Exploring Personal Prayer: Advent Course Dates

I will run the Exploring Personal Prayer Advent course live on Saturday evenings during advent, with a an Introductory talk on the Spiritual Exercises. The sessions will be as follows:

  • Sat 21 November: Presentation on The Spiritual Exercises
  • Sat 28 November: Lectio Divina
  • Sat 5 December: Imaginative Contemplation
  • Sat 12 December: Praying with Images
  • Sat 19 December: The Examen

I hope you will be able to join me.

Take care, God bless.

Margaret Mary

Ask a Spiritual Director: David Clayton

A big thank you to David for this video interview. Links to David’s social media and email are underneath the video. Enjoy.

https://www.facebook.com/david.clayton.7161953 or

https://www.facebook.com/ChristianSpiritualDirection.

I’m also on Linkedin:

https://www.linkedin.com/in/david-clayton-4ab04790/

and I have a Website:

davidclaytonmonos.wordpress.com

which is fairly new. I would say though email can often be best:

davidclaytonsd@gmail.com

Exploring Personal Prayer: Advent Course

I will be making a decision on when to run this on WEDNESDAY, so if you want to contribute, please do so before then. Thank you.

It is my intention to run an Advent version of my Exploring Personal Prayer course live online. I would have the first session, a presentation on The Spiritual Exercises, in the week beginning Sunday 22 November, the week before the first Sunday of Advent. In each of the consecutive four weeks I would guide a session on Lectio Divina, Imaginative Contemplation, Praying with Images and the Examen respectively.

Here, I would like to gauge interest in such a course and find the optimium time to present it, so that as many people who want to attend can attend. You may want to, but know you are unable to commit to all of them: please do not let this deter you from joining the ones you can. I am also prepared to offer more sessions in the week, should there be sufficient interest.

Please complete the polls below if you are interested, to aid me in planning an appropriate time.

Please add anything else that you think would be helpful for me to know in the comments.

Thank you for taking the time to complete the polls, and I hope to see as many of you as possible. It would be lovely to put some talking faces to their names, and to meet and pray with you – albeit virtually.

Take care, God bless.

Margaret Mary

Morris Dancing with the Holy Spirit

Morris dancing with the Holy Spirit 1: Reading of this post.

The Jerusalema Dance Challenge on Facebook has been filling me with deep joy recently, especially this version of it:

Jerusalema Challenge from the catholic Cathedral of Montreal
Music: MASTER KG – JERUSALEMA [FEAT. NOMCEBO]
Morris dancing with the Holy Spirit 2: Reading of this post.

It reminds me of morris dancing with the Holy Spirit. Let me explain. There is surrender, and then there is surrender! One of the funniest things one of my friends has ever said to me on the subject of surrendering to God is:

I am surrendered to God! He drags me screaming and kicking to do His will!

(I am sorry, you know who you are, and it is too good not to share)

While it makes me laugh, it also illustrates what I am trying to say. We make partial surrenders and think that we are open, and doing what God calls us to do, when in reality, we are in denial about our own resistance. I read an analogy once that to surrender to God was like handing Him a signed, blank cheque that He could draw on; it is a promise, a commitment to give whatever was asked. I liked this analogy and had considered myself as having done just that for a long time. Little did I know that I was like Oda Mae Brown in Ghost:

Morris dancing with the Holy Spirit 3: Reading of this post.

Sure, He might claim on that signed cheque. Maybe we both knew and accepted that whatever He asked would be given, but like my friend I quoted above, I put up a good fight for someone who was surrendered. Perhaps at this point it is the state Ignatius makes the prayer at the end of the first week of The Spiritual Exercises:

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

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

We may have the desire to surrender, but it does not necessarily mean that we have completely surrendered.

To understand the difference, as I experienced it, let me tell you about the morris dancing. I really like dancing, I have used it as a metaphor for the relationship with God before, but morris dancing? nooooo…not my thing. If you are not familiar with the concept, and you might not be, it is an English thing as far as I understand it (Scottish folk dancing is quite different); here is an example:

Morris dancing with the Holy Spirit 4: Reading of this post.

Please understand, I have friends who do morris dancing, I am not mocking it, but it is definitely not for me. So with this in mind, there was The Song of Songs retreat the year before I did The Exercises. This retreat has its own name, out of the twenty or so I have ever done, because it was so significant. I had been praying with a passage from the Song of Songs as suggested by my spiritual director on the retreat and while speaking to him afterwards, I read out to him the colloquy from my imaginatve contemplation, which was pretty much a monologue from me. It was my own personal suscipe prayer:

My God, my God. I surrender everything to You, I surrender completely to You. I am lost to You, I am lost in You. I have given You my right to choose. I have no will but Your will, no choices but Your choices, no desires but Your desires, no strength but Your strength. I am completely dependent on You. I surrender everything.

As I read it out to the director, I slipped into silence as it dawned on me just what had happened, quietly and certainly in that imaginative contemplation: I had surrendered completely to God, nothing held back. I had admitted it to God, and now I was admitting it to myself and to another human being. My director also recognised the significance of it because he allowed the silence for it to sink in during my session with him and the next day, he gave me a copy of the Suscipe Prayer from The Spiritual Exercises. It was real. You cannot pray like this and not live it. And still, it had yet deeper to go. There was a subsequent imaginative contemplation towards the end of that retreat where I was standing with the Holy Trinity and we were watching some morris dancers. Please do not ask me why…such is the world of imaginative contemplation. The Holy Spirit invited me to join in the dance with Him, and I resisted, saying that it really was not my thing. He stood His ground, looked me straight in the eye and said:

I desire it.

My response to this expression from God is now, automatically:

It is given.

So I joined the Holy Spirit in the dance, while Jesus and YHWH were crying with laughter on the sidelines because the Holy Spirit had invoked the irrefusable request in order to go morris dancing with me. And yet, still I resisted, like Oda Mae, holding onto that cheque and being grumpy, even after it was handed over. I resisted, until I saw the expression of delight and pure, unadulterated joy on the face of the Holy Spirit when I was banging sticks with Him. He was stomping hard to make those bells ring loudly and He was just so happy. I realised that I was being churlish; that to join reluctantly was not surrender, I had to abandon myself freely to this dance, no matter how foolish I thought it was. It was the third kind of humility:

I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ,

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

So I threw myself into the dance and Jesus and YHWH also joined in. No matter how difficult and dark things seem to be at times, the experience of being a part of this divine flow of joy still fills me whenever I recall it, five years later. In the Spiritual Exercises, regarding such spiritual consolation, St. Ignatius says:

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

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

What I learned from morris dancing with the Holy Spirit is that to give up all resistance and to surrender joyfully and freely to God is the most liberating thing to do. It is a once and for all surrender, and an everyday surrender. It takes constant prayer, listening and discernment, and patience, to know that it is indeed God who is saying:

I desire it.

The irrefusable request, to which the only response is:

It is given.

And there is no need to beat ourselves up because we are not there yet. The Holy Spirit was full of joy simply because I had joined the dance, despite me being reluctant and grumpy about it. Each desire for, and each little surrender is a step towards complete surrender. It is the movement in The Spiritual Exercises from the Eternal Lord of All Things to the Suscipe Prayer:

Imaginative Contemplation: Kingdom of Heaven as a Wedding Feast.

Twenty-Eighth Sunday in Ordinary Time, 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 Parable of the Wedding Banquet

22 Once more Jesus spoke to them in parables, saying: ‘The kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king who gave a wedding banquet for his son. He sent his slaves to call those who had been invited to the wedding banquet, but they would not come. Again he sent other slaves, saying, “Tell those who have been invited: Look, I have prepared my dinner, my oxen and my fat calves have been slaughtered, and everything is ready; come to the wedding banquet.” But they made light of it and went away, one to his farm, another to his business, while the rest seized his slaves, maltreated them, and killed them. The king was enraged. He sent his troops, destroyed those murderers, and burned their city. Then he said to his slaves, “The wedding is ready, but those invited were not worthy. Go therefore into the main streets, and invite everyone you find to the wedding banquet.” 10 Those slaves went out into the streets and gathered all whom they found, both good and bad; so the wedding hall was filled with guests.

11 ‘But when the king came in to see the guests, he noticed a man there who was not wearing a wedding robe, 12 and he said to him, “Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding robe?” And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, “Bind him hand and foot, and throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” 14 For many are called, but few are chosen.’

