I Am Legend

I Am Legend 1: Reading of the Post

When I was writing the post for Diary of a Sunflower the other day and describing a scene from some recurrent nightmares I had as a child, where I would be lying on a road, or a railway line, and a car or a train would be coming towards me, and I could see it and was desperately trying to get out of the way, but my legs would not work, I was paralysed by fear, it reminded me of a scene from the film “I am Legend” with Will Smith in it, where the infected dogs are after him and his dog, but they cannot cross the sunlight on the ground. The sun is going down and that ray of light is gradually disappearing.

This scene is quite scary, and a bit upsetting. If you are squeamish, maybe just skip it.
I Am Legend 2: Reading of the Post

Of course, the social distancing, social isolation situation here in the United Kingdom, and the Coronavirus pandemic is also, obviously, playing on my mind. “I Am Legend” is a film set in a post apocalyptic world, where most of the world has been infected with a virus that has turned them into Nightwalkers. The Will Smith character, Neville, is immune to the virus which affects humans in the airborne form, but dogs can only get infected by being bitten. He is a virologist, trying to find a vaccine. A topical subject. It is an excellent film, but a white knuckle ride, you need to be in the right mood I would say, and maybe, now is not the time.

Dreams of paralysing fear are quite common and can signify being stuck or restrained, from internal or external sources, or they can come from repressing stresses and feelings in our waking life. It sounds like I am describing the current situation where school has now been closed and we are working from home, setting lessons online. I might be calm and measured in my actions, but there is a small child inside me who is freaking out, a small child who knows that closing schools, and for an undefined length of time, and cancelling qualifying exams, is a last resort and means the situation is serious.

So what to do with that paralysing fear? There is no trite answer to that, and neither would I want to give one. To freeze can be a normal response to a real threat and sometimes, maybe standing still is safest action to take. Fight or flight might just make the situation more dangerous. I am thinking of where a dangerous predator might not have noticed that you are there. As a child, I loved horror films. Staying up late on a Saturday night to watch the horror double bill was a treat for us. I especially loved the Dracula films; and while I might go to bed with that adrenaline fuelled fear of:

What if there really are such creatures?

and :

What if there are monsters under my bed?

I always put my crucifix on my pillow when I went to bed and felt safe, and if I had to go to the toilet during the night, I would take a flying leap back into bed, and hold onto that crucifix tightly until my heart rate had slowed down again..

From The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius
I Am Legend 3: Reading of the Post

We have become very used to the wonders of modern medical science I think, and especially in the United Kingdom with our wonderful National Health Service. It is not something we should take for granted, it is precious. We are getting a glimpse of what the world would be like without appropriate medicine, without vaccines, without antibiotics. For much of human history we did not have such wondrous technology, and there are places in the world that still do not have access to technology and medicines that are available elsewhere. To be used to depending on our own ingenuity so successfully, and to find ourselves in a position where we are not in control, but something else is, with blatant disregard to our feelings and well being; that something being invisible to our eyes but we can clearly see its effects, is sobering. I am of course talking about COVID-19. And scientists cannot decide whether or not viruses are living.

Recently, in the context of the meditation on a public sinner in the first week if the spiritual exercises, I heard someone describe sin as a virus. Hitler was presented as the public sinner, a common choice, and the contagion of his ideas spread exponentially throughout those around him who carried out his orders. It seems to me an excellent analogy, but I do not want to get into the sickness = sin equation of the Old Testament. It is to note that social behaviour driven by fear is leading to hording, fighting in the aisles, denial of the seriousness of the situation and refusing to take action by physically distancing oneself, but just carrying on as if nothing at all is happening. The disease spreading through our world is shining a spotlight on our collective sinfulness, our collective fear and lack of faith in God.

Bodwellian Castle: I visted this castle on my second repose day during the Spiritual Exercises at St. Beunos.
I Am Legend 4: Reading of the Post

But it is not the whole story. Just as there is a cry of wonder as we turn to the crucified Christ in the Exercises, there were those who stood up: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein, Maximillion Kolbe….many people who refused, and died refusing to accept it, whose faith was tested right to the point of death. And there are those who are standing up in the wake of the pandemic: Dr. Li, who tried to warn the world of this new viral pneumonia that we had never seen before and died from it himself, all the key workers, responding to the crisis by carrying on, caring for others. There are those in local communities who are rallying round to make sure the vulnerable are looked after. There is less talk of Brexit, although it is still there under the surface its effects in this current situation are being considered, but people are caring more for each other and building communities online to support each other. Fear is not the only story, God is there in the midst of it all.

