Science versus Religion

Science vs. Religion 1: reading of this post.

Historically, and currently, there are many acrimonius arguments between advocates of science and advocates of, and for, religious faith. I could discuss rationally the issues around transmission of viruses such as coronavirus, lockdown/social distancing, vaccination; Copernicus, Galileo, Darwin; Intelligent Design, Evolution, The Big Bang – all the standard stuff. I could present an argument against those presented by the most evangelical of atheist scientists Richard Dawkins, but others, such as Alister McGrath and Kathleen Jones, have already done that a lot more eloquently than I ever could. I could quote Albert Einstein:

Science without religion is lame, religion without science is blind.

Albert Einstein

I might suggest the movie God’s Not Dead, where a young man presents the arguments to his philosophy class in a dramatic fashion:

Science vs. Religion 2: reading of this post.

But I write here to tell my story, to show how God is found in all things in the ordinary human life, all we have to do is look for Him each and every day in the moments of our lives. For me, there is no conflict between religious faith and faith in science: further than that, not only is there a lack of conflict, for me, there is synergy, each augments the other, as is implied by the quote from Einstein. So, here, I am describing my experiences, my reflections, my story.

Among my earliest memories as a small child – around the age of about five or six – I remember sitting making a mud pie on a reasonably dry summers day, using little pink flowers for the fruit (I was thinking raspberries) and water fetched from the outdoor tap to mix it together. I was distracted by a large lump of dirt that I had picked up and had started to break up to mix into my pie and I started to wonder about the different sizes I could break this piece into. If I broke it again, and again, and kept going, how small could it go? I held a single grain of soil in my hand and looked at it, pondering. Was this it? Or, was this small piece made out of smaller pieces, and if so, were those smaller pieces made out of even smaller pieces? And did it ever stop? Was there a point where it did stop? And if so, how? What were those smallest of all pieces made of? How could it just stop? Then, at the age of thirteen, in third year of high school, my first Chemistry lesson happened. We were learning about atoms and boom! right there, all the lights went on and there were ten questions for every single one the teacher either asked or answered. So began my love affair with Chemistry. To me, Chemistry is full of intrigue and mystery, and it is clever: as a system, it just works beautifully.

I will pull out a few examples to illustrate what I mean. Firstly, carbon, I would argue the single, most amazing element on the periodic table. I do not say that lightly: many of the elements are amazing. Secondly, water; the most incredible compound in the world. It is so ordinary, so ubiquitous that, for those of us fortunate enough to live where there is a ready abundance of clean, usable water, we can almost take it for granted. It is of note that scripture does not. And thirdly, there is hydrogen bonding. Ah me, we do not teach about hydrogen bonding until A level Chemistry (post sixteen) and yet without it, water would be a gas, and DNA would not be able to replicate and…but I said I would pull put only a few examples.

Windows on a building in Cambridge
Science vs. Religion 3: reading of this post.

Let me tie it together to give you the gist of it. Because of the way its atoms are structured, carbon can form four covalent bonds. This means it can form giant, 3D structures such as diamond; it can makes layers of hexagons, a bit like a honeycomb, such as in graphite where the layers are weakly held together, or take one of those layers and you have graphene and we are into the realms of nanotechnology, touch screens and all sorts of modern advances. Because of its four bonds, carbons can join together in rings and chains, and then we are into the whole area of organic chemistry: fuels, plastics, medicines; and biochemistry: proteins, chemical hormones, DNA. There is a phrase in the Start Trek Universe:

Carboniferous life forms.

Meaning living organisms whose tissues are based on the element carbon. It includes us, and life on our planet. All because carbon can form four covalent bonds and therefore has such diversity in the compounds and molecules it can make with other atoms. Sure, silicon can also make four bonds, but its atoms are a bit bigger, and the bonds a bit weaker, so, while silicon has its own special gifts, it is not able to do the same thing.

