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  

Imaginative Contemplation: The Soldiers mock Jesus

Palm Sunday of the Lord’s Passion, 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 15: 16-20

The Soldiers Mock Jesus

16 Then the soldiers led him into the courtyard of the palace (that is, the governor’s headquarters[c]); and they called together the whole cohort. 17 And they clothed him in a purple cloak; and after twisting some thorns into a crown, they put it on him. 18 And they began saluting him, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ 19 They struck his head with a reed, spat upon him, and knelt down in homage to him. 20 After mocking him, they stripped him of the purple cloak and put his own clothes on him. Then they led him out to crucify him.

Imaginative Contemplation Guided prayer: Mark 15: 16-20

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

Made a searching and fearless…Step 4 and The Spiritual Exercises.

Made a searching and fearless…1: Reading of this post.

Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Step 4: Alcoholics Anonymous

There is something quite appropriate about looking at this step at the beginning of January! We might be in the first blush of enthusiasm for our New Year’s Resolutions – if we have indeed made any. Perhaps we have already forgotten it or given up.

This step is difficult and long, and not to be taken lightly. It is to be approached with seriousness, and also gentleness. Its equivalent in the Spiritual Exercises is the first week, where we look at our own sinfulness. Step 4 encourages us to look deeply at ourselves, warts and all, our strengths and our weaknesses, our virtues and vices. We are invited to bring everything out into the light to look at it.

In “Blueprint for Progress”, the workbook that goes along with step 4, personal qualities are put along side their opposites and we are invited to consider where we generally sit in the space between the two extremes. The process is then to consider examples of situations and our response to them that have led to us placing ourselves there. It is a process of discernment. When we are being too hard on ourselves, we might find that we can think of examples that support the contrary to what we propose. And when we are inclined to justify our behaviour or actions, the sting of conscience – the phrase St. Ignatius uses in the Exercises – pulls us up short and demands that we look more closely. As with the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, it is an uncomfortable journey. It demands humility, true humility. Not the self deprecating kind that refuses to recognise our own good as well as our own faults. And it is not a journey to make alone. Having moved through the second and third steps, where we came to believe and made a decision to turn our lives over to God, we make this journey together with our God.

Made a searching and fearless…2: Reading of this post.

In the Spiritual Exercises, where we have moved into the First week from the Principle and Foundation, we have come to know ourselves as created and deeply loved by God. It is our reaching out to God that enables us to make this inventory without growing to despise ourselves.

I was a young adult when I worked through this step formally. There were things I discovered about myself that I did not like, and I worked to mend them. There were identified characteristics of adult children of alcoholics that I recognised the potential for in myself and I resolved to avoid those pitfalls. One of those was that it was common for adults who had been raised in an alcoholic home to leave projects unfinished, to start something and then to walk away without seeing it all the way to the end. I saw that that could easily be me and it has stayed with me all these years. I may struggle to be consistent, and it may look like something has quietly gone by the wayside – my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich for example. I did not finish that in one year, even though at the beginning of Advent last year it seemed that there was more than enough time! I have not given up. I have resumed the journey where I left off in October, and I will finish it.

I do not drink alcohol myself. There is also a tendency for this addiction to run in families and I knew at the age of seventeen that I did not want to walk that path. I joined the Pioneer Association when I was eighteen and made that abstinence into a lifelong prayer.

I am struck by an idea I heard , I think when I heard Laurence Freeman speak in Norwich some years ago. It describes the perception of the Seven Deadly Sins as being compulsions, addictions that drive our behaviour and as such, make us not free. Addiction, by its very nature is an inordinate desire because the addict places their addiction above everything else. I would suggest that we all have them, and that they can be small as well as big. I know for example, that I am not able to “just have one” chocolate digestive, even if I resolve to, and I am in public. I can tie myself up in all sorts of knots with that one. If the packet is open I am not at peace. They call to me and torment me. Best not to buy them at all and refuse the first one. It may seem like a trivial example, but the behaviour and desire is there, nevertheless. The journey of the fourth step, and the First week of the spiritual exercises is to become aware of our own specific compulsions, even the subtle ones, and to remove us from denial so that we can live freely of them.

Made a searching and fearless…3: Reading of this post.

At the end of every year for quite a few years running, it was my habit to do a review of the year, a sort of examen. I would read through my diary and try to sum of the mood of each month and then create some sort on collage showing my movement through the year. I notice two changes to this habit in recent years that have made this review essentially obsolete. The first is that as I have engaged more deeply in Ignatian Spirituality, I have regularly practised the daily examen, and the second is that my “diary” is now exclusively my prayer journal. All my reflections are derived from my prayer, including my daily examen.

So, here is where I am today. In my examen of the year, I recognise the hand of God in the big changes taking place in my life, and my commitment and hard work, my complete cooperation, in the new direction He is leading me. I also recognise my compulsion to workaholism, motivated by pride, and that it has led me to burnt out exhaustion and away from the space and time for a slower pace and deepened engagement in prayer. This latter desire of mine and His is the raisin d’etre for changing direction in my career.

Made a searching and fearless…4: Reading of this post.

In the 10th Addition of the Exercises on Penance – believe me, I have a lot to say about that particular addition – Ignatius describes how we can do too much penance as well as too little penance. It is all about the point of equilibrium. The work of the Fourth step, the moral inventory strikes me as being the same thing. Ignatius encourages us to act against the desolation. So, in that spirit, while I am still working in school and trying to set up my business as an online Chemistry tutor, I will be cutting back a little in a few places. One of those is here. Between now and February, I will post a reflection fortnightly rather than weekly, alternating it with a Chemistry blog on my other website. I hope to pick it up weekly again when I am no longer spending my working days in the classroom. The other posts I do will continue in the normal pattern.

I would like to wish you all a safe and good new year, and for you to deepen your own prayer life and journey into the heart of God.

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.

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