Imaginative Contemplation: Parable of the Wedding Banquest, guided prayer

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

Ask a Spiritual Director: Margaret Mary McFadyen

Here, I am adding a new feature to my blog: interviews with spiritual directors. I am starting with myself, since I think I should not ask people to do something I am not prepared to do myself, and using questions I have been asked, or I have asked, or people have suggested I ask in response to my request for questions. I hope you find it enlightening, and if you do have other questions you would like to ask spiritual directors, please add them to the comments for this post.

Margaret Mary McFadyen: Ignatian Spiritual Director

When people ask you what a spiritual director does, how do you respond? 

I always find this one a bit tricky and never really feel that I get it “right”, especially when I’m talking to people who don’t have a religious faith. I usually say that it is a bit like counselling, except that we talk about the person’s prayer life, their personal relationship with God and the way they live their faith. With non-believers, the usual response is for the eyes to glaze over; for believers who believe themselves do be doing fine in that department there is a polite nod or explanantion to that effect. Sometimes though, with other believers, it makes a connection within someone for more and they start to ask more questions, becoming more thoughtful. Often, these are the ones which will go on to seek ongoing spiritual direction in their lives – not necessarily from me, I hasten to add. I am not necessarily the most appropriate person for them.

What’s the difference between spiritual direction and counselling? 

If I were to sum it up, and based on my own experience of receiving both – I have talked to counsellors during periods of crisis and stress in my life – I would say it is about the purpose and the effect. Even though spiritual direction might overlap a little with counselling, it is not the same thing. I would say counselling is when you are having trouble functioning “normally” in everyday life, when there are issues getting in the way of day to day living. Counselling can help us back onto our feet when we are in crisis. With spiritual direction, on the other hand, we may be ticking along quite nicely, working, living, socialising but we have a sense of there must be more to life than this. Spiritual direction helps us to focus more on those subtle nuances, to improve our day to day conscious contact with God, to deepen our listening and gently and gradually, we begin to live more intimately with God amd more in tune with ourselves, in what He designed us for. It is extremely liberating to live in this way, in my experience.

What made you become a spiritual director?

I would say it was a “first time choice” as St. Ignatius describes in The Spiritual Exercises. I was on retreat at St. Beunos one summer and during mass, at the quiet bit around communion, I was pondering my own spiritual director in life, and the director who was working with me on the retreat – both wise and gentle people who were making a difference to me. I felt a wave of gratitude for them, and for every other director who had contributed their wisdom to my faith journey, and I expressed this sentiment in a prayer. I then “heard” or “felt” the words whispered:

You could be a spiritual director.

I was immediately calm and curious, because I recognised that I had a desire to do that, even though it had never occurred to me before, and I knew who to ask about doing it.

How did you go about training to be a spiritual director? 

My own director was involved with the Ignatian Spirituality Course which was running at The Centre for Spiritual Direction in Lombard Street in London. The course has moved to Mount Street recently. After sitting with the idea for a bit, on the second meeting with him after my retreat, I told him about my experience on retreat. I had a sense that his response might give me an indication of whether I would be a suitable candidate for the course or not. He beamed at me when told him about it, and responded very positively, which to me was very affirming. I had a few things to work out, like going part time in my day job and how I was going to finance it, but the rest is history as they say. I started the course at the next intake.

What is it that draws you to Ignatian Spirituality in particular? 

I remember an adult of my parent’s generation in the church saying to me when I was a teenager:

It’s dangerous to think.

and I knew I didn’t agree with them; I vehemently disagreed with them. Silently, of course, because it would have been deemed as insolent if I had spoken out at that time. I was curious as a student, and well into chemistry at this point. There were more questions than answers, and the interest and questions were self perpetuating. St. Ignatius describes our reason, our ability to rationalise as the second power of the soul: he encourages us to engage our brains with our lived faith, not turn them off. I might not have known that explicitly, but I felt comfortable around Jesuits and enjoyed the sermons whenever I heard them because they stimulated my brain. Imaginative Contemplation is also something I really get into and I started to experience this form of prayer on retreats when I was a student. I’ve been told that I have a very vivid imagination, and this form of prayer connects me deeply to living with God. Ignatian spirituality suits my personality at the end of the day; I feel at home there.

What do think are the benefits to receiving spiritual direction?