Water is a small little molecule, H2O, which contains a total of ten electrons. It is smaller than say, oxygen, O2, which has sixteen electrons, or more directly comparable to neon, which also has ten electrons. Consideration of the forces that can hold molecules together in a liquid that depend on the number of electrons (induced dipole dipole interactions) would lead us to expect water to be a gas, not a liquid, as we know it to be. The first liquid hydrocarbon which has only these forces is pentane, which has seventy two electrons, the previous one, butane, has fifty eight electrons and is a gas. If this were the whole story, water would be a gas: imagine the world with no liquid water. And, when water freezes, ice is less dense than liquid water. So what? I hear you ask, probably because my students look blankly at me when I say things like that. Well, solids are normally more dense than liquids because the particles pack more closely together. If this were true for water, ice would sink when it formed and lakes and ponds would freeze from the bottom up. Imagine frozen waterways, where the water got shallower as it froze. What would happen to the water life? And would it ever melt again? Would the heat of the sun be able to penetrate to the depths of the water to melt it? Instead, the lower density of ice means it floats on top of the water and freezes from the top down. It insulates the water beneath it so that the temperature deeper down does not drop below 4oC, and when the surface is warmed by the sun, the ice is able to melt.

Water droplets on a leaf: St. Beunos
Science vs. Religion 4: reading of this post.

Why? Why does water behave in such an unsual way? Hydrogen bonding, number three on my list. Hydrogen bonds are around ten times stronger that the weaker forces I mentioned earlier (induced dipole dipole interactions) and ten times weaker than the covalent bonds that hold atoms together in molecules. In other words, they are strong enough to hold molecules together in a structure, and weak enough to be broken easily. Water makes two hydrogen bonds per molecule which is why they stick together in the liquid. It also explains water’s high surface tension, which gives the shape of water droplets and allows water skaters to walk on water. I am sure it is not the reason Jesus could though!

Hydrogen bonding is what holds the two strands of DNA together in the double helix. What is cool about it is that these bonds are weak enough to be unzipped and the molecule replicated in order to make more DNA, which contains our genetic code, before zipping the double helix back up again. Hydrogen bonds are both strong enough to hold the strands together and weak enough to allow the process for them to be copied.

Part of me now wants to go on about the perfect conditions for the energy from the sun to be enough and not too much to sustain life on our planet, and how incredible the:

…set of fragile coincidences combine to make the pertubation effective but not overly so.

Energy and the Atmosphere A Physical-Chemical Approach; Ian M Campbell

To which perturbation does he refer? I quote:

Were thermodynamic criteria to hold sway without perturbation, then life should not exist itself nor should our atmosphere contain the oxygen to sustain life.

Energy and the Atmosphere A Physical-Chemical Approach; Ian M Campbell

In other words, without the set of fragile coincidences he lays out in great detail (the book quoted is a degree level Chemistry textbook), without these coincident exceptions, the scientific laws of thermodynamics would not allow for life on our planet.

Water Lily, Planatation Gardens, Norwich
Science vs. Religion 5: reading of this post.

I know I need to stop now because there is a real danger of me getting carried away here, and if I lost you with all the Chemistry, I apologise. I really have tried to hold it back enough to illustrate my point, without lecturing you in Chemistry. And here is my point. Chemistry is just too neat, too clever, too perfect to argue with. My experience with the mud pie I now recognise as a numinous experience, a contemplation of infinity, an experience of God. In fact, it was God to whom I was addressing the questions.

God, how small does this go?

How do you create a world? How do you create life and make it work? For me, to learn about Chemistry is to learn about God. There is no conflict, there is no science versus religion. And there are no words to express the reverence and awe I feel when I am contemplating Chemistry.

Imaginative Contemplation: The Ascension

The Ascension of the Lord, Cycle A

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.  

The Ascension of Jesus

So when they had come together, they asked him, ‘Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He replied, ‘It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’ When he had said this, as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. 10 While he was going and they were gazing up towards heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. 11 They said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up towards heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken up from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.’

Imaginative Contemplation: The Ascension. Guided prayer

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

Loving the Leper

Loving the Leper 1: Reading of this post

I have been feeling ill recently and I was offered a test for COVID-19 because of the combination of symptoms I was experiencing, and because I am a teacher and on the rota to go into school to look after children of other key workers and our vulnerable children. The test came back negative, so I do not have coronavirus: either I had some other virus, or I had gone past the point of being actively infectious. I guess I would need the antigen test to know for sure whether it was or was not. The test was conducted by the army on one of the mobile testing stations that have been set up around the United Kingdom, and you know it is serious when the army are involved. My daughter commented that it was all very post apocalyptic when we arrived. It was a sobering experience.

