40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 21

I saw…a lord and a servant….[The Lord] looks on his servant very lovingly and sweetly and mildly. He sends him to…do his will. Not only does the servant go, but he dashes off and runs at great speed, loving to do his lord’s will. And soon he falls into a dell and is greatly injured; and then he groans and moans and tosses about and writhes, but he cannot rise or help himself in any way. And …the greatest hurt I saw in him was lack of consolation, for he could not turn his face to look on his loving lord…This is a great sorrow and a cruel suffering to him, for he neither sees clearly his loving lord, who is so meek and mild to him, nor does he truly see what he himself is in the sight of his loving lord. And I know well that when these two things are wisely and truly seen, we shall gain rest and peace…by God’s plentiful grace …And the loving regard which [the lord] kept constantly on his servant, and especially when he fell…could melt our hearts for love and break them in two for joy.

Reading: Isaiah 42:1a

Psalm 34:18

What brings you to life?

What brings you to life 1: Reading of this post.

I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

.John 10:10b

As you walk into my school, this quote from John 10 is written on the front of reception and it is regular referred to in day to day school life. It is our motto. And it is used as a reference point and to back up what we do and why we are doing it. There are a lot of underlying assumptions when it is invoked, and as a spiritual director, I find myself sometimes challenging those assumptions, at least internally, if not explicitly. We see in the gospels where Satan tempts Jesus in the desert that Satan is also an expert in scripture and quotes it in order to justify his own ends. The full John 10.10 quotes is:

10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

John 10:10

To my ears and understanding, Jesus is eloquently summing up spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation. Ignatius takes a few more words to explain it:

Spiritual Consolation. I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all. 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. Finally, I call consolation every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one’s soul by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

Spiritual Desolation. I call desolation what is entirely the opposite of what is described in the third rule, as darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is the opposite of desolation, so the thoughts that spring from consolation are the opposite of those that spring from desolation.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

Consideration of these points lead to discernment questions in spiritual direction, either internally or externally:

Where is this coming from?

Where is it leading to?

Is this life giving? How?

Is this death dealing? How?

What is the more life giving choice here?

A preliminary understanding of life giving is around what makes you feel good, or happy. Elle, in Legally Blonde sums it up neatly:

What brings you to life 2: Reading of this post.

Ignatius does list interior joy as one of the effects of spiritual consolation and the sense of contentment might be considered manifestations of peace and quiet. It is a simple equation that Elle describes: sensible consolation = spiritual consolation, where sensible consolation is about what makes you happy: it must be good then, right? Brooke is a happy person, therefore she is not likely to have committed the mortal sin of murder. And then, must the opposite be true? If it doesn’t feel good, if it makes us feel unhappy and sad, sensible desolation, then it must be bad: sensible desolation = spiritual desolation.

But the equations are not that simple. Ignatius defines spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation in terms of whether something leads us towards God, or away from God: it is not about feeling good or bad, it is firstly, noticing what we are feeling and then observing what is prompting that particular emotion, and where that leads us, in terms of our relationship with God. Consider the recent journey through Holy Week and the Passion of Jesus. The third week of the Spiritual Exercises aligns with this journey and the grace that Ignatius encourages us to ask for is:

Here it will be to ask for sorrow, compassion, and shame because the Lord is going to His suffering for my sins

The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.

Sorrow, compassion and shame do not feel good: to feel these things is heartbreaking and brings “copious amounts of tears” as Ignatius writes frequently of his own prayer. Notice above (in bold), he has listed tears that move one to the love of God as spiritual consolation. The world seeks to fix sorrow and shame, and perhaps even overwhelming compassion for another which leads to tears, considering these things as pathological. I’m not saying that this may not sometimes be true: I am saying that sometimes these emotions are appropriate, and when they are leading to a deeper love of God, then they are spiritual consolation.

Water Lily, Plantation Gardens, Norwich
What brings you to life 3: Reading of this post.

And sometimes, it is that simple: what makes us feel good is also leading us to God, and when we feel bad it may be because something is leading us away from God. The latter might be manifested as the “sting of conscience”. For example, perhaps I might feel bad about having gossiped unpleasantly about someone behind their back and I would identify such gossip as spiritual desolation, and the unpleasant sting of conscience the consolation inviting me to turn back to God.

