Looking the Gift Horse in the Mouth

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mum recently. Probably because the family have now got the house cleared, cleaned and ready to sell. My eldest came back from Scotland last weekend with some things for us from my mum’s house, including the piano, which has gone to my youngest. My mum will well pleased with that arrangement I imagine. My mind wanders to a story that she repeated many times to me in the last few years of her life. She struggled a lot with restless legs and it meant she often had poor sleep and spent the small hours “walking the floors” as she described it. She had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart – her name was Margaret Mary, like mine, so no surprises there I guess. She was constantly speaking to Him through the many pictures around the house, and one of her favourite prayers was, when driving into a car park:

Please Sacred Heart, find me a parking space.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

One always opened up immediately no matter how busy the car park was, I kid you not. It happened so consistently that other members of my family, who do not necessarily believe, use it when they cannot find a parking space! Sure, we can argue about coincidence and patience and whatever rational explanation you like, I’m just telling you what I’ve witnessed. Anyway, I digress – back to walking the floors. One night, after about a week of broken sleep, when she couldn’t stand it anymore, she turned to her picture of the Sacred Heart and challenged Him with words to the effect of:

Don’t tell me to offer it up and to think about everything you went through! You only suffered for a day, I’ve been going on like this for a week and I can’t stand it any more!

An honest prayer, even though I think she believed herself to be disrespectful. She had the sense of God laughing in response and the restlessness disappeared, allowing her to get a good night of sleep.

Within this context, I also found myself reaching this point of:

Enough already!

regarding my own health condition – myalgic encephalomyelitus (ME/CFS). I described before how I had accepted it as a gift, and an answer to my prayers arising from the desire to live more slowly: to realise that it is the cure for my workaholism, because I was not going to let that go on my own. It’s been nearly eighteen months since I got sick, and then failed to completely recover from it. My first experience of chronic fatigue lasted thirteen months and then I got well. Maybe subconsciously I was holding onto the belief that that would happen again, especially with all the ways I am being proactive and that my energy does improve when I look after myself. But that is unlikely to happen this time…it is for life, not just for Christmas, as they say. In football, it is the last ten minutes of the game, when you are so very tired because you have given it all you have, but you have to dig even deeper to keep it going to that final whistle…you don’t want to lose the match at this point! It is where I am on my journey with ME/CFS and with God. I’ve accepted this gift horse and I’m looking in its mouth and not liking what I see, maybe even struggling with it sometimes, and I know that those dark clouds of despairing or anxious fear are swirling around in the distance. It’s like the Battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where they createe a defence bubble around the school that keeps Voldermort’s army at bay, but it starts to dismantle as the dark forces continue to attack it. I’m in Hogwarts, protected, but watching that protection begin to disintegrate.

There is another image from my prayer that plays alongside this one though: I’m sitting in the deep calm of the storm, leaning against Jesus, as it all swirls around above us. Both of these images for me are spiritual consolation. It might seem strange to say that about the first image because I mentioned fear, but when we apply some useful discernment questions here it will show what I mean.

Where is it coming from?

Where is it leading to?

In the Hogwart’s image, even in the midst of a community taking a stand against evil and working together for the common good, I am relying on my own magic power to protect me from the forces of darkness which are driving me into spiritual desolation:

I call desolation…as darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination towards 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.

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

I may be in the quiet centre of the dome, but without God, with only our own power, the safety shield crumbles and the darkness comes flooding in and I am afraid and overwhelmed. In my imagination I oscillate between both images. In the storm image, I am leaning on Jesus and the quiet centre is more than quiet, it is serene and safe. It is spiritual consolation:

Winter storm over the Northeast (night time thermal image)
Winter storm over the Northeast (night time thermal image) by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

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 ones soul by filling it with peace and quiet in it creator and Lord.

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

For me, to flip between these two images is no accident. It is like being shown desolation and consolation side by side in similar, but different images. Ignatius says of being in desolation:

When one is in desolation, he should be mindful that God has left him to his natural powers to to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy in order to try him. He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it.