Receiving spiritual direction raises our conscious contact with God. We become better at listening and noticing where God is calling to us, and our desire for God increases. It is a safe place to say things that we might not be confident about saying out loud, even to those we are close to, because it could invite critcism, or people think we are weird, or worse. If you say things like “I heard God say…” in the real world out there, it can be received with derision and hostility and that is not a safe environment in which to explore what is going on. Sure, the spiritual director might ask “How do you know it was God?” and that is an important part of the discernment process. They are not unbelieving in the idea that God speaks to us through our imagination, thoughts, dreams and experiences. Personally, at the beginning of my Ignatian journey, I found it difficult to talk about what was happening within me. I worked with sceptical scientists after all and even the fact that I believed in God was often regarded as a curious anomaly, even though it is not really that rare to believe in science and in God. Being able to open up about my personal relationship with God in spiritual direction, and to explore it openly and safely in this way, has literally changed my life and to find out who I really am and who I am created to be at a profound level. I would definitely recommend it.

When starting on a session or series of sessions with a client, do you like them to begin by talking about how they feel and what they are hoping for from the experience, or do you prefer to let this emerge gradually, perhaps with the help of imaginative prayer? 

I always start my sessions the way my directee would like them to start. With most of them, they like to start with a prayer, so I use an informal prayer around the preparatory prayer and the presupposition of the Spiritual Exercises and the annotations, bascially asking for open and honest discussion, for each to presuppose the good intentions of the other, and for where there is a lack of clarity, to ask. I think this format is helpful in reminding us both of the purpose, and that if the communication is not quite flowing, that no judgement or ill is meant by it, and that asking for clarification is the way to go to open things up. When people are sharing deeply and of painful things, it is important to know that I am not sitting in judgement of them. I am aware that I can sound like my “teacher voice” and I furrow my brow when I am thinking, which can also leave people wondering if they have said something wrong! Not my intention at all, so asking for clarity is always open. Otherwise, I am there in service of my directee, so I allow things to emerge, and I will lead in an imaginative contemplation as appropriate, usually by prior arrangement.

Do you start your sessions with a prayer?

I do , as I said in the previous question, if that is the preference of my directee. Interestingly enough though, I do not like to start with a prayer when I am receiving spiritual direction. When the director does that, I feel that I have to be a “good girl” in the session, and it limits my expression of negative feelings and attitudes, thus not allowing me to explore deeply what is going on. Whenever that happens, my sense of the process is superficial. Fortunately, my director in life does not start our sessions that way and it has allowed me to fully explore the good, the bad and the ugly. God, after all, sees it all.

Why do you have supervision as a spiritual director?

At the very least, we pray not to get in the way.

Gerard W. Hughes, Loyola retreat, 2009

I was fortunate to go on this retreat that Gerry Hughes led in Loyola, and this is what he said about spiritual directors in his introductory talk on the first evening of the retreat. For me, it sums up the role of supervision. I have my own feelings, issues and biases – I am a human being, and some of these may be subconscious. The spiritual direction conversation is between the directee and God, and I am the channel that seeks to facilitate that conversation. Supervision helps me to be aware of what is going on inside me that might be helpful or detrimental when I am directing, so that I can adjust and maintain that position of equilibrium in order that God can work with the directee, without me getting in the way.

How do you feel about online spiritual direction?

Online spiritual direction has been one of the surprises of the pandemic for me. I was sceptical at first, thinking it would be better that nothing but I was dubious about how well it would work. I still believe face to face to be better, but in both receiving and giving spiritual direction online, as well as receiving supervision, it has changed my opinion. I think it has value in itself and may be the way forward for people who would like to receive spiritual direction, but live too far away from any directors to make it practically possible to travel. I travel for 2 1/2 hours to see my director and it takes up most of the day. Not everyone is able to do this, but online makes it possible, even for the busy working person or parent who might not catch a break until the evening. I’m excited about it as a possibility for widening the reach of spiritual direction.

Do you charge for spiritual direction? 

I do ask for a donation in line with earnings. I firmly believe that the labourer deserves their wage, and that if the Levites were not sustained by the people’s tithes, they would not be able to look after the temple, but would have to be working in the market places and farms in order to live. I do pay my own director. It is very difficult, if not impossible, to make a living as a spiritual director. Most do it as part of a paid ministry, or have some other form of income – a day job. I teach in a school. I have directed people for free when I knew they were not in a position to pay. It is the work that is important after all. At the most, I hope to at least break even, after I have paid for supervision and ongoing CPD courses to support my work. Over the course of a year, I will generally have received more than I have spent.

