But when our courteous Lord of His special grace shows Himself to our soul, we have what we desire, and then for that time we do not see what more we should pray for, but all our intention and all our power are wholly directed to contemplating Him. And as I see it, this is an exalted and imperceptible prayer; for the whole reason why we pray is to be united into the vision and contemplation of Him to whom we pray…with so much sweetness and delight in Him that we cannot pray at all except as He moves us at the time…And then we can do no more than contemplate Him and rejoice, with a great and compelling desire to be wholly united into Him, and attend to his motion and rejoice in His love and delight in His goodness…And [ultimately] we shall all come into our Lord, knowing ourselves clearly and wholly possessing God, and we shall all be endlessly hidden in God, truly seeing and wholly feeling, and hearing Him spiritually and delectably smelling Him and sweetly tasting Him. And there we shall see God face to face, familiarly and wholly.
But still our trust is often not complete, because we are not sure that God hears us…for often we are as barren and dry after our prayer as we were before. [Here Jesus says]: Pray wholeheartedly, though you may feel nothing, though you may see nothing, yes, though you think that you could not, for in dryness and in barrenness, in sickness and in weakness, then is your prayer most pleasing to me. [W]e ought to pray…that He may rule us and guide us to His glory in this life, and bring us to His bliss…So He means us to see that He does it and to pray for it. For…if we pray and do not see that He does it, it makes us depressed and doubting…And if we see that He does it and do not pray, we do not do our duty…It is our Lord’s will that we pray for everything which He has ordained to do, either in particular or in general. And so I saw that when we see the need for us to pray, then our Lord God is following us, helping our desire.
Reading: Luke 18:1
NB: I have stayed with the word “impassible” as written in the 40 Day journey with Julian of Norwich. Wiktionary defines the word as meaning : unable to suffer or feel pain, unable to feel emotion, impassive, incapable of suffering injury or detriment; misspelling of impassable. For the word “impassable” wiktionary says: incapable of being passed over, crossed or negotiated; incapable of being overcome or surmounted. I acknowledge that Julian is unlikely to have misspelt the word she intended to mean – in the context of Day 8 of the journey that makes sense . However, when I prayed with it, the meaning I experienced with it was that of “impassable”. The misspelling is mine, and maybe also deliberately God’s, because of what He wanted to say to me in that prayer. I use the word in the sense of “impassable” in this post. Please excuse my poor spelling.
I bought this icon with some money I was given as a Christmas present and it has occupied my prayer spot this season of Lent. I first saw it on retreat a few years ago and spent several days praying with it. I have a deep affinity for it. It arrived on the morning when I was praying day 8 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, and I put it out immediately for my prayer. The words that struck me that day were;
He is glorious and impassible…40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
and I commented in my prayer journal in my review of prayer:
This image does show Jesus as Glorious and attractive, and it is impossible to get past Him in this image. I had absolutely no desire to get past Him….
In the text at the back of the icon it reads:
It strikes me that the second paragraph is also particularly pertinent to the lockdown situation in which many of us are now living. Is Christ imprisoned or are we?
On day 16 of my journey, Julian writes:
For everything that our good Lord makes us to beseech He Himself has ordained for us from all eternity.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
This is the Lord’s will, that our prayer and trust be both equally generous.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
Day 8 has resurfaced in my prayer recently because it was all about desire: God’s desire and God’s thirst to have us drawn into Him. Day 16 encourages us to ask for our desire, a common practice in Ignatian spirituality, because Julian recognises that that very desire is God given: I want it because God wants it for and of me. It is a subtle movement. How many times have you heard:
I want, doesn’t get.
In God in All Things Gerard W. Hughes writes:
If I were Satan’s adviser…I would suggest that Satan ensures that Christian leaders emphasise the danger of human desire, and the need to subject it totally to the will of God, constantly warning the flock that anything they desire must be rooted in their own selfishness, which they must constantly oppose. This will ensure that they always feel bad about feeling good…God in All Things, Gerard W. Hughes
and he also says:
Human desire is the rope attaching us to the God in whom we have every particle of our being.God in All Things, Gerard W. Hughes
I am sure that I would have made these connections anyway because of my direction of travel on this journey, but maybe, like many people who are currently in lockdown because of Covid-19, my reflections on what is important are augmented and my desire to change the way I live enhanced: to work more for God and less for Caesar, to live more simply and with less. I hear friends expressing the same sentiment. I have been moving in this direction for a while now, and the more it happens, the stronger my desire for it, and Him.