Gerry. W. Hughes says On Desire:

If I were Satan’s advisor… 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 their 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

I remember a teaching colleague once said:

I’m not designed for this.

and while I cannot remember the exact context – they may have been asked to teach a subject they had not trained in (it happens) – I do remember thinking what a brilliant way of expressing their dissatisfaction about it; the idea that we are designed for something, a purpose, and the desire for that purpose is written into our design: it brings us to life when we are fulfilling that purpose, our own personal vocation, both in the big things of the election, our state in life, and in the little day to day things which help us to fulfill that election. The spiritual consolation is that what we do is in the praise, reverance and service of God.

The Psalm this week says:

You show me the path of life.

Psalm 16:11

In thinking about all of these things, and the slow burn of Easter Sunday, The Upper Room and lockdown, I’ve been considering the question posed at the top of the post. What does it mean for me?

Julian of Norwich considers that there are only two sins (sin being spiritual desolation, what leads us away from God): anxious fear and despairing fear or, want of faith and want of hope as described by Ignatius. Ignatius believed that ingratitude was the root of all sin. (Reimagining the examen App: Gratitude). These are a few of the key ideas and also Just for Today, that I am holding onto during this period of lockdown when it would be easy to succumb to fear, despair and anxiety at the state of things. I have myself a list of things that I know are lifegiving for me and I check it off every day (mostly) which reminds me to be grateful for the many blessings in my life and which challenges me to maintain my conscious contact with God.

My “Rule for Living”; to moderate my inordinate desires and unhelpful compulsions, and try to keep my focus towards God.
What brings you to life 4: Reading of this post.

Certainly, some of it is about endorphins and feeling good, and I might go for exercise or a hot bubble bath with candles and music (usually something spiritual), or even sleep, especially when I feel that creeping darkness weighing on my spirit. Self pity is a particularly distasteful manifestation of ingratitude and it is something I cannot stand within myself whenever I notice it.

Candle holder.
What brings you to life 5: Reading of this post.

So here are my questions for you:

How are you doing right now?

What are the things that bring you to life?

My suggestion is that you make a list of these things and put it on the fridge or somewhere prominent so that the next time you notice that creeping desolation within you, you already have a range of strategies to help you to act against it – all you have to do is choose one and do it.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 16

Third Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

I apologise that this one is late – I was a bit under the weather in the middle of the week (not COVID-19) and I also hope my hay fever attack soon into the prayer is not distracting. I think the Holy Spirit is playing a joke on me…it’s not the first time!

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.  

Song of Trust and Security in God

Psalm 16:1-2,5,7-11

Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
    I have no good apart from you.’[a]

The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup;
    you hold my lot.

I bless the Lord who gives me counsel;
    in the night also my heart instructs me.
I keep the Lord always before me;
    because he is at my right hand, I shall not be moved.

Therefore my heart is glad, and my soul rejoices;
    my body also rests secure.
10 For you do not give me up to Sheol,
    or let your faithful one see the Pit.

11 You show me the path of life.
    In your presence there is fullness of joy;
    in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Lectio Divina: Psalm 16. Guided prayer

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Diary of a Sunflower; 2 October, year 2

I’m really tense at the moment. I seem to be quarrelling with everyone!  I had a row with Mum the other night. I feel very tired and not in control of my life. I’ve only meditated once since I got back from retreat. No wonder! I’m trying to slow down a bit. I need to set some time aside to meditate more regularly – once a week at least. I should aim for something remotely possible! 

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 20

Good Lord I see in you that you are very truth, and I know truly that we sin grievously all day and are very blameworthy; and I can neither reject my knowledge of this truth, nor see that any kind of blame is shown to us. How can this be? For I know by the ordinary teaching of the Holy Church and by my own feeling that the blame of our sins continually hangs upon us…This then [caused me] astonishment, that I saw our Lord God showing no more blame to us than if we were as pure and as holy as the angels are in heaven…I [felt] great fear and perplexity, thinking that if I were to take it that we are not sinners and not blameworthy, it seems as if I should err and fail to recognise the truth. And if it be true that we are sinners and blameworthy, good Lord, how can it be that I cannot see this truth in you, who are my God, my maker in whom I desire to see all truth?

