremes that I am beginning to feel again. It’s no good. It’s not who I want to be. This tired out, put upon old dragon: resentful and always feeling criticised. I don’t want it. But he is an addict. He exhibits all the behaviour that goes with it and there are certain things that I need to accept about that. 

  1. I am powerless over his habit and him, and my life is unmanageable. 
  1. I cannot (at the moment) change my desire to have him in my life, so I must accept that the living situation is staying as it is. I need to accept that and live with it, so I must work on my own serenity. It is my responsibility to myself. 

“God grant me the serenity 

To accept the things I cannot change, 

Courage to accept the things I can, 

And wisdom to know the difference.” 

Diary of a Sunflower: template

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

I don’t know what was going on with me. A combination of tiredness and being emotionally drained with the aftermath of the death of a student. I did express my feelings and we talked about him moving out. I was able to realise what I actually do want – the happy ever after. I want all the barriers to that to be out of the way and perhaps what is distressing my subconscious is the idea that they never will be. The trust issue will always kick in. 

Diary of a Sunflower: 3 July, year 4

The diary entries are extracts from my spiritual journey, going back about twenty years.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Sally Vickers

Hey! It’s like being married to an alcoholic! Except I’m not. What have I done wrong? I didn’t give him a big pat on the back because he’s given it up again, as of today. Does he really expect me to believe him? When will I have had enough? 

One of the students in school died last week of a brain haemorrhage. Quite suddenly. 

I feel like I did when I was a teenager at home. God, how much longer will I put up with this? I am not happy. But I am not trapped. It’s important to remember that.