Of course, the critical voice is there as always, telling me that I am lazy, selfish, that I will never manage on less; that I need security – that is a big one for me. What happens if I am unable to look after myself? What then? I am just being fanciful…blah blah blah. And of course, that voice can sound very reasonable, sensible. I am a reasonable, sensible person, so I may think I am discerning with due care; and maybe I am.
But I know that when I was praying a lectio divina with Julian’s words:
For everything that our good Lord makes us to beseech He Himself has ordained for us from all eternity.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
something in me moved and it felt like both affirmation and confirmation.
In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius offers three ways that we might make a decision about our lives: he calls them first, second and third time choice. I have mentioned these three ways before. To oscillate backwards and forwards around a decision as I have been doing for the last few months, with experiences of consolation and desolation, Ignatius describes as second time choice:
When much light and understanding are derived through experience of desolations and consolations and discernment of diverse spirits.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
And after this light and understanding have been derived and a choice has been made, Ignatius continues:
After such a choice or decision, the one who has made it must turn with great diligence to prayer in the presence of God our Lord, and offer Him his choice that the Divine Majesty may deign to accept and confirm it if it is for His greater service and praise.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
What does it feel like when it is accepted and confirmed? If I ask for my desire in prayer, how do I know it has been given? What if I am just convincing myself that God wants what I want because I want God to want what I want? And these are the ways the desolating spirit can tie us up in knots. I know this one from my own experience.
Julian writes of the need for as much generosity in our trust as with our prayer.
In the meditiation on the Two Standards in the exercises, Ignatius talks about the different ways the evil one acts:
…how he goads them on…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
And of Jesus he says:
…by attracting them to the highest spiritual poverty…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Spiritual directors might notice or ask are we being driven or drawn?
There is no rush with God, no fear. There is God time. It seems to me that these desires He implants in our hearts are mustard seeds and they take time to grow. He gives and allows them plenty of time to grow. I read a long time ago, prior to my engagement with Ignatian spirituality, I think it was in Shiela Cassidy’s autobiography “Audacity to Believe”, that one of the ways you can tell if it is from God is that you make a decision and hand it over to Him, and you live as if that was it and it was final. What happens in the space in between making the decision and putting it into action will let you know where the decision has come from: if it is of God, it will bring peace, a deeper desire to fulfill the choice and patience; if it is not of God it will lead to restlessness, anxiety, impatience and turmoil. It is as Ignatius suggests: make the decision and offer it to God in prayer to see what happens. Listen for His response.
Currently, I am in the space in between; the choice to live differently and with the next step to live that choice identified, is made and offered, and I believe confirmed. It will take some time, and there is much work to do in the meantime in preparing the way. For now it is to live with it, to work to prepare the way, and most importantly, to trust and to pray and to be patient. As I continue to pray with this icon, from within my lockdown “imprisonment” (although as I have more time at home which is my sanctuary), as I do not respect the social distancing as regards to Him and I meet Him face to face at the fence, it feels like more freedom to me. I do indeed find Him Glorious and Impassible.
While I am deeply grateful for all of the gifts He has generously given to me, I grieve and pray for all who are struggling with confinement, whatever the reason.
I’m catching up.
Jesus reassures us, saying “I am the ground of your beseeching.” For it is the most impossible thing…that we should seek mercy and grace and not have it. For everything that our good Lord makes us to beseech He himself has ordained for us from all eternity. So here we may see that our beseeching is not the cause of the goodness and grace which He gives us, but His own goodness…The fruit and end of our prayer…is to be united and like to our Lord in all things…This is the Lord’s will, that our prayer and trust be both equally generous. For if we do not trust as much as we pray, we do not pay full honour to our Lord in our prayer, and also we impede and hurt ourselves; and the reason is, as I believe, that we do not truly know that our Lord is the ground from which our prayer springs, and also because we do not know that it is given to us by grace from His love.
Reading: Matthew 7:7
Psalm 91: 1-2
When I was writing the post for Diary of a Sunflower the other day and describing a scene from some recurrent nightmares I had as a child, where I would be lying on a road, or a railway line, and a car or a train would be coming towards me, and I could see it and was desperately trying to get out of the way, but my legs would not work, I was paralysed by fear, it reminded me of a scene from the film “I am Legend” with Will Smith in it, where the infected dogs are after him and his dog, but they cannot cross the sunlight on the ground. The sun is going down and that ray of light is gradually disappearing.
