Made a Decision. Step 3 and The Spiritual Exercises

Made a decsion. Step 3 and the Spiritual Exercises.1

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

The Twelve Steps: Step 3

It has been a while since I wrote the reflection on Step 2. I finished that post with a poignant clip where Wallander handed in his badge. It was not something I could express explicitly at the time, but the clip caught the mood of my decision and alluded to it: I decided to hand in my badge. I had decided to resign from my job as a teacher, but at that point had not acted on it. I have now, and I am currently working my notice in school, which I agreed to extend until the February half term. The period inbetween is living the third step. I have written about this step before, and several times on the theme of surrendering to God. This third of the twelve steps follows on naturally from the first two, but to say that makes it sound easy. It is not easy.

In “Breathing Underwater” Richard Rohr says:

Surrender will always feel like dying, and yet it is the necessary path to liberation.”

Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr

and he makes the point of surrendering being a decision we make:

Our inner blockage to “turning our will over” is only overcome by a decision.

Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr

He talks about the dangers of “the myth of heroic sacrifice”, or the martyr complex as revealing the false side of love. In the twelve step fellowship to which I belong it is called “playing the martyr”, and the character of wanting the be the “hero” is a personality type that is recognised in adult children of alcoholics. It is about always wanting to be good: I have to watch out for that one myself.

In relation to the Spiritual Exercises, I might align it with the Eternal Lord of All Things:

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life

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

It is also consistent with the three powers of the soul that Ignatius describes:

…will consist in using the memory to recall…and then in applying the understanding by reasoning….then the will by seeking to remember and understand all to be the more filled with…

So, too, the understanding is to be used to think over the matter more in detail, and then the will to rouse more deeply the emotions.

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

Here is described a process of deepening. Our imagination and memory begin to tell us something, and then our reason works it out and comes to a decision. It is not done and dusted at this point. The Eternal Lord of All things occurs in the space between the first and second week of The Exercises, and expresses a desire, a wanting to want it, as it is described sometimes. Three quarters of the journey of the Exercises, which take us to the Suscipe prayer and the expression of surrender, still remain. And yet, the movement throught the rest of the Twelve Steps suggests that with the decision, it is done. What is not made explicit in the step is the process of handing our will over. It is the struggle of Oda Mae Brown from Ghost agreeing to hand over the cheque and then handing over the cheque, even cheerfully and freely.

Made a decsion. Step 3 and the Spiritual Exercises.2

What does it look like to live this step? I recognise that it is what I am doing. It is once and for all, and every day. The once and for all was making the decision, sitting with it for a bit to notice movements within me and then acting on it by handing in that resignation letter. There is no turning back at that point. The consequences of acting begin to accumulate, a public announcement and a replacement appointment being made. The every day decision is noticing when that creeping fear of making a mistake in these uncertain times is creeping into my thoughts and then turning to God in trust that I am following the path He is leading me on. It is to notice the sense of lightness I walk with, the burden laid down, the life giving energy flowing through me. When I notice a sense of being overwhelmed by all the work that is in front of me in forging this new path I have been shown, it is to listen and hear Him say:

One day at a time, one step at a time.

Feeling fear is of itself not so much the problem, C.S. Lewis says as much in The Screwtape letters when the senior devil is trying to educate its junior in getting the young soldier to abandon his post, rather than just be afraid. Rather it is what our fear leads to. Previously, in my journey with Julian of Norwich, Julian recommends:

…but He then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to its mother for help with all its might. So He wants us [to cry out]

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 30

The Spiritual Consolation is in allowing out fear to turn us towards God in faith and trust.

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.

Of course, there is a second part to this step:

…as we understood Him.

The Twelve Steps: Step 3

Made a decsion. Step 3 and the Spiritual Exercises.3

And this part of the step may prove challenging to those who prescribe to any particular religion. How do we really feel about someone else’s image of God that is different from our own? Can we accept the premise and so engage in dialogue as equals? or do we have to insist that we are right and they are wrong? And try to get them to admit it. I do not know about you, but I would certainly not feel very enamoured if someone else was trying to shove their image of God down my throat, so I am not going to set out with the agenda of shoving my image of God down theirs. Can I be generous and magnanimous, as God is generous and magnanimous, and find my God in the description of their Higher Power that the other person is describing to me? As a spiritual director, when people tell me about their relationships with God, they are personal and unique, and different from my own. But I recognise my God in who they are talking about. There is something intrinsically liberating about letting God be God in terms of how others understand Him. When I do not try to dictate how God is to another, it frees me to tell my story, and of my relationship with Him; it frees me to hear of how another relates to God. It is like when you meet someone, and realise that you have a mutual friend. When you start to share your own stories about your time and impressions of your friend, you recognise with joy that:

Yes, that is just like Him!