The first soldier asked me not to roll the window down and spoke to us through the glass. On driving to the second point, they threw the test kits in the back window onto the back seat of the car and we parked up and did the tests ourselves. Not pleasant. The completed tests had to be double bagged, the second bag not being sealed until another soldier at the checking out point made sure they were done properly. They were then dropped into a lined bin from the window. Of course, all of the soldiers were wearing masks and gloves and at no point was there any contact with us or our vehicle. It was hard and upsetting, although perfectly understandable, to be on the receiving end of the attitude of a Scottish insult:

I’m not coming anywhere near you, I might catch something.

and for it to be real. It brought to mind this scene from The Chosen:

Loving the Leper 2: Reading of this post

Please, please don’t turn away from me.

Now that just made me cry. If I found my fairly civilised experience difficult, what must it be like for those who live with this kind of ostracism, without hope of becoming well again? And my mind went to all those who are dying sick and alone in hospital at the moment, not being able to see their loved ones in case they infect them. And I also thought of the medical staff taking care of them, wearing masks, gloves, whatever PPE they actually have and showing the sick humbling compassion, despite the risk to themselves: and I cried some more.

I also beat myself up before I got the results while I held the possibility that it was coronavirus. How had I contracted this disease? Where did I deviate from the protocols? What did I do wrong? I narrowed it down to putting petrol in the car and delaying too long to wash my hands – for a variety of reasons. Yes, there was some self blame going on, it was my own fault I was sick. Subconsciously, I had made a connection: sin makes you sick, you did it wrong and you got sick. I felt guilty and a little ashamed about being ill, and I felt stupid. There was a critical Pharisee voice in my head. It brought to mind another Gospel scene from The Chosen.

Loving the Leper 3: Reading of this post

I love the interplay between desolation and consolation in this scene. The Pharisees, (excepting Nicodemus) are critical, lacking in love and faith, and negatively judgemental whereas the paralytic and his friends have complete faith that Jesus can heal him if He chooses to. Jesus’ response to both is worthy of note: the faith of the woman He affirms as beautiful, and the Pharisees, He faces them boldly and challenges them. It reminds me of one of the ways Ignatius advises us in the Exercises of dealing with spiritual desolation:

…the enemy becomes weak, loses courage, and turns to flight with his seductions as soon as one leading a spiritual life faces his temptations boldly, and does exactly the opposite of what he suggests.

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

I am also reminded of Psalm 91, when Satan quotes from it to tempt Jesus in the desert. He says:

“He will command his angels concerning you”,
    and “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’

Matthew 4:6

I am perplexed by those who flout the recommendations regarding lock down and social distancing, who insist that it is their right to worship (it is, I do not disagree with that), and continue defiantly to pack into church, insisting that God will protect them, and by implication, prevent them from getting the disease. I am not sure of their thinking on passing it on to others. Worship and prayer do not cease to be worship and prayer if we go into our room alone with God and close the door, or, if we use a video conferencing app to pray with others if we still want to have our community with us while we pray.

St. Ignatius describes three powers of the soul: the memory and imagination, reason and the will, where the understanding of the latter is about what is in the heart. Ignatius is often quoted as saying:

Pray as if everything depends on God and work as if everything depends on you.

Reason suggests that we take every measure we possibly can to prevent spreading this disease, which has proved to be fatal to many people. Jesus answers Satan’s selective and twisted use of scripture (the part after where Satan stops refers to trampling on the serpent’s head):

‘Again it is written, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’

Matthew 4:7

And in both the healing stories in the video clips, the supplicants acknowledge that it was if He was willing. It is not ours to command God to our will, to demand a specific outcome, the one we desire.

Loving the Leper 4: Reading of this post

Julian of Norwich has an interesting take on God’s perspective on suffering when she talks about the Lord and His servant:

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 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.