Of course, the social distancing, social isolation situation here in the United Kingdom, and the Coronavirus pandemic is also, obviously, playing on my mind. “I Am Legend” is a film set in a post apocalyptic world, where most of the world has been infected with a virus that has turned them into Nightwalkers. The Will Smith character, Neville, is immune to the virus which affects humans in the airborne form, but dogs can only get infected by being bitten. He is a virologist, trying to find a vaccine. A topical subject. It is an excellent film, but a white knuckle ride, you need to be in the right mood I would say, and maybe, now is not the time.
Dreams of paralysing fear are quite common and can signify being stuck or restrained, from internal or external sources, or they can come from repressing stresses and feelings in our waking life. It sounds like I am describing the current situation where school has now been closed and we are working from home, setting lessons online. I might be calm and measured in my actions, but there is a small child inside me who is freaking out, a small child who knows that closing schools, and for an undefined length of time, and cancelling qualifying exams, is a last resort and means the situation is serious.
So what to do with that paralysing fear? There is no trite answer to that, and neither would I want to give one. To freeze can be a normal response to a real threat and sometimes, maybe standing still is safest action to take. Fight or flight might just make the situation more dangerous. I am thinking of where a dangerous predator might not have noticed that you are there. As a child, I loved horror films. Staying up late on a Saturday night to watch the horror double bill was a treat for us. I especially loved the Dracula films; and while I might go to bed with that adrenaline fuelled fear of:
What if there really are such creatures?
What if there are monsters under my bed?
I always put my crucifix on my pillow when I went to bed and felt safe, and if I had to go to the toilet during the night, I would take a flying leap back into bed, and hold onto that crucifix tightly until my heart rate had slowed down again..
We have become very used to the wonders of modern medical science I think, and especially in the United Kingdom with our wonderful National Health Service. It is not something we should take for granted, it is precious. We are getting a glimpse of what the world would be like without appropriate medicine, without vaccines, without antibiotics. For much of human history we did not have such wondrous technology, and there are places in the world that still do not have access to technology and medicines that are available elsewhere. To be used to depending on our own ingenuity so successfully, and to find ourselves in a position where we are not in control, but something else is, with blatant disregard to our feelings and well being; that something being invisible to our eyes but we can clearly see its effects, is sobering. I am of course talking about COVID-19. And scientists cannot decide whether or not viruses are living.
Recently, in the context of the meditation on a public sinner in the first week if the spiritual exercises, I heard someone describe sin as a virus. Hitler was presented as the public sinner, a common choice, and the contagion of his ideas spread exponentially throughout those around him who carried out his orders. It seems to me an excellent analogy, but I do not want to get into the sickness = sin equation of the Old Testament. It is to note that social behaviour driven by fear is leading to hording, fighting in the aisles, denial of the seriousness of the situation and refusing to take action by physically distancing oneself, but just carrying on as if nothing at all is happening. The disease spreading through our world is shining a spotlight on our collective sinfulness, our collective fear and lack of faith in God.
But it is not the whole story. Just as there is a cry of wonder as we turn to the crucified Christ in the Exercises, there were those who stood up: Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Edith Stein, Maximillion Kolbe….many people who refused, and died refusing to accept it, whose faith was tested right to the point of death. And there are those who are standing up in the wake of the pandemic: Dr. Li, who tried to warn the world of this new viral pneumonia that we had never seen before and died from it himself, all the key workers, responding to the crisis by carrying on, caring for others. There are those in local communities who are rallying round to make sure the vulnerable are looked after. There is less talk of Brexit, although it is still there under the surface its effects in this current situation are being considered, but people are caring more for each other and building communities online to support each other. Fear is not the only story, God is there in the midst of it all.
I have been catching up with Day 14 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich. The words that particularly struck me from Julian in relation to the current crisis are when “our courteous Lord” says to Julian:
My dear darling, I am glad that you have come to me in all your woe….and now you see me loving.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill
and it has gone hand in hand with an image that was posted on the CCC Facebook page:
Ignatius advises that when we are in a time of desolation:
…it will be very advantageous to intensify our activity against the desolation. We can insist more upon prayer, upon meditation, and on much examination of ourselves. We can make an effort in a suitable way to do some penance.The Spiritual Exercises of St.Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
…one who suffers desolation should remember that by making use of the sufficient grace offered him, he can do much to withstand all his enemies. Let him find his strength in his Creator and Lord.The Spiritual Exercises of St.Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
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.