I Am Legend 5: Reading of the Post

I have been catching up with Day 14 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich. The words that particularly struck me from Julian in relation to the current crisis are when “our courteous Lord” says to Julian:

My dear darling, I am glad that you have come to me in all your woe….and now you see me loving.

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

and it has gone hand in hand with an image that was posted on the CCC Facebook page:

I do not know who has created this image – I would like to attribute it properly. There is only the “signature” @arte.carde, and the symbol of the little figure. Whoever you are, thank you for this image.
I Am Legend 6: Reading of the Post

Ignatius advises that when we are in a time of desolation:

…it will be very advantageous to intensify our activity against the desolation. We can insist more upon prayer, upon meditation, and on much examination of ourselves. We can make an effort in a suitable way to do some penance.

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

…one who suffers desolation should remember that by making use of the sufficient grace offered him, he can do much to withstand all his enemies. Let him find his strength in his Creator and Lord.

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

When one enjoys consolation, let him consider how he will conduct himself during the time of ensuing desolation, and store up a supply of strength as defense against that day.

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

The image above reminds me of a previous imaginative contemplation I made on the Good Samaritan at the end of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises and by bringing it to mind, and into my current prayer, this previous consolation, I have found that my inner child is settling down and my trust is deepening. No, I do not know how we will emerge from this crisis as a world and I hope it will be different in a good way; that we will come to understand that we are all connected to each other and that we need to look after each other and our world. There will always be disease: viruses and bacteria evolve more quickly than we do and medical science is always playing catch up. Consolation, sensible and spiritual, is to be found in how we deal with it. I, for one, am grateful for all those people who have posted the positives and prayers on social media, because they have all helped me to make use of the grace offered me and to withstand the fear raining down.

On a Balcony in Barcelona.

Three kinds of silence.

Reading of Three kinds of silence, Part 1.

I described in an earlier post that I liked to read fantasy novels as a way of relaxing during the holidays, and that “The Name of the Wind”, by Patrick Rothfuss, contained a prologue which is one of the most beautiful and poignant pieces of prose I had ever read in my life. He titles his prologue ” A Silence of Three Parts”. He begins his description:

The most obvious part was a hollow, echoing quiet, made by things that were lacking. If there had been a wind it would have sighed through the trees, set the inn’s sign creaking on its hooks, and brushed the silence down the road like trailing autumn leaves.

The Name of the Wind. Patrick Rothfuss

He has also written a beautiful, poignant book about one of the characters we meet in “The Name of the Wind”, called “The Slow Regard of Silent Things”.

Silence is an issue. Ignatius also writes in the power of three in the Spiritual Exercises: the first, second and third sin; the three powers of the soul, three classes of men; three kinds of humility; three times of making a choice; three methods of prayer, three principle reasons why we suffer from desolation. And in a previous post I wrote about speaking out, the opposite of silence. Hence the convergence of these three ideas here. Further, I would describe three aspects to the three kinds of silence, a sort of fractal pattern.

The first kind of silence I would describe as a literal, physical silence, something of which Rothfuss is describing above. There is a noticeable lack of it in our fast paced world. It may present as the absence of ambient noise that we selectively do not hear, it may be in holding our tongue in non verbal disapproval, or maybe even shock, at the behaviour, actions or speech of another, or it may be keeping quiet to allow another, or others, to speak in conversation or in a group setting. One thing I have noticed more and more since becoming a spiritual director is that when we are in conversation with each other, we often only listen for the pause in the conversation so that we know when we can voice our own opinion; we are not really listening to what the other person is saying. I see this a lot in the classroom: a child puts their hand up to ask a question mid explanation, and I finish my explanation before they are given the opportunity to speak, only to find that I have just explained the answer to their question in the intervening period. So intent were they in listening for the pause, that they missed the answer to the question they had put their hand up to ask. Or, during meetings sometimes, someone is speaking and making a point, and someone else, or more than one someone else, starts talking over them and the chair frequently has to step in: and of course, not just meetings, in any group conversation I notice this happening. I notice myself doing it too, and when I do, I apologise for interrupting and I attempt to correct my behaviour. So here, I want to issue you with a challenge: sit back a bit this week and listen. Where do you see this lack of silence and listening in your day to day life?