If someone wanted to receive spiritual direction from you, how could they go about contacting you?

They could contact me here, through my “Contact me” page, or by leaving a comment, or through my email address published on the Spirituality Page on the RCDEA website.

Finally, thank you for taking the time for this interview, and for your openness and honesty. God bless.

Thank you.

Margaret Mary McFadyen.

Imaginative Contemplation: Reproving Another Who Sins

Twenty-Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, 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. 

Reproving Another Who Sins

Matthew 18:15-20

15 ‘If another member of the church[a] sins against you,[b] go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one.[c] 16 But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17 If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18 Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19 Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’

Imaginative Contemplation: Reproving one who sins. Guided prayer.

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

Integration

Integration 1: Reading of this post.

In my last post, I said that I was ready for my retreat at home – well, that was famous last words! It was certainly the most challenging retreat I have ever done, and the beginning of it, the most stressful. Not at all what I had prepared for or anticipated. I did not manage to get a food shop in after doing a lot of unexpected running around the day before, so, after speaking with my spiritual director on the first morning of the retreat, planned to do that, shower and then begin proper. Except that when I went out, my car had a flat tyre (I thought it wasn’t handling properly the night before – even though it did not look flat when I checked it, miles from any garage) and just as I finished changing the wheel, my neighbour decided that it was a good time to come over and be unpleasant, aggressive and threatening. I may have remained calm, reasonable and rational externally, but it caused no end of disruption to my internal serenity. I thought about the two monks I wrote about last time:

Brother, I dropped that woman at the river. Are you still carrying her?

Anthony de Mello, Song of the Bird

And I am so glad that I did write that, because it was my hook through the week when I found my thoughts drifting to the conflict with my neighbour and the spiritual desolation that it brought. It pulled me up short and reminded me of where I really wanted my focus to be, so when I noticed that my thoughts had strayed, I turned my attention to the little icon of Jesus that I was carrying around and placing everywhere I was, and I brought to mind the consolations I have been storing up to help me in times of desolation.

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

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Ely Cathedral
Integration 2 : Reading of this post.

So, enough talk of that and onto spiritual consolation, I have long understood that God uses everything about where we are and who we are to draw us closer to Himself, to transform us into who He would have us be. Our role in this process is our cooperation. A persistent theme for me in my spiritual journey is integration, to reconcile the fire and water, active and contemplative parts of my personality, or rather, to allow the flow from one to the other without the resistance and negative feelings about that resistance that go along with the change of state. Since writing about Tai chi and Three Kinds of Humility in February, the momentum of this developing theme has increased in my discussions with my own director, and through lockdown, where I found that I really enjoyed working at home. It has been:

…the question that drives us (me)

Trinity, The Matrix
Integration 3: Reading of this post.

For me, the question is:

How do I live here, in my house with God, as He would have me live?

As it turned out, being in retreat at home, talking to a spiritual director every day, was the perfect opportunity to thoroughly explore that question. Prior to lockdown, I mostly tried to leave work at work, although inevitably, there were times I had to bring work home, there was a clear demarcation by virtue of physical location, between work and home. In my room, and in my prayer spot in particular, I had a clear demarcation between contemplative and active at home. During lockdown, I learned how to work at home, how to structure it to build time in between and to ensure that I do not overwork – I would identify obsessive workaholism as a danger for me. The structure was there, but how do I let go, and move from the active state to a contemplative state and vice versa? to allow the flow from fire to water and back to fire again? It took four days of turmoil of spirits during my retreat at home to let go of the responsibilities at home that were a constant distraction.

My Leviathan Mandala
Integration 4: Reading of this post.

It is the story of the two monks. To begin with, I was the scandalised monk, berating myself constantly, even though my desire was to be the other monk, the serene one, who had let go of the activity he had engaged in. Towards the end of the retreat, I had moved to be more like the serene one, although I have a long way to go still. How did it happen? In this retreat, I spent more time being active and “in the world” than I have ever done on retreat; I spent the least time in formal contemplative prayer than I have ever done on retreat, and yet a profound shift happened in my psyche which will reverberate as ripples in a pond throughout my life. It became clear, as observed by my spiritual director, that day to day life was not suspended in this retreat as it might be when I get in my car and drive away to a retreat centre as I normally do, that the invitation was to find God in All Things, as I live at home; more of a joined up, integrated way of being. The focus shifted to the transition. I noticed that, although I was active during my retreat, the activities I was engaging in were things that I just felt like doing: making candles, washing bottles, making aromatherpy blends for the oil burner, painting, even the odd job or bit of housework in the house. And I also went out and about, for dinner, for lunch – I would say solo, but I brought my icon with me and placed it discretely where I could see it. I was not alone.

