Are you impressed?

ornamental dome of grand catholic cathedral

I’ve received a text message this week from an organisation that I do some work for. Here is what it said:  

We are really impressed by your past experience and your background. We firmly believe that you are a valuable asset to our college. 

It reminded me of another email I received a few months ago from another organisation I was doing some work for. The email began 

Thanks again for your excellent sample chapter- we were really impressed with how well you understood the brief and the quality of your content. 

I started to think about my previous job, and I tried to remember the last time someone in my previous job told me they were impressed with my work. I’m sorry to say I can’t remember when that happened. Here in my new job, I’ve heard it twice in the last three months. It made me feel quite sad. I’m thinking about the teachers who have just voted to strike in the UK and how undervalued they are. I was part of the union that has voted to strike and would have voted with the 90%. 

I am also currently involved in “The 40-day Journey with Julian of Norwich” with the Friends of Julian of Norwich. In this last month we have been praying with Day 13 to Day 16 of the journey and on Day 15 the reading from Julian says: 

God also showed me that sin is no shame but honour to us… shame is no more in the bliss of heaven – for there the tokens of sin are turned into owners. 

40 day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill
close up photo of splashed water
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As all these thoughts swirled around my brain I found myself thinking of the feeling of not being good enough and of spiritual desolation. I found myself thinking of the critical voices, those voices that tell us that we are worthless, unworthy, it’s all our fault: the “mea culpa” that has us feeling guilty and ashamed. 

What does it feel like when someone tells us that they are impressed by something we have done? Is the temptation to dismiss what has been said? After all, no one likes a show off. It may be false humility. 

In the first week of the Spiritual Exercises by St Ignatius of Loyola the focus of the prayer is sin: our own personal sin, original sin, the sin of the world: and the grace of the first week that we asked for at the beginning of prayer is for sorrow for our sins. Importantly, the First Week of the Exercises comes after the Principle and Foundation, and it is important to enter the first week knowing that we are loved by God. How else could we bear shame of our sinfulness? 

How does it feel in the Principal and Foundation when we experience ourselves to be loved by God? Julian very famously talks about the hazelnut and how in her visions or showings she saw three properties in the hazelnut: 

The first is that God made it, the second is that He loves it, and the third is that God preserves it. 

Revelations of Divine Love: Julian of Norwich

I remember one day in school, in one of the after-school training sessions, there was a statement on a piece of paper which linked negative judgments by Ofsted with a teacher feeling personal shame. It made me feel very angry. I know for me personally being a perfectionist, it is uncomfortable to get things wrong, but I would stop short of declaring that a reason to feel ashamed. I might also argue that the person or organisation making the judgement may not necessarily be accurate or may have their own agenda or priorities that the teacher may not agree with. 

Of course, feeling proud when someone tells you they are impressed may simply be the opposite side of the same coin: a point to be cautious of. Pride itself, for its own sake, can also get in the way. 

So, what is the balance? Because self-denigration, feeling ashamed in response to unjustified criticism, or maybe even justified criticism from self-appointed judges, may be inverted pride. 

The grace of the first week of The Exercises is key: it is to know ourselves as loved sinners, to hold the tension between imperfections and the harm that we may do, the lack of love in our hearts, the lack of virtue, generosity, magnanimity: to hold it in one hand and God’s love of us in the other. 

Is it good to accept compliments? To feel good when people tell us they are impressed? I would say of course: when someone recognises and appreciates our gifts it allows us to recognise and appreciates the gifts that we have been given. We may have done our best job with the work we were doing, and we know our work is appreciated. That is a satisfaction in doing the work regardless of any external reward. It’s like walking outside into the mountains and exclaiming how beautiful it is to God; an appreciation of the work, an expression of the appreciation, it is to praise God. It is to give glory to God when we are exclaiming how impressed we are with God’s work. When we allow someone else to express their appreciation of our work, it connects us to our giftedness, the abilities and talents we have received from God and that we have put them to use in the service of others. 

achievement confident free freedom
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In The Spiritual Exercises in the fourth point of the Contemplation to Attain Love, Saint Ignatius says: 

This is to consider all blessings and gifts as descending from above. 