The second kind of silence I would describe is the silence of abuse. Firstly , the silence of the victim, who feels unable to speak out. Secondly, the silence of those who know about the abuse, but are unable to stop it and do not speak out. And thirdly, the silence of those who both know about the abuse and are in a position to make it stop, but do not take the necessary action to terminate it.

I wrote in a previous post about Ignatius’ description of how the enemy acts as a false lover, by whispering secrets and encouraging us not to tell, whether it is grooming or gas-lighting. He encourages us to speak out, to act against the compulsion to silence. I would like to illustrate with a story:

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: We are family.
Reading of Three kinds of silence, Part 2

Tara has been gas-lighted and abused by her family all of her life, and we see her at the beginning of the scene with no sense of her own self worth. She has lied, deceived and put her friends in danger, and they have just found out. Notice the movement in her from the beginning to the end of the scene, with each intervention. Willow firstly speaks forgiveness and understanding, and she is coming from a place of love; Buffy steps in with strength and protection and the others collectively draw out the truth of the abuse. Notice how her family respond to these interventions: with the continued lies and fallacious reasoning, anger and emotional blackmail. Until finally, Tara finds courage and strength to stand, to face down her abusers and to see herself as worthy of love and life. To me, this scene is excellent in its depiction of turmoil of spirits, and Tara’s responses show movements of desolation and consolation throughout the scene. From the position of protection, coming from a place of love, understanding and truth, light is shone on the abuse and it is brought to an end, and recovery is given the opportunity to begin.

There is no room for silence where abuse is concerned, and those who have been abused need those who know about it to listen and to act, so that they can speak out and we can collectively make it stop.

Light in the darkness

The third kind is the silence of prayer. In maintaining a silence during a retreat for example, or setting time aside at home in order to enter into that space where we can connect with God. This also includes a silence from all sorts of input via books, television, social media. It is cutting ourselves off from distractions, the urgency of the clamour that demands our attention. By silencing the cacophony of the world, we are creating a sacred space where we can enter into the depths of and with God. Imagine the feeling of walking along a beach alone, where hours pass and it feels like seconds, and now imagine that sense lasting and deepening over a period of days. It is also our silence and stillness when we place ourselves before Him to listen.

And it is also, sometimes, the silence when we hear nothing back from Him, as in the film “Silence”.

Reading of Three kinds of silence, part 3.

Such times, when we feel an absence of God’s presence, and we are consistently bombarded by the actions of the evil spirit manifested in others and in our own thoughts, it can be extremely painful and confusing. Ignatius has some useful advice to help us at such times:

…it will be very advantageous to intensify our activity against desolation. We can insist more on prayer, upon meditation, and on much examination of ourselves. We can make an effort in a suitable way to do some penance,

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

As I stated earlier, Ignatius offers three principle reasons why we suffer from desolation:

The first is because we have been tepid and slothful or negligent in our exercises of piety…

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

The second is because God wishes to try us to see how much we are worth, and how much we will advance in His service and praise when left without the generous reward of consolations and signal favors.

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

The third reason is because God wishes to give us a true knowledge and understanding of ourselves, so that we may have an intimate perception of the fact that it is not within our power to acquire and attain great devotion…or any other spiritual consolation; but that all this is the gift and grace of God our Lord.

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

So Ignatius encourages us, that while God does not cause desolation, He allows it for our ultimate benefit and uses it to draw us still closer and more deeply into Him. Ignatius advises us, that when we are in a time of consolation, we consider how we will conduct ourselves in a time of desolation and that we store up a supply of strength as defense against that day. In practice, this may mean that when we are in desolation we call to mind, during prayer or during our day to day activities, memories of past experiences of consolation and savour them.

I would like to invite you this week to notice silence in your life. Where is it coming from? Where is it leading to? What are your own inner movements in the silence, and as you notice the silence?

I will end with this cover, and video, of a classic song because the first time I saw it, I was moved and haunted by it, and I pondered it for quite a while afterwards.