My travelling Icon of Jesus.
Integration 5: Reading of this post.

The realisation gradually dawned: when I put some of these activities on my “to do” list, they felt like chores, and low priority tasks that my active “task girl” always put off as being not important enough compared with the other work I had to do today. They were also low priority for my “contemplative girl”, because they were not being still; contemplative prayer; formal time set aside to be just me and God. I recognised that these were activities that I did not set a definite time period for, they were finished when they were finished or I did not feel like doing them anymore. What was important, I recognised, was the movement within me as I engaged with them: I move from an active state of mind to a contemplative state of mind: flow. In the story of the two monks, it takes two hours for the berated monk to finally respond to the criticism of the other: there is a transition period. During lockdown, I had built into my day, time periods where I was away from “work”, but I struggled in how to use that time, other than to do more of what needed to be done and my mind was constantly racing over my to do list, and how to manage and accomplish the things that were on it. While being active with God on this retreat, I have come to know myself better and to stop berating myself for my apparent resistance to flow. It is not reasonable to expect to slow down from 120mph to 5mph instantly – it takes time. I would not expect it of anyone else, why should I expect it of myself, and then be frustrated that it does not happen like that? I also notice that moving the other way is less of a problem – turning the computer on, filling up my water bottle, checking emails, writing my “to do” list, are all activities that move me gently from contemplative and slow, to active and fast. I might criticise myself for displacement activities prior to getting down to work, but here, now, I am recognising that they are transtion activities.

Transition activities are the missing jigsaw piece that links the two aspects of my personality, that assist the flow from fire to water, and back to fire again. You might be reading, and thinking that it is just mindfulness that I am talking about, and that it might seem a bit obvious. It was not obvious to me until recently. Teresa of Avila describes it as:

Finding God in the pots and pans.

Teresa Avila: The Interior Castle

And I would not necessarily disagree with you that it is mindfulness, except to say that I am coming at it from the other direction, in terms of cause and effect. Rather than focusing my awareness on being mindful of the activity I am doing which results in bringing me into that meditative state, I am focusing on the activity I am doing which results in a state of mindfulness and brings me into that meditative state. For flow to happen, activities are well within one’s capabilities so as not to impede or block engagement, and also present with a little bit of challenge to motivate and interest. In trying to live at home with God this week, my understanding of how to live at home with God has deepened, and I put several transition activities on my daily to do list. It is not my intention complete them as tasks that day, merely as a stimulus. When I come to a transtion period in the day, I look at those things on the list and ask myself:

What do I feel like doing right now?

And I choose based on what I feel, maybe even something I have not written down.

Reflecting on my week of retreat at home I am grateful. Is it not generous that He gives us the graces we ask for, even – and maybe even especially – if not in the ways we envisaged when we ask for it? It reminds of the scene with Morgan Freeman as God, in Evan Almighty:

Integration 6: Reading of this post.

So, here is my challenge to you. What graces have you been asking God for in prayer? And do you notice the opportunities for those graces in your life? If, like me, there is tension between your active and contemplative sides, your Martha and Mary, as it is somethimes described, what are the transition activites for you? those things that facilitate moving from one state of being to another? If you feel like sharing…please post in the comments.

Praying with Images: Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

Twenty-First Sunday in Ordinary Time, 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.  

Praying with Images, Peter’s Declaration about Jesus: guided prayer

Peter’s Declaration about Jesus

13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, ‘Who do people say that the Son of Man is?’ 14 And they said, ‘Some say John the Baptist, but others Elijah, and still others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.’ 15 He said to them, ‘But who do you say that I am?’ 16 Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah,[a] the Son of the living God.’ 17 And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter,[b] and on this rock[c] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not prevail against it. 19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.’ 20 Then he sternly ordered the disciples not to tell anyone that he was[d] the Messiah.[e

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

IGR 2020

IGR 2020 1: Reading of this post.