When I experience this in listening to another, it brings be out in goosebumps, and I know the reality of God. If I were intent on bringing the other round to my understanding, I am certain I would miss that.

The third step to my mind is a gateway to deeper freedom and relationship with God. It may be a process, but it starts with a decision, we make up our minds.

Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises

Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 1: Reading of this post.

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/About-AA/The-12-Steps-of-AA
At the centre of the labyrinthe at St. Beunos
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 2: Reading of this post.

I can honestly say that the last two weeks have been hectic in a way that I have not at all enjoyed. I would go as far as describing it as the First of the Twelve Steps:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/About-AA/The-12-Steps-of-AA

I am not specifically speaking about alcohol here, but the powerlessness I have experienced over my life is real and with it, the sense that it is completely unmanageable. Very quickly, I started to realise that I am living step two, that amidst this turmoil of spirits I have been experiencing, I am reaching out to God and believing that He can indeed restore me to sanity, and that in fact, it is exactly what He has been doing since I made the Exercises, and for a time even before that. So, I am making a discernment about my life.

In Breathing Underwater, in the chapter on Step 2, Richard Rohr writes:

The immediate embrace is from God’s side, the ineffectiveness is whatever time it takes for us to “come to believe”, which is the slow and gradual healing and reconnecting of head, heart and body so that they can operate as one.

Breathing Underwater, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr

He makes the point that there is a process here, a lag time. We do not suddenly believe that God can restore us to sanity, as it says in step two, without a precursor to that belief. The first step may come as a revelation, where there is a desire and a possibility for change, and no doubt about it; what Ignatius describes in The Spiritual Exercises as First Time Choice:

When God our Lord so moves and attracts the will that a devout soul without hesitation, or the possibility of hesitation, follows what has been manifested to it. St. Paul and St. Matthew acted thus in following Christ our Lord.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J Puhl S.J.
Sundial, Penhurst
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 3: Reading of this post.

The second step is not quite the same thing as it is lived. I have heard a lot of people share and talk about reaching their “rock bottom” and tell that they felt that this recognition of their own powerlessness and the unmanageability of their lives had come from outwith themselves. In step two though, there is more of a struggle: with some, it is in accepting a Higher Power, where there was no belief in God previously, and with others, where there is already a faith in God, it is in deeply believing that God can restore us to sanity and living according to that belief. I include myself in this latter category.

I read somewhere, a while back, words to the effect of:

If Christians believe that they are truly saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, why do more of them not live more joyfully, as if it were true?

I do not remember where I read this, or the exact quote: it may have been Richard Rohr or James Martin who said it in one of their books, it may have been Anthony Flew in “There is a God”. Nevertheless, the sense of it has remained with me and it connects me now to this second step. We can believe in God, but to trust Him and live completely in that trust is a different thing, not least because we have to discern the movements within us, our desires and our fears. God’s voice is not the only one speaking to us, either through the people we meet, the events in our lives or within our own minds and hearts. Discernment takes listening, and listening takes time and consideration, and noticing the effect of these different voices on our soul. Ignatius describes it as turmoil of spirits and calls it 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.

I would say that I am generally a fairly decisive person. I joined Al Anon for the first time when I was seventeen, and one of the tools of the program that I have worked with a lot over the course of my life is the Just For Today card. One of my favourites from this card is:

Just for today I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Al Anon : Just For Today

It is a curious back and forth I am describing here. I have some control over the decisions I make, and yet I am powerless, and I come to believe that God can restore me. The process that links the powerlessness of the first step and the believing that God can restore me is in the discernment, the sitting with and noticing the push and pull in the turmoil of spirits. When I have made a decision, and I am resolved in that decision, I do act “decisively” to carry it out. Sometimes, it is only the action that people see from me, and not the process that has gone into that decision. This Just for Today focus highlights two pests in the process of making a change and in trusting God in making a change: hurry and indecision, both of which we might attribute the label “spiritual desolation”:

I call desolation… 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.