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

I do not believe that this desolation is where I am, although I can definitely feel the pull of it at times and I am guarding against it. The second image of the storm is explicitly inviting me to lean on Him, to discern the movements of spirits within me, to not try to rely all on my own strength or determination. And so I come back to the Principle and Foundation of the Exercises and the room of indifference:

Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

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

The essence of looking a gift horse in the mouth is to see its age. I guess the discouragement in doing so is in finding out that we have been given an old nag – a negative judgement of the gift. Where does it lead? Ingratitude. What if we were to accept the gift horse as a gift, regardless of what is in its mouth? I learned from the Spiritual Exercises that sorrow is a grace: uncomfortable for sure, but grace nevertheless. So, I’m looking at what spiritual desolation and spiritual consolation look like in this space and as I acknowledge my swirling emotions, I imagine myself in the quiet of the storm leaning against Jesus. I am not praying for healing from ME/CFS because I recognise it as the gift of healing of workaholism that I asked for so fervently and for so long, and believe me, that has not gone. Instead, I am praying for indifference in those “enough already” moments and serenity when I see those swirling dark clouds, knowing that He is here with me and I am leaning on Him.

Imaginative Contemplation: The Tree that Bears Good Fruit.

Eighth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle C

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.  

Luke 6:39–45 

39 He also told them a parable: ‘Can a blind person guide a blind person? Will not both fall into a pit? 40 A disciple is not above the teacher, but everyone who is fully qualified will be like the teacher. 41 Why do you see the speck in your neighbour’s[a] eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 42 Or how can you say to your neighbour,[b] “Friend,[c] let me take out the speck in your eye”, when you yourself do not see the log in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbour’s[d] eye.

A Tree and Its Fruit

43 ‘No good tree bears bad fruit, nor again does a bad tree bear good fruit; 44 for each tree is known by its own fruit. Figs are not gathered from thorns, nor are grapes picked from a bramble bush. 45 The good person out of the good treasure of the heart produces good, and the evil person out of evil treasure produces evil; for it is out of the abundance of the heart that the mouth speaks.

Imaginative Contemplation guided prayer: Luke 6: 39-45, without background music.
Imaginative Contemplation guided prayer: Luke 6: 39-45, with background music.

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

Walking with Angels

blond woman with long hair sitting on city bus and posing as angel

I’ve been thinking a lot about angels in the last few months, ever since I prayed with “Pray as You go” on the feast of the Archangels. on September 29. I’ve been pondering angels ever since, and every time they are mentioned my ears have pricked up.

My understanding is that angels are messengers of God and since I am of the opinion that regular people can and do convey messages from and of God, it equates that people might be regarded as angels in a sense, when they are fuflifilling such a purpose. In fact, I say it out loud to people, and I am not half joking. I might say:

You are an angel disguised as a student/daughter/friend/colleague.

Try it some time – it really brings a smile to their face to hear it.

Where am I coming from with this?

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2

The Book of Tobit, of which I am so fond, has it as a fundamental premise. How would it have been if Tobias had been obnoxious to the stranger he hired to guide him (the Archangel Raphael)? It seems to me to be a good rule of thumb.

When my youngest was little, perhaps around the age of nine, she was having a tough time at school with some bullying. I’d given her a notebook to use as a journal so that she could vent and get it out of her head. Things tend to spin around in there. She encouraged me to read part of it once when I was helping her to tidy up her room. She had written:

I think my mum is an angel, a real, live, actual angel.

It brought me out in goosebumps and still moves me today when I think about it.

blond woman with long hair sitting on city bus and posing as angel
Photo by Anastasiia Shevchenko on Pexels.com

In The Spiritual Exercises, the first exercise of the first week is a contemplation of the angels. A long time ago, when I first became aware that I wanted the do The Spiritual Exercises, I started with this first exercise of the first week. In my defence, I fully admit that I did not know what I was doing. It was really scary. In this exercise we imagine the angels reflecting God’s glory, and how some of them decide to refuse to and they began to turn dark. I’m describing it as I remember it. When I spoke to my gentle and wise spiritual director about it, he advised me to put the book away, that it was a handbook for spiritual directors, and the Exercises were to be done with a spiritual director. How wise he was, I know that now. I regard my director as one of the angels in my life.

