Imaginative Contemplation: The Epiphany

Lectionary

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.  

Matthew 2:1-12

2 In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men[a] from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews? For we observed his star at its rising,[b] and have come to pay him homage.’ When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him; and calling together all the chief priests and scribes of the people, he inquired of them where the Messiah[c] was to be born. They told him, ‘In Bethlehem of Judea; for so it has been written by the prophet:

“And you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
    are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for from you shall come a ruler
    who is to shepherd[d] my people Israel.”’

Then Herod secretly called for the wise men[e] and learned from them the exact time when the star had appeared. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, ‘Go and search diligently for the child; and when you have found him, bring me word so that I may also go and pay him homage.’ When they had heard the king, they set out; and there, ahead of them, went the star that they had seen at its rising,[f] until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw that the star had stopped,[g] they were overwhelmed with joy. 11 On entering the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother; and they knelt down and paid him homage. Then, opening their treasure-chests, they offered him gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. 12 And having been warned in a dream not to return to Herod, they left for their own country by another road.

Imaginative Contemplation guided prayer: The Epiphany.

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

Exploring Personal Prayer: The Examen

Due to illness, the sessions of Exploring Personal Prayer were delayed after the Lectio Divina. We will be doing the session on the Examen tomorrow at 6.30pm GMT and you are welcome to come along, even if you have not attended any of the other sessions. The period we will be looking at is our Advent this year, and Christmas so far. I hope you will be able to join us.

In The Bleak Midwinter.

In the Bleak Midwinter: Recording of ths post.

December has been a very tough month this year. You might have fathomed that from my lack of posts. I have been trying just to make it to the end of term. Did I make it? No, not really. I was ill and had another negative COVID test, and then back to work for the last week and a bit, only to scald my face quite badly on the Wednesday and have to stay home on the last day of term, after a visit to Accident and Emergency. Not that it made any difference, since I received a phone call from the Assistant Head telling me not to come into school on the Friday because one of the students I taught had tested positive, our first confirmed case in school. They needed to double check protocols with Public Health England. It seems to change regularly. Since then, another two students and some teachers have tested positive too. It is easy to complain and make a list of all the negatives, but suffice to say, December has been tough, for lots of reasons.

I have been watching Peaky Blinders on DVD box set throughout this month…maybe I should nickname it “Bleaky Blinders”. It is dark. Since watching TV is one of my amber, desires – it tips over into inordinate desire and obsessiveness all too easily, my Spiritual director encourages me to notice what I am drawn to watch and why. What is it that draws me? Where is it coming from? and where is it leading to? All good discernment questions. If you know the series, you might recognise in the title for this post, the words the brothers are committed to saying at the point of death.

So, here is what I notice. I watch a lot of Films/Box sets when I am ill, stressed or exhausted. I have been all of these, all throughout this long, long month. When my head is caving in and my body is just fighting to do what I need to do, and crash when there is no necessity or even option. My head becomes a swirly place to be, and the escapism offers some relief from the constant noise. You may know what I mean.

I am drawn to complicated characters that demonstrate moral ambiguity. Tommy Shelby might indeed be a violent gangster, but he also has admirable qualities and vulnerabilities: he shows tenderness and is clearly tortured by his experiences of the First World war. What would he have been without that desolating experience? The most recent episodes I watched described a charming young man with a desire to change the world for the better. A different man came back from the war, and is still fighting it. He knows no peace and falls apart when his circumstances and environment are peaceful. I am not recommending Peaky Blinders here, I am noticing my response.

I also notice the feeling of restlessness and the impulse to turn it off. Is that the nature of the drama itself or the process of watching too much TV? Or both?

When I did turn it off a couple of evenings before Christmas, I put up my Christmas tree and played carols, I had to stop for about five minutes and cry. So many of the baubles bring with them their own memories of different Christmasses past. When I became a single parent, I bought a set of very cheap baubles for that first Christmas alone with my children, and we bought only two elaborate baubles that they each got to choose one. We did that every year, gradually replacing the cheaper ones, so that now it is an eclectic mix. They are not inclined ot put up the tree anymore, and because of Coronavirus, my friend did not come to stay this year: I decorated the tree on my own. It was a poignant experience, and moving.

Christmas has been quieter this year, not the huge pomp and ceremony as usual. It has been trimmed back. And yet, in the middle of this winter, where perhaps we still have as much to go through as we have aready been through, there is the cosiness of finding a safe place and hunkering down, in spite of the odds. It may be survival mode and if there is survival, there is life and recovery is possible. In the centre of this hard place, there is a light and hope: it is this truth that hit me while I was decorating my Christmas tree. As always, when we remember to look for the presence of God, He is to be found, no matter how long or bleak the winter.

Imaginative Contemplation: Christ the King

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King (Thirty-Fourth 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 Call of the King

On this Feast of Christ the King, I am offering an imaginative contemplation from the Spiritual Exercises, which occurs between the first and second week of the Exercises. It invites us to consider an earthly leader – in Ignatius’ day, he suggests an Earthly King, but here it is adapted for our modern times. We choose someone that we admire greatly, and might even consider following. And then we consider, if we would think about following an earthly leader, how much more might we consider following Christ the King. The grace we are invited to ask for in this contemplation is not to be deaf to His call, but to be prompt and diligent to accomplish His most holy will.

There is an alternative Imaginative Contemplation for this feast day which I presented last year, should you prefer.

Imaginative Contemplation: Christ the King. Guided Prayer

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

Made a Decision. Step 3 and The Spiritual Exercises

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

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

The Twelve Steps: Step 3

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

In “Breathing Underwater” Richard Rohr says:

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

Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr

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

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

Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 30

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

I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all. It is likewise consolation when one sheds tears that move to the love of God, whether it be because of sorrow for sins, or because of the sufferings of Christ our Lord, or for any other reason that is immediately directed to the praise and service of God. Finally, I call consolation every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one’s soul by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord.

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

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

…as we understood Him.

The Twelve Steps: Step 3

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

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

Yes, that is just like Him!

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

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

Exploring Personal Prayer Advent Course: Registration

I have now set up Registration for this online course. If you would like to register follow the link.

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 will use zoom for video conferencing. In terms of payment, I have set up a donations page if anyone wants to support me in this work, with some suggestions and an “other” option. Please don’t let it be prohibitive, it is the work that is important. Registration is so that I can prepare properly for those intending to be there. Below is an outline of the course with the dates:

I hope you will be able to join me.

Take care, God bless.

Margaret Mary

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: