I went to the Saturday retreat day at St Julian’s Church (below) and found an oasis in space and time. There has been a lot of stress in my life recently, and to stop in the midst of it all was, literally, a Godsend.
I was, and was looking for, quiet, and at least until lunchtime, I maintained a quiet solitude within myself. And then to my surprise, I found myself engaged in easy conversation with a variety of different people, who brought me out of myself, in spite of myself.
When I was studying to be a Spiritual Director, in the first year, we spent some time learning about all sorts of different spiritualities, not just the Ignatian Way. We spent a day looking at Hermits and Anchorites, Solitaries and the Beguines were also mentioned. In the meditation at the end of that day we were asked to notice our own internal response to what we had been learning. I noticed that I had found it extremely interesting, and in my reflective log later commented that I found it interesting that I had found it interesting. I have since recognised my own solitary nature, and that the longing in my own spiritual journey is for solitude: to go into my room alone with God and to close the door. I had observed a few years before that the more time I spent alone, and alone with God, the more open I was, in a non attached and free way, to other people. It seems a strange paradox, but was evident at the retreat day. I am drawn to Julian of Norwich, partly for this reason, partly because she was a woman writing about God and something of the non-patriarchal attitude in her writing is attractive, and in a similar way to St. Ignatius, she comes at our createdness from the perspective that we are like God “in nature”, that:
The soul…is accorded with God.A Revelation of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich.
rather than the common perspective than we are doomed sinners. Please do not get me wrong, there is no denial of sin either from Julian or from Ignatius, it is just that holding that our true nature is in God, and that we are completely loved by Him, is hopeful and opens us more freely to allow ourselves to accept the love of God, and to love Him more fully in return. It is the process by which we are transformed. I listen to people who begin from the point that they are doomed and they are so full of guilt that it gets in the way, or they have a subtle nuance in their thinking that they can achieve their own salvation by being good. They seem defeated before they even start, and I am sure I have felt like that at times too.
There was a guided meditation on a hazelnut.
Then He showed me a little thing, no bigger than a hazelnut, as it seemed to me, lying in the palm of my hand, and it was as round as a ball. I looked at it with the eye of my understanding and thought:
What can this be?
And I was answered generally:
It is all that is made.
I gazed with astonishment, wondering how it could survive because of its littleness. It seemed to me that it was about to fall into nothingness. And I was answered in my mind:
It lasts and always will last because God loves it.
And so, everything receives its being from the love of God.
In this little thing I saw three truths:
God made it.
God loves it.
God keeps it.A Revelation of Divine Love, Julian of Norwich.
I was reminded of an imaginative contemplation I had during the exercises on The First Principle and Foundation, where I had been praying with Psalm 139, and pondering my own creation, and I found myself in a repetition of that prayer, focusing on a consolation I had received at that time. I was my small inner child, around four years of age, in the garden with God, wearing my purple sparkly wellies and a simple white dress: I kid you not. Who would put a child in a white dress to do gardening? With my nose running like a burn, as they say where I am from, we were planting sunflowers in a large round flowerbed. He had shown me how to do it, and was over on the other side of the flower bed working, when I stopped to stare at the seeds in my hand. The phrase from the psalm repeated again and again in my mind:
when I was being formed in secret,
textured in the depths of the earth.Psalm 139: 15b
I remember He noticed me standing transfixed, and asked me tenderly:
Sunflower, are you okay?
I whispered to Him in awe:
You made me. Just like this, you made me.
I imagine Julian’s astonishment as she contemplated the vision of the hazelnut to be something similar. In this repetition, I heard those words directed to me:
I made you.
I love you.
I keep you.
I am keeping you very safe.
The last sentence here is another from Revelations of Divine Love, and it is one I hold close to me regularly. Previously I wrote about how Ignatius has said that we should store up the experience of consolation to strengthen us in periods of desolation. This last phrase is one of my consolations that I bring to mind when I notice that I am feeling fearful. Julian says that there are only two sins: anxious fear and despairing fear. Both are a lack of trust in God. Ignatius identifies both the want of faith and the want of hope as signs of desolation, of being pulled away from God. I said earlier that there has been a lot of stress in my life recently, and it has certainly led to me feeling unsafe and fearful at times, and despairing. To hear Him affirm me this way in prayer has shifted my perspective since the retreat day. I spent some time considering the people who have been, and still are, supporting me: friends, family, at Church and particularly my colleagues at work, and for their kindness and tenderness towards me, I am deeply grateful.
It was also mentioned on my course that Revelations of Divine Love could be used as a prayer programme or retreat, in a similar way to The Spiritual Exercises. That possibility I found extremely interesting and wondered how it could work in practice. What would the process be? I thought that when I had finished my training I might go back to that idea and look at it more closely. At the Julian Centre on the day of the retreat, I found the book “40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich”, Lisa E. Dahill, editor. There are a whole series of 40 Day Journey with… books with a selection of inspirational people. So, feeling inspired by what I have found, it is my intention to go on this 40 day journey with Julian, as a sort of 19th annotation, like in The Exercises, where one day in the journey takes a week of everyday life. I intend to begin at the beginning of the liturgical year: the beginning of advent, so I have some time to ready myself for the journey. Wish me Bon Voyage!