It has been a tough year and a bit for me with a lot of upheaval and some dramatic and permanent changes in my life. I resigned from my job as a science teacher – I posted about the day I made that decision, not explicitly, but not subtly either. I started my own business as an Online Chemistry tutor, hoping that it would give me the time and flexibility to do more spirituality work – and it has. After an infection last December, which the ME/CFS specialist believes to be COVID, in spite of the negative test, I am left with this long term, permanent health condition. My mum died at Christmas and honestly, it is the strangest thing in the world not to be calling her today. The thought of calling her has been in my head all day and I’m having to remind myself that she is not there anymore.

The last big period of upheaval in my life was when I was training to be a Spiritual director and when I did the Spiritual Exercises in 2016 and this lastest series of earthquakes seems to be to be a part of the same conversation with God. Is is almost as if we had to allow the dust to settle from the first series of events before we could move on with the next part. As I look back over the last year and a bit, I can see the angels that have helped me on my journey, in practical ways in making my work transition, in drawing me into spiritual work in ways I could never have predicted, and also in the liminal space.

I am thinking of my friend Bill Stebbe who I visited when he was dying. I read the Book of Tobit to him – he had never read it. I have a friend who worked in care homes and has been at the bedside of several people as they died. She talks about the presence she senses as death approaches, even talks to. It makes my hair stand on end and I have asked her to change the subject more that once, lest I start to cry. Yet, when I was reading the Book of Tobit to Bill, I had a sense of Raphael being there, smiling, as he listened to the story of his journey with Tobias. I have it in my head that the little dog in he story is God. I might have picked that up at a lecture I went to a long time ago, but I’m not sure.

In the liminal space, I’m also thinking of my mum. If you can describe a funeral as lovely, it was. I planned it with her a few years ago. She might even have called me an angel when we were finished. We sat down together, chose the hymns she wanted. I had to cut the list down though – she really had too many favourite hymns! But we used some of the ones we cut to inspire the readings for the mass. Three of the grandaughters sang them like angels. She would have loved it – it was everything she wanted and more.

“Being with the angels” is a euphanism we use to say someone has died. Does it make it more gentle? more easy to accept? Is it a comfort? I ask these question genuinely, because I do not know the answers to them. Both the directness of my culture and my scientific background lead me to be matter of fact and use accurate, rather than colloquial language, with no intention to deny, belittle or avoid uncomfortable emotions. People do not know what to say to someone who is grieving and we have developed some appropriate expressions to awkwardly express our sympathy. Sorrow is a grace. We ask for it in the first and third week of the Spiritual Exercises.

Constantine and the Angel Gabriel

I realise that this is a meandering post. I am contemplating the angels and they are a mystery to me. I have no tight ideas. I know I do not like stories that depict them as bad. For example, the film Constantine portrayed Gabriel as twisted; and some of the fantasy books I have read portray them as being just like people but with wings and supernatural powers. Others portray them as servants, maybe even slaves, with no perks, who are envious of humans. And in some of these stories, they seem to be punished severely by being banished from God for what appears to be even a minor expression of desire that is other than what they are perceived to be supposed to be doing. One exception perhaps is Angel-A.

Have we made angels in our own image in the same way we can try to make God in our image? Are we confused because sometimes it is other people who are our messengers from God – nothing apparantly supernatural there? I have no answers here. The only thing that makes any sense is what I experienced in the first Exercise of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises:

…recalling that they were created in the state of grace…

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

In my imagination, the ones who did not fall, chose to reflect the light and the glory of God. Maybe there is no more to know than that.

Imaginative Contemplation: The Baptism of Jesus

The Baptism of the Lord, Cycle C

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.  

Luke 3:15-16,21-22

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah,[a] 16 John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with[b] the Holy Spirit and fire.

21 Now when all the people were baptized, and when Jesus also had been baptized and was praying, the heaven was opened, 22 and the Holy Spirit descended upon him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved;[a] with you I am well pleased.’[b]

Imaginative Contemplation Luke 3: 15,16,21,22. Guided Prayer

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

Imaginative Contemplation: The Poor Widow’s Offering

Thirty-Second Sunday in Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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.  

Mark 12:38-44

Jesus Denounces the Scribes

38 As he taught, he said, ‘Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the market-places, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honour at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.’

The Widow’s Offering

41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.’

Mark 12: 38-44 Imaginative Contemplation Guided Prayer

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

Serenity to Accept the Things I cannot Change

This is not the post I was intending to write for today but I find myself sitting in my car not too far from Bury St. Edmunds waiting for the RAC To come and rescue me. I have no idea when I will get home. I know for sure that I really like this little mobile internet device I thought I would try for a few months before I committed to a longer contract. I have a low boredom threshold, I don’t mind admitting, and I have already been here for two and a half hours.

Issues with the house or the car have long been a stress point for me, a sense of panic usually ensues and the fear that it will be terrible, or so expensive that I can’t afford it, or awful or even dangerous. My car insurance company – and I am very pleased with my car insurance company, they have always done the right thing by me – they used to give you a credit card sized card with all your details on it: very useful. They do not do that now and the number on the one I still carry does not work any more. Trying to find the number for the breakdown assistance was when the panic almost began to set in. I say almost because it was so fleeting, I almost did not notice it. I’ve broken down before, sure, it is irritating, but I know exactly what to do and it is why I buy a policy that has breakdown cover. The movement to accepting the things I cannot change was as quick as it was certain. I can trust in the process, because it has all worked out before.

I have been talking to my own spiritual director this week about serenity. He pressed me on what it meant and looked like to me. I remember discussing it with a friend some years ago and we both went away to decide what serenity meant to us. My answer to the question was:

It’s about being aware of the presence of God with you, no matter what you are doing.

After a brief interlude – it is the alternater for the battery – I am now sitting in my car in a petrol station, waiting for a pick up truck to collect me and my car and take us to my garage in Norwich, where I will leave it with a note and get a taxi home. The road side assistance chap, who lent me a battery to get to here, says it could be a couple of hours. Still, he has left me in a place where I can get food, have access to toilets…and my car is my bubble after all.

I could get frustrated…it is not so far under the surface…it is not how I planned, or wanted to spend my Sunday, but frustrated is not how I want to be. My desire is for serenity, and my attitude is mine to choose. I trust that all will be fine. My past experience with both my insurance company and my garage tells me that it will all be fine. I can trust and I do not need to worry, they have not let me down before.

To me, trusting God is the same. I do not need to panic. I can trust Him because He has never let me down before. I know He never will. Ignatius advises us when we are in consolation to store up these consolations and remind ourselves of them when we are in desolation. Accepting what we cannot change is serenity and even more so when we are aware that God is with us throughout. As always, I am going into my room of indifference, sitting in the chair in the middle of the room and telling Him:

I will wait.

Patience, I think, is also one of the fruits of the Spirit.

Humbly asked Him…Step 7 and The Spiritual Exercises.

Humbly asked Him 1: reading of this post

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 7: Alcoholics Anonymous

Well, it has been a while since my last reflection, when I was writing about the need to reform my manner of living to take in the new state of being I find myself in. I have been on a discernment journey in this time. I continued working too hard for a while; I completed an activity journal for a week for the ME/CFS service and I went on retreat. I arrived at St. Beunos completely exhausted and it took about three days for my energy to even begin to pick up on the retreat so that I could walk up to the labyrinth there. I wrestled with myself on that retreat. The director suggested prayer with the passage where Jacob wrestles with the angel, since she thought I might be wrestling with God, but I knew it was myself I was fighting, not God.

The Labyrinth at St. Beunos
Humbly asked Him 2: reading of this post

The movement to accept my new limitations with this health condition had centred around the Principle and Foundation of The Exercises, as I described previously, around the grace of indifference.

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things…we should not prefer health to sickness…our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created.

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

And I oscillated about this point of indifference for a while. During my retreat however, something else began to happen, a different movement. I came out of my retreat perceiving that this long term health condition as a gift. Let me explain – because I am not being all idealistic and mushy here, and to see it as such is difficult and challenging. Nevertheless, it connects with Step 7, and humbly asking God to remove our shortcomings.