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

This parable that Julian tells in her revelations has stayed with me over the years since I first read Revelations of Divine Love. And the clips of The Chosen I have shown exemplify beautifully the loving regard we are held in, especially when we fall, and we see the hearts of those being healed melting for love and breaking in joy.

Loving the Leper 5: Reading of this post

I wrote about indifference and The First Principle and Foundation previously:

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.

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

So, what is my point? Sickness and spiritual desolation are not the same thing, just as health and spiritual consolation are not the same thing. As human beings, we will experience both, they may come and go, we are going to fall and it is going to hurt. It is inevitable. It is not ours to decide what God’s will is and to try to force Him to prove it to us and the rest of the world. It is ours to desire and choose His will. Loving the leper may mean that we have to look tenderly and lovingly, as God does, at the servant injured in the dell, whether they have fallen there because of their own enthusiasm, carelessness, negligence or by an apparent and random accident. And that servant may be ourselves or someone else.

I Am Not Alone.

I Am Not Alone 1: Reading of this post.

I have been walking quite a difficult path for a while now – you know, one of those rocky paths where there are stones and potholes where you could easily turn over on your ankle; or it narrows until there are thorn bushes on one side and a precipice on the other and it is a very tight gap to negotiate through. And of course, this path is uphill. There are interludes along the way: green, grassy valleys, flower meadows and cool fresh streams to drink, rest and bathe in. These nurture points are all appreciated with a deeper gratitude because the rest of the way is difficult.

So on this journey one day, I came around a sharp bend to a fork in the path. My feet were sore and blistered inside my boots from the walking I had already done, and my back was aching and my knees buckling with the weight of the rucksack I was carrying. I stared in dismay at the fork in the path: I had no idea which one to take. It mattered which one I took, because, while both were difficult and painful to travel by, the wrong one was treacherous, and not just for me. The problem was, I did not know which path was the wrong path, they both seemed as dangerous as each other.

“Discernment”: Path to the Rock Chapel at St. Beunos.
I Am Not Alone 2: Reading of this post.

In the Rules of Discernment in The Spiritual Exercises, St Ignatius uses metaphor to describe the different ways the evil spirit works. Of one he says:

The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to the tactics of a leader intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. A commander and leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.

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

As I stood at the fork in the path, my castle came under attack, sustained and violent. I was bombarded with flaming canon balls, pressuring me to make a choice, telling me that the wrong choice would cause a catastrophe from which there would be no coming back and would have serious implications for those I loved. Those critical voices told me that it was all my fault, that I was worthless, and that any fallout from this decision was down to me, and in fact that there was a decision here at all was all my fault anyway because I had made mistakes in my past. Those critical voices told me that there was no time to waste, that I had to make a decision and make it quickly, because every second of delay only made it worse. Perhaps you know what I mean because you have been in a similar situation yourself?

Bodwellian Castle, Wales
I Am Not Alone 3: Reading of this post.

I remembered an image from a story I had been reading as a child. There was a Buddhist monk sitting meditating, breathing gently through a pipe or a rolled up piece of paper because he was covered in bees. The image I had of myself at this point, while trying to decide which path to take was very similar, but the bees were wasps, and I am a little phobic about wasps. Whenever one comes into my house I open the rest of the windows and leave the room, coming back later in the hope that it is gone. If one comes onto my classroom I make an incredible effort to remain calm and not show the rising panic inside me by asking one of the students to try to remove it, thanking them for being so helpful when they do. As I am sitting in this image, the wasps are calm and crawling, and as I become aware of the rising panic within me they begin to buzz around, making me feel even more fearful. Such was the anxious fear, the desolation at being faced with choosing one of these two paths.

Ignatius advises that we act against the desolation when we are aware of it, and that speaking to a spiritual person, such as a spiritual director, who is well versed in the art of discernment can help:

But if one manifests them to a confessor, or to some other spiritual person who understands his deceits and malicious designs, the evil one is very much vexed. For he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil undertaking, once his evident deceits have been revealed.

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

So, I resisted the pressure to choose quickly, and I spoke to my spiritual director and to another person I knew who was an expert in dealing with the type of situation I was facing. At the end of it, the responsibility for the decision was all mine. So, I sat down at the fork in the path and I prayed:

I Am Not Alone 4: Reading of this post.