Reading: 1 Samuel 16:7b

Psalm 139:23-24

The Upper Room

The Upper Room 1: Reading of this post

This post is not the one I intended to write this week. I was planning to write about “The Fragrance of God”: I said in a previous post that I would at some point, and while at the beginning of the week I spent a few days pondering it and bringing it into my prayer, I have found myself unable to write it at this time. I was just not feeling it. Maybe what it is is writer’s block. I considered that perhaps I should write a different one of my planned posts, perhaps Science versus Religion, but again, I am not feeling that one either at this moment in time. So what am I feeling? I will tell you – the eight days in between Thomas hearing from the disciples that Jesus had risen and Jesus appearing to them again in the upper room. I said in my post for Easter Sunday that when I made the Spiritual Exercises, I had found the transition from the third to fourth week disorientating, and I called myself a “Doubting Thomas”. Of course, the gospel reading for this Sunday is all about Thomas, and it is what I presented my guided prayer on this week. It has been playing on my mind.

St. Mary the Virgin, Worstead
The Upper Room 2: Reading of this post

In my experience of imaginative contemplation, sometimes it is an easily missed or overlooked phrase that is magnified and becomes significant in the prayer. In the passage from John 20, where we hear about Jesus appearing again to the disciples in the upper room, and about Him speaking specifically to Thomas, it was the simple phrase:

Eight days later…

Eight days! (or a week, depending on which Bible translation you read). What went on in that time in between? I spent my prayer as Thomas, during those eight days. How was I feeling? Confused, restless, lonely, awkward. I became increasingly isolated and withdrawn from my friends, and angry with them. I was listless, trying to motivate and discipline myself, and failing miserably; I was uncomfortable in my body – both imaginatively in the prayer, and literally, in my room praying. Imaginatively, I started to sleep a lot, not knowing if it was either necessary, healing or avoidant. I went out only when I had to, and sometimes to get away from the others. I stayed in most of the time because I did not want to miss it if He appeared again, even though I thought they were lying to me and I did not understand what was going on, there was a part of me that wanted it to be the truth.

Apart from the being angry with my friends and thinking that they are lying to me, it is more or less how I am feeling these last few days in lock down. The discomfort in my body is mostly down to hay fever – I tend to suffer it between the middle of February and end of April each year, and I know that it is particularly bad when I am mildly asthmatic with it. The rest of what I imagined as Thomas is literally what I am feeling at this point: the restless awkwardness and not quite believing what is going on around me, and yet believing it at the same time. Confusion, disorientation. Up until recently I have been doing quite well, taking one day at a time, planning my tasks out carefully for the day in order to stay purposeful, and marking them off at the end of the day in order to feel a sense of achievement. I have even decided to learn something new – line dancing! You know already that I like dancing I think, and there is a woman who runs classes locally – I was thinking of joining them before lock down happened – and she has been putting them online. It is something I can do alone at home and it is making me laugh and enjoy myself so much. Here is the first dance I have learned:

Modern Line Dancing with Karen Hadley
The Upper Room 3: Reading of this post

But in the last three or four days, I am living those eight days in between!

And so, here am I asking myself, spiritual consolation or desolation? And the answer would be to say it depends where it is leading: it is not so much the feelings themselves that are the consolation or desolation. The temptation in front of me is to binge watch something on Netflix (now that lent is over), to escape, to take my mind off it, but that would be to get in the way. I recognised a while ago that television was something I used to numb the discomfort I feel within myself, so now I try to be discerning about what and when I watch anything. Temptation is another opportunity to choose God, and I notice that my feelings are directing my thoughts back into my experience of the Exercises. Perhaps there is more for me in this place; lock down being my eight days of Thomas in the Upper Room.

There is also something about knowing who I am in God. I talked before about rhythm and described myself more like a harmonic rather than a sine wave. A similar sort of restlessness can also present itself when I have been too long in the same routine and the pressure is building for it to change. The return to work and online learning this week will soon sort that out.

Church, Stalham
The Upper Room 4: Reading of this post

Otherwise, I will stay here and wait for Him in this Upper Room. So here is a question for you if you are also in lock down: spiritually, what does it mean to you?

Diary of a Sunflower: 23 September, year 2

My crazy life! I feel like I am on a fast train careering towards chaos and mess at the moment and that everything is whizzing past me at breakneck speed. And it has been like that since I came back from retreat and went back to work. I need to meditate. I haven’t done that since I came back from retreat. 

Imaginative Contemplation: John 20, Doubting Thomas

Second Sunday of Easter, Cycle A (or Sunday of Divine Mercy)

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 Appears to the Disciples

19 When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 20 After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. 21 Jesus said to them again, ‘Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you.’ 22 When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. 23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained.’