The time it takes to “come to believe” allows for this discernment process, a growing into faith and trust in God. We do not need to beat ourselves up that we do not enter at this point of somehow magically trusting God, for to do so may lead to self loathing, or even believing that we do really trust God may of itself be pride, a lack of humilty, that our trust is all our own achievement:

Am I not so good? Of course I trust God completely!

Memento Mori, Vanitas. “Pride” From my series on The Seven Deadly Sins.
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 4: Reading of this post.

Spiritual consolation, as described by Ignatius, is the movement towards deeper trust in God:

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.

When I talk to my own Spiritual Director, he is sometimes very interested in hearing what I feel about what I feel. What we feel is what we feel, and is a sign post to what is going on within us. What we feel about what we feel suggests something about our own self judgement and being aware of it may indicate a movement of spiritual desolation or spiritual consolation. This conversation, whether it is with a spiritual director, or with a sponsor in a twelve step fellowship, can be helpful in highlighting these deeper movements within us, and bringing them into the light so that we can see with greater clarity.

To me, the second of the twelve steps is describing a process of discernment and spiritual consolation. It is where I have been sitting these last few weeks, and relates to me making a second time choice about my life. It has been a long time coming, and was put on the shelf when I made The Exercises, to be dealt with another day, when the time was right. That right time is now, and I have made a decision, with God, in how to live more deeply and for His greater glory. Ignatius suggests that when we do make a choice, we offer that choice to God and listen for His response. It is where I am now, and to fulfill this choice will take a deeper trust in God and a belief that following through on it will restore me to sanity. I notice His smile and the growing sense of peace and certainty within me:

…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.
Morning. My prayer spot one weekend I spent in a hermitage.
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 5: Reading of this post.

I did begin this post two weeks ago, but got no further than the first line and the featured image. Being in it is not conducive to writing about it, and neither was it conducive to writing about anything else. Hence my absence from blogging these last two weeks. I am hoping to be back to my usual routine this week.

I’m going to end with a song I posted before and a scene from Wallander, which I have been watching on my “Film Fridays”. I recognised myself in Wallander and realised, as Ignatius suggests, that it is the advice I would give to that imaginary person who spoke to me about what I myself was feeling, and the spirits that were moving in my soul.

I should represent to myself a man whom I have never seen or known, and whom I would like to see practice all perfection. Then I should consider what I would tell him to do and choose for the greater glory of God our Lord and the greater perfection of his soul. I will do the same, and keep the rule I propose to others.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J Puhl S.J.
Maggie Said, Natalie Merchant

There is no perfect end, just time to leave.

Maggie Said, Natalie Merchant.
Wallander hands in his badge.

The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps

Vanitas – Inhertiance
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps, reading of this post.

I read in Fr. James Martin’s book “A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” that one of the founder members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W., had received spiritual direction from a Jesuit priest, and Andrew Garfield in his interview about the film “Silence” on the Late Show, mentioned that The Twelve Step program is based on Ignatian Spirituality. Andrew Garfield did the Spiritual Exercises by the nineteenth annotation with Fr. James Martin, so I expect it is where he learned this particular gem. I said in an earlier post that I had spent some time in a support group and I quoted the third of the twelve steps. The group to which I belonged was firstly Alateen, and then Al Anon, since my dad was an alcoholic. Alateen and Al Anon are twelve step fellowships for family members and friends of people whose lives have been affected by alcoholism. Knowing what I know about The Twelve Steps and The Spiritual Exercises, it would not surprise me in the least if the first is built on foundations of the latter. In the first year of my formation as a spiritual director, we were asked to write about other spiritualities that had influenced us in our lives: I wrote about the Twelve Steps as one of mine, because it is fundamentally a spiritual programme, without having any specific religious affiliations. It truly expresses and lives “God in All Things”. As it is Alcohol Awareness week in the United Kingdom this week, and the theme for the week is “Alcohol and Me”, it seems the most appropriate time, and the most appropriate post, for me to write, especially since I am now attending Al Anon meetings once more. The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions are read at the beginning of each meeting.