In the First Principle and Foundation of The Exercises Ignatius suggests:

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.

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

For me, when I made The Exercises, this moment of indifference came when I imagined myself sat on a chair in the middle of a white, hexagonal room with six doors. Behind three of the doors were darkness, secrets and indiscernable material things, and fear: behind the other three doors were the three persons of the Holy Trinity. I was alone in the room and I had come there because He had called me. When I came into the room and saw that He was not there, I knew and trusted that He would come, no matter how long it took. So, I sat in the chair and stilled myself. I placed my palms upwards and said into the room:

I will wait.

And the moment I let go of all my preferences, and waited for Him in complete trust, He was there beside me; I was not alone.

They say, they being people who are experienced in working with The Exercises, that the graces received when we make the Exercises are always there. I would assert this to be true based on my own first hand experience. So, I sat down at the fork in that stony path and I prayed both with the song and in silence, and I put myself back into the hexagonal room, connected with that sense of indifference I had felt at the time and told Him the same thing:

I will wait.

I was not alone, and I knew it. I was affirming it to myself, to Him, and I was asserting it to the world. The critical voices were silenced and the wasps stopped buzzing. It is to deal with desolation as Ignatius suggests:

On the other hand, 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.

And I waited. I remained in this place, still, for over two weeks in real time. Not so long in God time. Gradually, a sense of knowing emerged from deep down, and the certainty of it strengthened as I remained there in stillness. The decision was made, and I knew which path to take. There was serenity in that decision, and an affirming smile from God. So I followed the path I had been shown.

Cross along the path of Peddars Way, near Swaffham.
I Am Not Alone 5: Reading of this post.

In the Lectio Divina for Psalm 16 it says:

You will show me the path of life.

Psalm 16:11

and praying with Julian of Norwich where the psalm fragment suggested is from Psalm 139:

…and lead me in the way everlasting.

Psalm 139:24

And last week I was writing about consolation and desolation. I have been pondering these things. Deepening trust in God is a theme that seems to be surfacing, especially when things get tough. Months after I followed through on my choice there was no disaster and a verbal confirmation that demonstrated that I had made the right choice from someone who knew nothing of my choice or my struggle, and who would have been badly affected had I made the wrong choice. I was immediately both grateful and humble at the impact my trust and faith in Him had had in real time.

When the situation is difficult and there is turmoil of spirits, it can be confusing to see which way to go. In the First principle and Foundation, we are encouraged to become indifferent to moving one way or another, to wait and to listen for what God would have us do. We are encouraged to trust in Him to show us the way and for that, we must be still and patient.

Imaginative Contemplation: John 10, The Good Shepherd

Fourth Sunday of Easter, Cycle A

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 the Good Shepherd

10 ‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

Imaginative Contemplation John 10: 1-10. Guided prayer

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

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?

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  

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.

Glorious and Impassible

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

NB: I have stayed with the word “impassible” as written in the 40 Day journey with Julian of Norwich. Wiktionary defines the word as meaning : unable to suffer or feel pain, unable to feel emotion, impassive, incapable of suffering injury or detriment; misspelling of impassable. For the word “impassable” wiktionary says: incapable of being passed over, crossed or negotiated; incapable of being overcome or surmounted. I acknowledge that Julian is unlikely to have misspelt the word she intended to mean – in the context of Day 8 of the journey that makes sense . However, when I prayed with it, the meaning I experienced with it was that of “impassable”. The misspelling is mine, and maybe also deliberately God’s, because of what He wanted to say to me in that prayer. I use the word in the sense of “impassable” in this post. Please excuse my poor spelling.

Glorious and Impassible 1: Reading of this post.

I bought this icon with some money I was given as a Christmas present and it has occupied my prayer spot this season of Lent. I first saw it on retreat a few years ago and spent several days praying with it. I have a deep affinity for it. It arrived on the morning when I was praying day 8 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, and I put it out immediately for my prayer. The words that struck me that day were;

He is glorious and impassible…

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

and I commented in my prayer journal in my review of prayer:

This image does show Jesus as Glorious and attractive, and it is impossible to get past Him in this image. I had absolutely no desire to get past Him….