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

The danger of modesty or false humility is that it denies those gifts, diminishes them, makes them as nothing: unimportant. Sure, there is a danger in arrogance and pride when we can think of ourselves as the big, “I am” because people are impressed with us, but, as one of the tutors on my spirituality course said several times: 

We can become attached to our smallness.

There are many “haters” out there in the world, on social media, on television, in the newspapers.  There is criticism to be found everywhere, of anyone and everyone; a lynch mob mentality. It’s all around. It is very easy to become bogged down in fear anger, negativity: to feel a lack of faith, hope and love. Such hopelessness and fear are spiritual desolation. Perhaps we need to complement each other more, not falsely, but genuine heartfelt compliments. If we’re impressed say we’re impressed. If someone tells us that they are impressed to accept that acknowledgement of our gifts and for ourselves to also acknowledge those gifts and expressed gratitude for them. 

photo of women hugging each other
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So, the next time you are impressed with someone, tell them. Acknowledge their giftedness out loud so they can hear it and own it too. And when someone complements you on your gifts, accept it, don’t dismiss it: accept it and than God for the gifts He so generously bestows.

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 4

It seems strange to be writing about my first 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, after leading the Friends of Julian of Norwich Lenten Bookgroup this year, but nevertheless, here I am doing just that. I have been organising with the trustees of The Friends of Julian of Norwich how we intend to continue the journey, since several people who attended the lenten course requested more. The format of Continuing the Journey will be more as I made the journey myself the first time, taking a week to pray with the material for each day of Lisa Dahill’s book, just like the 19th Annotation of The Spiritual Exercises. The Zoom meetings for Continuing the Journey will be on the third Wednesday of the month, starting in September, so watch out for more details here and especially on the Friends of Julian of Norwich website and newsletters.

Day 4 of the 40 Day Journey continues the contemplation the hazelnut:

The first is that God made it, the second is that He loves it, and the third is that God preserves it.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill
Ripening hazelnuts
Ripening hazelnuts by Evelyn Simak is licensed under CC-BY-SA 2.0

And Julian asks:

But what is that to me?

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill

For me, the phrases that stood out when I first prayed with this material were:

…God is the lover…there can be no created thing between my God and me…He has made me for this…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill

The first phrase connected me immediately to the Song of Songs. This particular book from scripture was the focus for my prayer on retreat in the summer before I started my Spiritual Direction course. It had a profound impact on my life, and my active engagement with the book lasted for a least two years. I’m still not done with it yet, but suffice to say it was the trip switch for a great deal of upheaval in my life. The Song of Songs is a love poem which can be understood as the relationship between God and the Church, or the relationship between God and the individual soul. To pull this phrase from Julian’s writings here connected me to God’s desire for me and my desire and longing for God. It became more personal and more intimate:

God is my lover.

The “no created thing” became “nothing” and I wanted nothing to get in the way. I wanted to let go of every inordinate desire I had and I started to name them, to recognise the habits and behaviours that dissipated my spiritual energy. As I imagined God pulling me closer to Him, I could feel that His desire for me was irresistible and I asked Him to help me remove or overcome all those things that get in the way. To know deeply that He has made me to love Him and to be loved by Him – this outpouring and knowing was the grace of this prayer for me.

… have not God’s rest in their hearts and souls;…and in which there is no rest…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill

With the inordinate desires that swam before my eyes like a conveyor belt in “The Generation Game”, it resonated with how Julian described the effect of the “wordly business”:

It was all about my tendency to overwork, and I have written about that before. It is very interesting to read about this now that I am living with ME/CFS! The drive to work, to have a career and to be successful in it, the drive to perfectionism – in this prayer on Day 4 of the journey I recognised how these things were getting in the way of my being close to God. And yet, at the same time, in response to one of the questions to ponder that Lisa Dahill asks I wrote:

Both wordly investment and allegience to God can be lived simultaneously – and the balance is prayer.

beautiful beauty blur close up
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The questions to ask ourselves regarding our work, and our relationships, to my mind are:

Am I doing the work that God wants me to do?

Am I loving well those I am in relationship with?

On pondering the meaning of “substantially united to God”, I noted:

To be substantially united to God is a grace given by Him. We might orientate our lives so that we connect with Him as much as possible but He is the one who gathers us up into Himself in that eternal moment.