I made my first eight day individually guided retreat in 2001 at Loyola Hall. I have been writing about my journey from that point in the Diary of a Sunflower. It was a lifetime ago, and I feel like a completely different person now compared to who I was then. My retreat this year, which was booked for next week at St. Beunos in North Wales, has been cancelled due to the pandemic, and this will be the first summer since that first retreat that I will not have gone away to spend eight days in silence with God, as I promised all those years ago. It would be easy to be upset about it, but to be honest, I was not surprised by the cancellation and I have accepted it. I am still going to do a retreat this week, at home, starting today, Sunday, and I have found a director who will meet with me online every day.

I have to say, doing spiritual direction online, both giving and receiving, has been one of the wonderful surprises of lockdown and I would never have imagined it to work as well as I have experienced it. So much so, that I am intending to expand into giving spiritual direction online as a matter of course from September, regardless of any lockdown situation or easing, so watch this space!

I have reservations about all the distractions at home of course, and since my daughters live with me, complete silence might be an issue. But, they are prepped and cooperative, and I can go into my room and shut my door. I have room to sit and be, and a prayer corner in there. I have prepared meals in the feezer, and my laundry done, and I have a garden. My computer will go in the drawer, and I will have my artboard on my desk instead.

Ditchingham Convent Church
IGR 2020 2: Reading of this post.

While the nitty gritty of my preparations are probably uninteresting and do not really need to be shared, the point here is that I am creating a space – physical and psychological – to encounter God, to spend some time in deep with Him and away from all the distractions, and I am creating an environment that is conducive to that process. It is the principle described from the sixth to the ninth additions of the Spiritual Exercises:

I should not think of things that give pleasure and joy, as the glory of heaven, the Resurrection, etc., for if I wish to feel pain, sorrow, and tears for my sins, every consideration promoting joy and happiness will impede it. I should rather keep in mind that I want to be sorry and feel pain. Hence it would be better to call to mind death and judgment.

The Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, trans Louis J Puhl

For the same reason I should deprive myself of all light, closing the shutters and doors when I am in my room, except when I need light to say prayers, to read, or to eat.

The Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, trans Louis J Puhl

I should not laugh or say anything that would cause laughter.

The Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, trans Louis J Puhl

I should restrain my eyes except to look up in receiving or dismissing one with whom I have to speak.

The Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius of Loyola, trans Louis J Puhl

Ignatius gives these additions on the context of the First week, when we are contemplating sin and the grace we are asking for is sorrow and shame for our sins. The general idea is to make our enviroment conducive to our prayer.

So, here I am, I have finished my work for a bit and prepared my environment and my mind to spend this time alone with God in these unusual circumstances. I am up to date and taking a pause from my Journey with Julian of Norwich to be open to the process with the director. Am I concerned about distractions? about the world crowding in? Yes I am, and I am already prepared for how I might handle that. It comes in the form of a story in Anthony de Mello’s book, The Song of the Bird, called The Monk and the Woman:

Two Buddhist monks, on their way to the monastery, found an exceedingly beautiful woman at the riverbank. Like them, she wished to cross the river, but the water was too high. So one of the monks lifted her onto his back and carried her across.

His fellow monk was thoroughly scandalised. For two hours he berated him on his negligence on keeping the rule: Had he forgotten he was a monk? How did he dare touch a woman? And worse, carry her across the river? What would people say? Had he not brought their holy religion into disrepute? And so on.

The offending monk patiently listened to the never-ending sermon. Finally, he broke in with:

Brother, I dropped that woman at the river. Are you still carrying her?

Glennfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
IGR 2020 3: Reading of this post.

So, I will not be despondant that this is not the ideal situation in which to make my retreat: I will not listen to the desolating voices seeking to disrupt this time and I will not hold on to the noise around me, or the distractions, or any interruptions, if my daughters do not quite understand and ask me something, or if I have to answer the door. I am doing all that I can to be available to the One who loves me as if I were the only person in the whole world, and if it is enough for Him, it is enough for me. I am looking forward to it as much as I have any other retreat.

I will see you on the other side. There will be no Journey with Julian or Reflection next week, but the Prayer and the Diary entries are already scheduled, and I will be back to normal after next Sunday.