In the text at the back of the icon it reads:

It strikes me that the second paragraph is also particularly pertinent to the lockdown situation in which many of us are now living. Is Christ imprisoned or are we?

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

On day 16 of my journey, Julian writes:

For everything that our good Lord makes us to beseech He Himself has ordained for us from all eternity.

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

and:

This is the Lord’s will, that our prayer and trust be both equally generous.

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

Day 8 has resurfaced in my prayer recently because it was all about desire: God’s desire and God’s thirst to have us drawn into Him. Day 16 encourages us to ask for our desire, a common practice in Ignatian spirituality, because Julian recognises that that very desire is God given: I want it because God wants it for and of me. It is a subtle movement. How many times have you heard:

I want, doesn’t get.

In God in All Things Gerard W. Hughes writes:

If I were Satan’s adviser…I would suggest that Satan ensures that Christian leaders emphasise the danger of human desire, and the need to subject it totally to the will of God, constantly warning the flock that anything they desire must be rooted in their own selfishness, which they must constantly oppose. This will ensure that they always feel bad about feeling good…

God in All Things, Gerard W. Hughes

and he also says:

Human desire is the rope attaching us to the God in whom we have every particle of our being.

God in All Things, Gerard W. Hughes
Ely Cathedral
Glorious and Impassible 3: Reading of this post.

I am sure that I would have made these connections anyway because of my direction of travel on this journey, but maybe, like many people who are currently in lockdown because of Covid-19, my reflections on what is important are augmented and my desire to change the way I live enhanced: to work more for God and less for Caesar, to live more simply and with less. I hear friends expressing the same sentiment. I have been moving in this direction for a while now, and the more it happens, the stronger my desire for it, and Him.

Of course, the critical voice is there as always, telling me that I am lazy, selfish, that I will never manage on less; that I need security – that is a big one for me. What happens if I am unable to look after myself? What then? I am just being fanciful…blah blah blah. And of course, that voice can sound very reasonable, sensible. I am a reasonable, sensible person, so I may think I am discerning with due care; and maybe I am.

But I know that when I was praying a lectio divina with Julian’s words:

For everything that our good Lord makes us to beseech He Himself has ordained for us from all eternity.

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

something in me moved and it felt like both affirmation and confirmation.

In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius offers three ways that we might make a decision about our lives: he calls them first, second and third time choice. I have mentioned these three ways before. To oscillate backwards and forwards around a decision as I have been doing for the last few months, with experiences of consolation and desolation, Ignatius describes as second time choice:

When much light and understanding are derived through experience of desolations and consolations and discernment of diverse spirits.

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

And after this light and understanding have been derived and a choice has been made, Ignatius continues:

After such a choice or decision, the one who has made it must turn with great diligence to prayer in the presence of God our Lord, and offer Him his choice that the Divine Majesty may deign to accept and confirm it if it is for His greater service and praise.

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

What does it feel like when it is accepted and confirmed? If I ask for my desire in prayer, how do I know it has been given? What if I am just convincing myself that God wants what I want because I want God to want what I want? And these are the ways the desolating spirit can tie us up in knots. I know this one from my own experience.

Julian writes of the need for as much generosity in our trust as with our prayer.

In the meditiation on the Two Standards in the exercises, Ignatius talks about the different ways the evil one acts:

…how he goads them on…

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

And of Jesus he says:

…by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty…

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

Spiritual directors might notice or ask are we being driven or drawn?

There is no rush with God, no fear. There is God time. It seems to me that these desires He implants in our hearts are mustard seeds and they take time to grow. He gives and allows them plenty of time to grow. I read a long time ago, prior to my engagement with Ignatian spirituality, I think it was in Shiela Cassidy’s autobiography “Audacity to Believe”, that one of the ways you can tell if it is from God is that you make a decision and hand it over to Him, and you live as if that was it and it was final. What happens in the space in between making the decision and putting it into action will let you know where the decision has come from: if it is of God, it will bring peace, a deeper desire to fulfill the choice and patience; if it is not of God it will lead to restlessness, anxiety, impatience and turmoil. It is as Ignatius suggests: make the decision and offer it to God in prayer to see what happens. Listen for His response.