It reminds me of something that struck me years ago when I read “The Cloud of Unknowing“:

For were the soul not strengthened by its good endeavours, it would be unable to stand the pain that the awareness of its own existence brings.

The Cloud of Unkowing

The grace of this prayer knocked me to the floor and it was only the first prayer with day 4.

My second day praying with the material started with the last four words of the passage given and then moved onto the psalm fragment (Psalm 46:9-10):

…He is true rest.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich edited Lisa E. Dahill

Be still and know…that I am God.

Psalm 46:10
sportive woman with bicycle resting on countryside road in sunlight
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St. Ignatius invites use to converse with God “as one friend speaks to another” and the conversation with God at this point in my prayer was intimate and loving.

I am your rest.

You are my rest.

I am the God that heals you.

I am the one to make the wars to cease within you, the one who burns the shields with fire.

You are my love, my treasure. In all of creation I love you more.

When I asked how that could be, His response was:

You are precious to me, you are my treasure.

St. Augustine has said:

God loves each of us as if there were only one of us.

St. Augustine

Julian’s revelations about the hazelnut made me feel just as St. Augstine describes. I was warm and surrounded by light, and the people I love most in the world were also surrounded by light. We were protected and safe. I visualised myself as Leviathon, God’s own creature, another image of myself from another retreat.

I imagined myself flowing easily from fire to water and back to fire again, without any conflict between the two, or restriction in the movement from one to the other. For me, these represent the active and contemplative sides of my personality – how appropriate to be writing this in the 16th week of cycle C in the Lectionary, where the gospel reading is about Martha and Mary! I first sought out a Spiritual Director because these aspects of myself were in conflict. In the earlier stages of my deepening journey, I believed that the purpose was to live with them in balance. This mandala was my realisation that integrity was not about getting the balance, but in being able to flow from one to the other without resistance. I guess it is the living simultaneously worldy investment and allegience to God.

Overwork and the drive to get things sorted “once and for all” is a place where I need to be open to the healing, restorative love of God. The sense of not being able to get it all done (in time) creates a sense of panic in me, and of not being good enough.

How poignant it is for me to read those words now. Even then, the other part was also there:

I experience God as my true rest when I consciously spend time in contemplative prayer -then my head slows down and the war within me ceases.

I share the desire with Julian for there to be nothing between my God and me. The deepest desire of my soul is to have the freedom to be who He would have me be. I find myself reading back through my prayer journal now and being inspired again by the graces I received then.

You can find a guided Lectio Divina prayer with the material for Day 4 of the Journey here or as a Podcast on my channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 40

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Apologies for the late post today.

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 40

Reading: Revelation 21:5-6

Psalm 30: 11-12

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 40. Guided prayer.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.

Thank you to everyone who has been following this journey.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 39

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Apologies for the late post today.

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 39

Reading: John 15: 9

Psalm 36:7-9

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 39. Guided prayer.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 38

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 38

Reading: Isaiah 45:8

Psalm 48: 14

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 38. Guided prayer.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 37

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 37

Reading: Isaiah 62:1b-3

Psalm 143: 10

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 37. Guided prayer.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 36

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 36

Reading: 2 Corinthians 4:8-10

Psalm 143:3,9

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 36. Guided prayer.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 35

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 35

Reading: John 15:15

Psalm 27:4

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 35. Guided prayer.

You can still join the Lenten book group making this journey by signing up here.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 34

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 34

Reading: Song of Songs 7:10

Psalm 85:8

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 34. Guided prayer.

You can still join the Lenten book group making this journey by signing up here.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 33

Lenten Book Group 2022 | by The Friends of Julian of Norwich

Prayer material and guided prayer

Extract from Revelations of Divine Love in the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 33

Reading: 1 John 4: 18

Psalm 34:9

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 33. Guided prayer.

You can still join the Lenten book group making this journey by signing up here.

The guided prayer is also available as a podcast on the channel: Sunflower Seed Spirituality

A suggestion was made during our introductory and orientation session that for some people, journaling might not be the best way to review their prayer. I commented that Praying in Colour might be a good alternative – it is what I intend to do. I have written about it before and if you would like to read more about it, you can find that information here.