The Twelve Steps

1. We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

2. Came to believe that a Power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics* and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/About-AA/The-12-Steps-of-AA

*In the twelve steps used by Al Anon and Alateen, step twelve is modified to read “others” rather than “alcoholics”.

St. Beunos: main garden steps
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps 2, reading of this post.

The first point to stress is that this program does not belong to any particular religion, and the mention of God can be problematic for some people. However, the phrase “Power greater than Ourselves”, or “Higher Power” is both helpful and challenging. I knew an AA member once who told me that having no religious faith, he struggled with the concept: not with accepting that he was powerless, the first step made sense to him by the time he came to AA, because he knew that alcohol was more powerful than he was by the way that it had affected his life: it was the idea of God he struggled with. In the end, he accepted GOD as an acronym for “Group Of Drunks” because he accepted the Higher Power of his AA group and knew that it helped him to sobriety, to stay sober and was ultimately life giving, leading him to better health, self esteem and reconciliation with his family.

One of the slogans used in twelve step fellowships is:

Let go and Let God.

and Saint Ignatius calls consolation:

…every increase of faith, hope and love.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Loius J. Puhl S.J.

Regular use of the above slogan leads to a deeper trust in God. The enemy does not lead people into life, ultimately, and it was in Al Anon, through the Twelve Steps, when I first learned to recognise the action of God, as I understand Him, in the lives of these courageous and honest people, even if they did not call Him by the same name as me.

Where steps 1 – 3 might have echoes of the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises, where the movement is towards indifference to created things and to seek only what God would have us do and be, steps 4-6 overlap with the First Week, where the grace to be asked for is sorrow and knowledge of myself as a sinner, and to come to know the nature and patterns of my own sinfulness, while still holding onto the knowledge that I am loved by God. Making a personal inventory, the fourth step, is no joke: it is a warts and all approach and is consistent with the movement in the first week of the Exercises. I allow light to shine on all my defects of character, to recognise the pattern of them, to feel the sorrow of them, and so come to the point of desire to be free from them.

Step 5 is important here, and probably worth repeating:

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The Path
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps 3, reading of this post.

It is very easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we do not really have to share our wrong doings with another person, that God forgives us anyway. Absolutely, He does, but one of the ways the enemy works, according to Saint Ignatius, is as a secret lover, whispering lies to draw us away. His answer is to tell: a spiritual director or some other person well versed in discernment. In Al Anon, or another twelve step program, the other person may be our sponsor, someone who understands where we are and sees the patterns by which we can be tied up in knots. Sharing the exact nature of our wrongs is not about self abasement or self loathing, and it is not necessarily a good friend who simply comforts and affirms us in the error of our ways because they want to cheer us up and reassure us that we are not all that bad. The challenging and loving director or sponsor encourages us in our spiritual growth, and yes, while that can be painful, it is life giving and worth it. In the Roman Catholic tradition, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation at this point in the journey may be spiritually refreshing.

The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps 4, reading of this post.

Steps 7 – 11 echo the second week: they are about making a decision about how we live, and to trust it to God, being willing to be guided in our decision by His will. There is discernment involved here in all aspects of our lives and in the individual decisions we make in every day situations, and while some of our decisions can be big decisions, many of them are not. In the Al Anon book “One Day at a Time in Al Anon” the meditation for October 8 ends with a quote from Thomas A’ Kempis:

Whensoever a man desires anything inordinately, he is presently disquieted within himself.

Thomas A’ Kempis: The Imitation of Christ

Ignatius cites as the purpose for the spiritual exercises as:

…the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.

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

It is an important business: it is about making the right decisions and for the right reasons, and enabling us to live peacefully with the consequences of our decisions. It brings serenity, that much used word and sought after grace of the program. Sometimes it may simply boil down to the decision to be kind and courteous in this particular conversation: to choose our attitude. Another tool the program has to help us to focus this principle in our little decisions in the course of a day is the Just for Today card, which is something I use regularly:

Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, keep my voice low, be courteous, criticize not one bit. I won’t find fault with anything, nor try to improve or regulate anybody but myself.

Al Anon Just for Today card.