I have said before that I can be a bit work obsessed, and I have used the term “workaholic” frequently to describe myself. The teaching profession as it is today in the UK is conducive to bringing out the worst of the workaholic in anyone. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could survive teaching without being like that. I have seen too many good teachers buckle under the unreasonable demands, and perhaps I include myself in this group too.

I associated the River Meditation that I did during The Exercises and I used in my Positive Penance Retreat days with a conversation with God where it was understood we were talking about work. I was standing in the river in front of an outflow pipe and a black sludge, like crude oil – toxic and carcinogenic – was coming out of it. There were students I teach behind me, and I was tryng to block the black slime from getting to them. It was making me sick. And I could not stop it all, because some of it still flowed around my body and reached them. I could not protect them from the poison. At the time, my sense of it from God was:

We need to have a conversation about work sometime, but not yet. We have other things to deal with first.

Five months later, I got glandular fever and my first experience of chronic fatigue syndrome. One day, driving home from school and struggling, there was a moment when it occurred to me, and I said it out loud to Him:

One day I will look back and recognise that this is the moment I decided to leave teaching.

It is as St. Ignatius describes a 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…

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

From there, my desire to leave the teaching profession increased. I prayed for a slower pace, to have time to breathe and to pray, to be still and not so over worked. My sense on retreat was that this prayer was being answered here and now, at this point in my life. It is one of those be careful what you wish for moments, or as I read once:

It is laudable to ask God for what we desire, and dangerous.

Sculpture in the Main House at St. Beunos
Humbly asked Him 3: reading of this post

In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius talks about Exterior and Interior Penance: we can act from the interior movement within us or our actions can effect the change within us. Either way, the practice of penance is a serious expression of our desire for freedom from our inordinate desires that lead us away from God into spiritual desolation. People laugh when I say that I have to actively rest several times a day and that it is a real penance, but it is. I have been overworking for too many years and wearing my workaholism like a badge, a joke – something that is not to be taken too seriously. My soul has also been praying from release from this compulsion since that day in the car, perhaps even longer than that. I have been working Step 7 in this context for a while now, humbly asking Him to remove this shortcoming. In the few months I have already been self employed, it has become clear that I am not able to free myself from it and that here is some Divine Intervention: ME/CFS is a gift in the sense that it is freeing me from my workaholism compulsion and it is an answer to my prayers. It is not a piece of cake, it is penance – there is a part of me wrestling with sitting and resting several times a day, that is impatient to be cycling or walking around, even doing housework! There is also relief and gratitude too, I do not have to push so hard any more, I can let it go. This week, as I recorded my guided prayers for Radio Maria, I felt it acutely.

…the Lord hears, and rescues them

Psalm 37:17

This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?

John 6:60

In Pray as you go this morning they used the Gospel passage, and asked if there are things you have heard Jesus say, perhaps this week, that you have found hard to accept and they asked how you have dealt with that.

AMDG In the centre of the Labyrinth at St Beunos
Humbly asked Him 4: reading of this post

Step 7 seems deceptively simple on the face of it, we humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings like it is all we have to do and then to wait to be released from them. When He answers our prayer and it may not be the light and fluffy answer we envisaged when we asked. It may be difficult and painful and we have to work through it with the support of others. It is a gift nevertheless.

Imaginative Contemplation: The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

Fourteenth Sunday of Ordinary Time, Cycle B

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.  

Mark 6:1-6

The Rejection of Jesus at Nazareth

6 He left that place and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, ‘Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary[a] and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence[b] at him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Prophets are not without honour, except in their home town, and among their own kin, and in their own house.’ And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.

Imaginative contemplation guided prayer: Mark 6:1-6. This version has the background music.

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

Imaginative contemplation guided prayer: Mark 6:1-6. This version has no background music.

God’s Desire, My Desire.