The image above reminds me of a previous imaginative contemplation I made on the Good Samaritan at the end of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises and by bringing it to mind, and into my current prayer, this previous consolation, I have found that my inner child is settling down and my trust is deepening. No, I do not know how we will emerge from this crisis as a world and I hope it will be different in a good way; that we will come to understand that we are all connected to each other and that we need to look after each other and our world. There will always be disease: viruses and bacteria evolve more quickly than we do and medical science is always playing catch up. Consolation, sensible and spiritual, is to be found in how we deal with it. I, for one, am grateful for all those people who have posted the positives and prayers on social media, because they have all helped me to make use of the grace offered me and to withstand the fear raining down.
So, I have been overwhelmed with work in the last two weeks and have fallen a bit behind in my journey. I have yet to start Day 14 from last week, but I am going to make a concerted effort to put aside this time for prayer in the next few days, and to catch up to with Days 14 and 15, and move onto the next day at the appointed time.
[God] regards sin as sorrow and pains for His lovers, to whom for love He assigns no blame…For our courteous Lord does not want His servants to despair because they fall often and greviously; for our falling does not hinder Him in loving us. No more than His love towards us is withdrawn because of our sin does He wish our love to be withdrawn from ourselves or from our fellow Christians. God also showed me that sin is no shame, but honour to [us], for in this vision my understanding was lifted up to heaven; and then there came truly to my mind David, Peter and Paul, Thomas of India and Mary Magdalen, how they are known, with their sins, to their honour in the Church on Earth. And it is to them no shame that they have sinned – shame is no more in the bliss of heaven – for there the tokens of sin are turned into honours. Just so our Lord showed them to me as examples of all who will come there.
Reading 1 Timothy: 15-16
Psalm 103: 8, 10-12
By saying every kind of thing will be well,…our good Lord [Jesus]…wants us ua to know that He takes heed not only of things which are noble and great, but also of those which are little and small, of humble [people] and simple, of this [person] and that [one]. and this is the supreme friendship of our courteous Lord, tha He protects us so tenderly whilst we are in our sins; and further more He touches us most secretly, and shows us our sins by the sweet light of mercy and grace. But when we see ourselves so foul, then we believe that God may be angry with us…Then we are moved by the Holy Spirit through contrition to prayer, and we desire with all our might an amendment of ourselves….And then our courteous Lord shows Himself to the soul, happily and with the gladest countenance, welcoming it as a friend, as if it had been in pain and in prison, saying: My dear darling, I am glad that you have come to me in all your woe. I have always been with you, and now you see me loving, and we are made one in bliss.
Reading: Luke 7: 44-47
I stood contemplating [these things] generally and darkly and mournfully, saying…to our Lord with very great fear: Ah, good Lord, how could all things be well, because of the great harm which has come through sin to your creatures?…And to this our blessed Lord answered, very meekly and with a most loving manner…that I should contemplate the glorious atonement, for this atoning is more pleasing to the blessed divinity and more honourable for [our] salvation, without comparison, than ever Adam’s sin was harmful. [He said]: For since I have set right the greatest of harms, then it is my will that you should know through this that I shall set right everything which is less…You will see yourself that every kind of thing will be well. [For] there are so many deeds which in our eyes are so evilly done and lead to such great harms that it seems to us impossible that any good result could ever come of them. And we contemplate this and sorrow and mourn in it so that we cannot rest in the blessed contemplation of God as we ought to.
Reading: Lamentations 3: 19-23
Psalm 141: 8
And with the beholding of [Jesus’ passion]…I did not see sin, for I believe that it has no kind of substance, no share in being, nor can it be recognised except by the pain caused by it. And it seems to me that this pain is something for a time, for it purges and makes us know ourselves and ask for mercy; for the Passion of our Lord is comfort to us against all this…And because of the tender love which our good Lord has for all who will be saved, He comforts readily and sweetly, meaning this: It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well. These words were revealed most tenderly. showing no kind of blame to me, or to anyone who will be saved. So I saw how Christ has compassion on us because of sin.
Reading: Matthew 11:28-30
Then our good Lord put a question to me: Are you well satisfied that I suffered for you? I said: Yes, good Lord, all my thanks to you…Then Jesus our good Lord said: If you are satisfied, I am satisfied. It is a joy, a bliss, an endless delight to my that ever I suffered my Passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more…For although the sweet humanity of Christ could suffer only once, His goodness can never cease offering it…The love which made Him suffer it surpasses all his sufferings, as much as heaven is above earth.