The one above is one of my favourites, and one I find quite challenging. It encourages me to find the right balance between superficial vanity and slothfulness: to love myself and to see myself as God sees me. And of course, it also encourages me to see others as God sees them, and to love them as God loves them, and to refuse to see it as my job to fix or convert them to my way of thinking.

The Twelve Step program diverges from the Exercises at the second week however. The second, third and fourth weeks of the exercises have their focus centred on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and therefore locates them very specifically within the Christian faith. The Twelve Steps is a non religious program for everyone. In the preamble to the steps it says:

The principles they embody are universal, applicable to everyone, whatever his personal creed.

The Twelve Steps, preamble.

Ignatius offers an eighteenth annotation of The Exercises where he says:

The spiritual exercises must be adapted to the condition of the one who is to engage in them…

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

and he goes on to describe different situations and ways that it might be done. He begins his conclusion with:

But let him go no further and take up the matter dealing with the Choice of a Way of Life, nor any other exercises that are outside of the First Week.

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

Ignatius is effectively saying, horses for courses: if beyond the first week is not appropriate, then there is no need to pursue it further. It might be considered that The Twelve Steps is in effect an Eighteenth Annotation of The Spiritual Exercises, where we:

…take what we like and leave the rest.

It is not to say that The Twelve Steps are less: in one sense they might be considered more, because of their adaptation beyond the Christian faith to all religions and none. It is analogous to the movement of Christianity itself from the Jewish faith where it began, outwards to the Gentiles, and to the whole world. I cannot help but feel that both Ignatius and God approve.

Steps 7 – 11 also incorporate within them The Examen, the purpose of which is “to improve our conscious contact with God” and Ignatius is known to have encouraged the Jesuits in that,if they only had the space in their day for one prayer, then it is this one that they should do.

Can be printed onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer place if you would find it helpful.
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps, reading of this post.

In fact, steps 4-6 also echo The Examen in their movement.

The twelfth step is suggestive of the Contemplatio, where Ignatius makes the first point:

…love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.

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

The concept of service is a principle which runs through The Twelve Traditions of twelve step fellowships, the purpose of which is:

…personal progress for the greatest number….

Al Anon, Tradition 1.

and members volunteer for a variety of roles from maybe chairing at a meeting one week, to speaking publicly at conventions. I once spoke at a convention in Edinburgh as a member of Alateen when I was eighteen. It is an important witness, because when people living in this chaos see that it is possible to find serenity, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not, it is powerfully attractive. Ignatius describes in the Two Standards meditation of the Exercises how those under the standard of Christ attract and draw, rather than drive, bully and coerce. The eleventh tradition states this principle explicitly:

Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion;

Al Anon, Tradition 11.

Both The Twelve Steps and The Spiritual Exercises offer transformative processes by which to change our lives. The former provides emergency support and hope for those living in the chaos of deeply destructive addictions, and its byte sized slogans and steps give oxygen immediately in instances of suffocating despair and desolation, securing the idea that “no unhappiness is too great to be lessened.” Continual engagement with the program, with meetings and with the help of a sponsor fosters a deepening of these principles, in faith and love, as we continue to apply them to our lives, irrespective of our religious practice. They are a great gift. I once heard Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the other founding member of AA, described as the greatest social architects of the twentieth century and I believe that there is some truth in that statement. The Spiritual Exercises provide a similar process specific to Christian faith, and for everyone in acceptance of that faith, a means to deepen their personal relationship with God and live according to His will, regardless of their personal circumstances. There are some of us who are grateful to know and have both.

Serenity Prayer – used to close Al Anon, and other twelve step meetings.

A conversation between friends.

I went to the meditation event run by the Norwich Christian Meditation Centre and it has given me much food for thought. The first, and maybe most obvious thing to explore is that Fr. Korko, being a Jesuit, has integrated aspects of The Spiritual Exercises with other aspects of his Indian culture. St. Ignatius tells us that:

The Spiritual Exercises must be adapted to the condition of the one who is to engage in them, that is, to his age, education and talent.