God’s desire my desire 1 : Reading of this post

My dear old mum is ninety and recently fell over and broke her hip – a common injury in people of her age. I visited her a few weeks ago, once the lock down restrictions on travel were lifted and stayed for a week. Suffice to say, she is struggling a bit and has suffered loneliness during the long months of lock down. It was nice to be there with her, even if the conversations circled round every ten or twenty minutes and the ever constant television was awful. We talked about our faith naturally enough. One of our conversations was around why God lets or makes things happen. She is a very traditional Catholic of her generation and not given to questioning perceptions and images of God handed down in the popular culture. I am not going to change that. With a certain lightness of tone, I told her that I thought it was quite simple. If we want what God wants for us then God will always give us what we want. I am aware that it sounds flippant. I centred it around the the structure of the Ignatian prayer period I use in the guided prayers. It goes like this: I ask that all my intentions and actions be directed purely to His service and praise as preparation: I place myself in His gaze and become aware of myself there to get a sense of how He is looking at me; I then contemplate His desire for me, before I ask for my desire. This order is deliberate. I ask for grace in response to His desire for me. If He is asking me to have that difficult conversation with the friend or sister who has offended me, I might ask for the grace of courage or compassion to enable me to open the conversation to make it right, and to forgive the harm that was caused.

God’s desire my desire 2 : Reading of this post

Here I am now, a few weeks on, being challenged with this very idea. I have been feeling quite tired for a while now – since before Christmas in fact, and in a conversation with someone recently it dawned on me that it was since the last time I was ill, at the beginning of December. You may have noticed the frequency of my reflections and other posts has declined in this time. It is not all about the fact that I am setting up as a self employed online Chemistry tutor, alongside my spiritual direction work. After some normal blood test results I was finally diagnosed with ME/CFS last week. The doctor is certain that the illness I had in December was in fact COVID, even though my own test was negative, since some of my close colleagues had it, and it is this that has triggered the ME/CFS. I would not be honest if I denied that I was a bit gutted about that. I experienced it before, five years ago after glandular fever. It brings into play a conversation with God during the Spiritual Exercises during the River meditation I used in the Positive Penance Retreat Day. It raises that age old question about God allowing disease, and it would be easy to be filled with self pity. Is this really what God desires? And therefore, is this what I desire?

God’s desire my desire 3 : Reading of this post

I am reminded of the Principe and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises:

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things…we should not prefer health to sickness…our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created.

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

When I put myself here, back into the Room of Indifference I found during my experience of the Spiritual Exercises, my inner dynamic changes. As a human being, I am limited and I feel pain, tiredness and I get sick. Here, I am still limited, it is just that those limitations have changed. Ignatius talks about different ways we can make a choice in our lives, and he also talks about how to live well within our situation when our freedom to choose is limited. He says:

It will be very profitable for such persons…in place of a choice, to propose a way for each to reform his manner of living in his state by setting before him the purpose of his creation and of his life and position, namely the glory and praise of God our Lord…

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

It raises, not the paralysing question of why does God let these things happen, but the more pertinent question of how do I reform my manner of living within my new limitations so that it praises, reverences and serves God? From shifting my focus from wanting to be well and healthy to what is God’s desire for me in this – in this moment, in this day and at this point in my life – as I say in my guided prayers, my attitude changes. I let go of self pity and my trust in Him deepens. I make it sound easy: I know that it is not. I experience fear and uncertainty just as everyone else does, and I yearn for that carefree exertion and freedom of cycling out for the day to visit a church and pray with the Pray As You Go app as I have done in the past with my Holy Trinity Cycling Tours. But the movement within me is real. What is God’s desire for me now, in this moment, in this prayer, in this day and at this point in my life? That is what I desire. It is as it was before ME/CFS, and it is as it is now with ME/CFS. The specifics might be different, but the Principle and Foundation remains.

God’s desire my desire 4 : Reading of this post

Going forward, my posts may be shorter or less frequent, or both. They might even be less tidy and contain more mistakes – sorry, brain fog is an ME/CFS thing. I am no longer living as if I will get better tomorrow but I am looking at a way to reform my manner of living in this state, as if this is my state in life. I will still be writing and probably more frequently than I have been, because now I know I can manage my energy better. He would still have me tell my story and share my journey. Thank you for following me this far.

Imaginative Contemplation: Pentecost

Pentecost Sunday, Cycle B

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 20:19-23

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.’

Imaginative Contemplation: guided prayer for the Feast of Pentecost.

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