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

Currently, I am in the space in between; the choice to live differently and with the next step to live that choice identified, is made and offered, and I believe confirmed. It will take some time, and there is much work to do in the meantime in preparing the way. For now it is to live with it, to work to prepare the way, and most importantly, to trust and to pray and to be patient. As I continue to pray with this icon, from within my lockdown “imprisonment” (although as I have more time at home which is my sanctuary), as I do not respect the social distancing as regards to Him and I meet Him face to face at the fence, it feels like more freedom to me. I do indeed find Him Glorious and Impassible.

While I am deeply grateful for all of the gifts He has generously given to me, I grieve and pray for all who are struggling with confinement, whatever the reason.

Imaginative Contemplation: The Raising of Lazarus

Fifth Sunday of Lent, Cycle A

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.  

John 11:1-45:

The Death of Lazarus

11 Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. Mary was the one who anointed the Lord with perfume and wiped his feet with her hair; her brother Lazarus was ill. So the sisters sent a message to Jesus,[a] ‘Lord, he whom you love is ill.’ But when Jesus heard it, he said, ‘This illness does not lead to death; rather it is for God’s glory, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it.’ Accordingly, though Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus, after having heard that Lazarus[b] was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.

Then after this he said to the disciples, ‘Let us go to Judea again.’ The disciples said to him, ‘Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?’ Jesus answered, ‘Are there not twelve hours of daylight? Those who walk during the day do not stumble, because they see the light of this world. 10 But those who walk at night stumble, because the light is not in them.’ 11 After saying this, he told them, ‘Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I am going there to awaken him.’ 12 The disciples said to him, ‘Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will be all right.’ 13 Jesus, however, had been speaking about his death, but they thought that he was referring merely to sleep. 14 Then Jesus told them plainly, ‘Lazarus is dead. 15 For your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him.’ 16 Thomas, who was called the Twin,[c] said to his fellow-disciples, ‘Let us also go, that we may die with him.’

Jesus the Resurrection and the Life

17 When Jesus arrived, he found that Lazarus[d] had already been in the tomb for four days. 18 Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, some two miles[e] away, 19 and many of the Jews had come to Martha and Mary to console them about their brother. 20 When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home. 21 Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. 22 But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.’ 23 Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ 24 Martha said to him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ 25 Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life.[f] Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, 26 and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?’ 27 She said to him, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah,[g] the Son of God, the one coming into the world.’

Jesus Weeps

28 When she had said this, she went back and called her sister Mary, and told her privately, ‘The Teacher is here and is calling for you.’ 29 And when she heard it, she got up quickly and went to him. 30 Now Jesus had not yet come to the village, but was still at the place where Martha had met him. 31 The Jews who were with her in the house, consoling her, saw Mary get up quickly and go out. They followed her because they thought that she was going to the tomb to weep there. 32 When Mary came where Jesus was and saw him, she knelt at his feet and said to him, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.’ 33 When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved. 34 He said, ‘Where have you laid him?’ They said to him, ‘Lord, come and see.’ 35 Jesus began to weep. 36 So the Jews said, ‘See how he loved him!’ 37 But some of them said, ‘Could not he who opened the eyes of the blind man have kept this man from dying?’

Jesus Raises Lazarus to Life

38 Then Jesus, again greatly disturbed, came to the tomb. It was a cave, and a stone was lying against it. 39 Jesus said, ‘Take away the stone.’ Martha, the sister of the dead man, said to him, ‘Lord, already there is a stench because he has been dead for four days.’ 40 Jesus said to her, ‘Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?’ 41 So they took away the stone. And Jesus looked upwards and said, ‘Father, I thank you for having heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I have said this for the sake of the crowd standing here, so that they may believe that you sent me.’ 43 When he had said this, he cried with a loud voice, ‘Lazarus, come out!’ 44 The dead man came out, his hands and feet bound with strips of cloth, and his face wrapped in a cloth. Jesus said to them, ‘Unbind him, and let him go.’

The Plot to Kill Jesus

45 Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.

Imaginative Contemplation: The Raising of Lazarus, guided prayer

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