Annotation 18; The Spiritual Exercises trans: Loius J. Puhl, S.J

Fr. Korko used the specific term “Spiritual Exercises” near the beginning of the day and from his Jesuit background, and from his teaching on the day itself, we can infer that he means:

By the term “Spiritual Exercises” is meant every method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual activities…so we call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments…

Annotation 1; The Spiritual Exercises trans: Loius J. Puhl, S.J

His interweaving of the Exercises and his Indian culture was seamless, and presented as a conversation between East and West, and between West and East, a true representation of God in All Things.

For example, there was an image of Christ the Guru, not this particular one, but the video illustrates the principle I am trying to elucidate.

It reminded me of a time I visited the Westminster Interfaith project and I met the founder/director, Brother Daniel Faivre SG, one of the most inspiring people I have ever had the privilege to meet in my life. Like Fr. Korko, his mystic character, as described by Wayne Teasdale in The Mystic Heart, was evident.

Summarised from The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

And I remembered visiting the mosque, and the Sikh and Hindu temples that day, seeing how highly regarded Br. Daniel was by the other faith leaders, and how our group was welcomed into each by the communities there as guests and friends. This conversation moved me and has stayed with me all these years: as has another comment about the day from one of our group:

Yes, but all of those deities would have to go.

It saddened me. Here “Deep is calling to deep” as the psalmist sings, and the blue note was not heard by all who were there. It is the insistence that I am right, and you are wrong, and you need to come over to my way of doing things.

It’s let him live in freedom. If he lives like me.

Jim Croce. Which way are you goin’?

It seems to me that God is far more generous than this – we only have to look at how Jesus behaves towards Samaritans, the Syro-Phoenician woman, the Roman centurian. Openness, listening, seeing, profound peace – these are some of the fruits of the spiritual journey.

Summarised from The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale

A few years ago, I was on retreat at St Beunos in North Wales and I was wandering in the herb garden. There was a bed there that had seven different varieties of lavender: all clearly recognisable by their scent, even though each was subtly different. I had a conversation with God about it, as one friend speaks to another:

“Why have you made so many things that are very similar but are variations on a theme?” I asked Him.

“When you draw and paint mandalas, why do you do so many that are similar, but with slight variations?” He asked me.

I thought about it for a moment before answering. “Well, I have all of these ideas in my head, and I can’t decide which one I like best, so I do them all.”

“Exactly.” He said. “That is how it is for me. I have all these fantastic ideas and I can’t decide which is best, so I make them all.”

It seems to me then to be very disingenuous for one variety to turn round to the others and say:

Yes, but you’re not true lavender, are you?

When I was a teenager and in my early twenties I spent some years attending a twelve step fellowship, and I wrestled with the third step:

Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

Alcoholics Anonymous, Step 3 of the Twelve Steps.

There is a whole journey in this step alone, but here, I’m specifically referring to the last part: God, as we understood Him. When I listen to people in my capacity as a spiritual director I realise that everyone understands God differently, according to their own unique experience of being in relationship with Him; and I am listening for the One I know in what they are saying. When I hear of Him, my love for Him deepens, as does my love for the person telling me about Him: I get to view my beloved through the eyes of another. And I do recognise Him in the story of the other when I think: “Yes, that is just like Him.”

That which we call a rose

By any other name would smell as sweet;

Romeo and Juliet, William Shakespeare.

You might have experienced such a thing by meeting someone who is a friend of a friend. It’s natural then to swap some stories of the mutual friend, and this only enhances love for both your friend, and the friend of your friend.

I don’t consider it my place to deny or criticise another persons experience of God, wherever they are coming from; I do consider that I have a role, as a spiritual director, to listen and to help someone to discern for themselves what is of God, and what is not of God, just as others do the same for me. And here, as further food for thought, I offer Natalie Merchant’s song of the poem by John Godfrey Saxe, and a mind map of the guidelines for inter-religious understanding discussed in The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale. This inter-mystical bridge is good ground from which open-hearted, respectful and loving conversations can take place with others that have a different perspective from our own. The Ignatian way is that God is found in all things, and we can ask for the grace to find Him in all things, including in conversations with others of different cultures, denominations and faiths, and even of no professed faith, as one friend speaks to another. Imagine a world where we all spoke to one another as friends.

The Blind Men and the Elephant. Poem by John Godfrey Saxe, song by Natalie Merchant.
Summarised from The Mystic Heart by Wayne Teasdale