Jesus and Thomas

24 But Thomas (who was called the Twin[a]), one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord.’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.’

26 A week later his disciples were again in the house, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were shut, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ 27 Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe.’ 28 Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’ 29 Jesus said to him, ‘Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe.’

The Purpose of This Book

30 Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. 31 But these are written so that you may come to believe[b] that Jesus is the Messiah,[c] the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.

Imaginative Contemplation: John 20, Doubting Thomas, guided prayer

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 19

In God there can be no anger. In all [my] contemplation it was necessary to see and know that we are sinners and commit many evil deeds which we ought to forsake, and leave many good deeds undone which we ought to do, so that we deserve pain, blame and wrath. And despite all this I saw truly that our Lord was never angry, and never will be. Because He is God, He is good, He is truth, He is love, He is peace; and His power, His wisdom, His charity and His unity do not allow Him to be angry. For I saw no wrath except on [our] side, and He forgives that in us, for wrath is nothing else but a perversity and an opposition to peace and to love. and it comes from a lack of power or a lack of wisdom or a lack of goodness, and lack is not in God, but it is on our side. For we through sin and wretchedness have in us a wrath and a constant opposition to peace and to love; and He revealed that very often in His lovely look of compasssion and pity.

Reading: Isaiah 55:7-9

Psalm 37:7-8

The Generosity of God

From The Folly of God, the Art and Inspiration of Sieger Koder,
The Generosity of God 1: Reading of this post.

In the fifth annotation, the introductory notes at the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius says:

It will be very profitable for the one who is to go through the Exercises to enter upon them with magnanimity and generosity toward his Creator and Lord, and to offer Him his entire will and liberty, that His Divine Majesty may dispose of him and all he possesses according to His most holy will.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

The bold is mine because when I read this annotation, I think:

How could you not?

and given the journey of the last week, effectively the third week of the exercises, and this glorious day in which we begin the fourth week, this sense might best be summed up with some music:

The Generosity of God 2: Reading of this post.

After the pain of betrayal, the excruciating carnage of Good Friday and the empty stillness of Tomb day, we wake to Easter Sunday, and the world turned upside down. During the Spiritual Exercises, I found the movement into the fourth week from the passion of the third week, disorientating. I was very much the doubting Thomas – it was impossible, obviously they were lying to me, but why? It seemd a cruel trick to play, and I could not comprehend what they would get out of it. Even when I came face to face with the truth of it, I could not comprehend it. The magnitude was too much to bear.

In the fourth week, the grace that Ignatius would have us ask for is:

This will be to ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for the grace to be glad and rejoice intensely because of the great joy and the glory of Christ our Lord.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

We are invited to share in the joy and gladness of Jesus, not our own joy and gladness, His. It is to be noticed that He comes as consoler to His friends, not to the Romans and the High Priests saying;

See, I told you so!

Easter is not just one day, it is not to be rushed. Ignatius outlines thirteen apparitions to meditate on during the fourth week, leading up to the feast of the Ascension, and then leads to the Contemplatio, sometimes called the fifth week, where he presents his suscipe prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess.

Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it.

All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will.

Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

The question to be asked here is where am I at this point in this great endeavour? There are plenty who are out there serving, who are living the Contemplatio:

The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.

and there will be others, still living in the pain of crucifixion and death, with the emptiness of tomb day, with the confusion of loss and grief, and being unable to say the proper goodbyes to loved ones who have died alone and in hospital. In the experience of the Spiritual Exercises, Easter is not experienced as a glorious and dramatic burst where suddenly everything and everyone in the world lives happily ever after. It is confusing. It is more of a slow perculation of something extraordinary; it very gradually brings with it the graces of God’s joy and gladness, and of hope – no matter what the wordly circumstances are. It is to sit with it, to not rush, to just be.

Here I offer something of the flavour of it as I experienced it. Imagine a room with a piano in it, much like the one in the image:

Abandoned Sanotorium: Graceful Decay
The Generosity of God 3: Reading of this post.

and then, the Risen Jesus walks in, takes a seat at the piano and begins to play, and as He does, the shutters and the windows begin to open:

The Generosity of God 4: Reading of this post.

I pray that God’s joy and gladness will sink into our hearts in this most holy of seasons.