Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises

Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 1: Reading of this post.

Came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity.

https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/About-AA/The-12-Steps-of-AA
At the centre of the labyrinthe at St. Beunos
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 2: Reading of this post.

I can honestly say that the last two weeks have been hectic in a way that I have not at all enjoyed. I would go as far as describing it as the First of the Twelve Steps:

We admitted we were powerless over alcohol – that our lives had become unmanageable.

https://www.alcoholics-anonymous.org.uk/About-AA/The-12-Steps-of-AA

I am not specifically speaking about alcohol here, but the powerlessness I have experienced over my life is real and with it, the sense that it is completely unmanageable. Very quickly, I started to realise that I am living step two, that amidst this turmoil of spirits I have been experiencing, I am reaching out to God and believing that He can indeed restore me to sanity, and that in fact, it is exactly what He has been doing since I made the Exercises, and for a time even before that. So, I am making a discernment about my life.

In Breathing Underwater, in the chapter on Step 2, Richard Rohr writes:

The immediate embrace is from God’s side, the ineffectiveness is whatever time it takes for us to “come to believe”, which is the slow and gradual healing and reconnecting of head, heart and body so that they can operate as one.

Breathing Underwater, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr

He makes the point that there is a process here, a lag time. We do not suddenly believe that God can restore us to sanity, as it says in step two, without a precursor to that belief. The first step may come as a revelation, where there is a desire and a possibility for change, and no doubt about it; what Ignatius describes in The Spiritual Exercises as First Time Choice:

When God our Lord so moves and attracts the will that a devout soul without hesitation, or the possibility of hesitation, follows what has been manifested to it. St. Paul and St. Matthew acted thus in following Christ our Lord.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J Puhl S.J.
Sundial, Penhurst
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 3: Reading of this post.

The second step is not quite the same thing as it is lived. I have heard a lot of people share and talk about reaching their “rock bottom” and tell that they felt that this recognition of their own powerlessness and the unmanageability of their lives had come from outwith themselves. In step two though, there is more of a struggle: with some, it is in accepting a Higher Power, where there was no belief in God previously, and with others, where there is already a faith in God, it is in deeply believing that God can restore us to sanity and living according to that belief. I include myself in this latter category.

I read somewhere, a while back, words to the effect of:

If Christians believe that they are truly saved by the sacrifice of Jesus, why do more of them not live more joyfully, as if it were true?

I do not remember where I read this, or the exact quote: it may have been Richard Rohr or James Martin who said it in one of their books, it may have been Anthony Flew in “There is a God”. Nevertheless, the sense of it has remained with me and it connects me now to this second step. We can believe in God, but to trust Him and live completely in that trust is a different thing, not least because we have to discern the movements within us, our desires and our fears. God’s voice is not the only one speaking to us, either through the people we meet, the events in our lives or within our own minds and hearts. Discernment takes listening, and listening takes time and consideration, and noticing the effect of these different voices on our soul. Ignatius describes it as turmoil of spirits and calls it 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.

I would say that I am generally a fairly decisive person. I joined Al Anon for the first time when I was seventeen, and one of the tools of the program that I have worked with a lot over the course of my life is the Just For Today card. One of my favourites from this card is:

Just for today I will have a program. I may not follow it exactly, but I will have it. I will save myself from two pests: hurry and indecision.

Al Anon : Just For Today

It is a curious back and forth I am describing here. I have some control over the decisions I make, and yet I am powerless, and I come to believe that God can restore me. The process that links the powerlessness of the first step and the believing that God can restore me is in the discernment, the sitting with and noticing the push and pull in the turmoil of spirits. When I have made a decision, and I am resolved in that decision, I do act “decisively” to carry it out. Sometimes, it is only the action that people see from me, and not the process that has gone into that decision. This Just for Today focus highlights two pests in the process of making a change and in trusting God in making a change: hurry and indecision, both of which we might attribute the label “spiritual desolation”:

I call desolation… darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination to what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad, and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord. For just as consolation is the opposite of desolation, so the thoughts that spring from consolation are the opposite of those that spring from desolation.

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

The time it takes to “come to believe” allows for this discernment process, a growing into faith and trust in God. We do not need to beat ourselves up that we do not enter at this point of somehow magically trusting God, for to do so may lead to self loathing, or even believing that we do really trust God may of itself be pride, a lack of humilty, that our trust is all our own achievement:

Am I not so good? Of course I trust God completely!

Memento Mori, Vanitas. “Pride” From my series on The Seven Deadly Sins.
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 4: Reading of this post.

Spiritual consolation, as described by Ignatius, is the movement towards deeper trust in God:

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.

When I talk to my own Spiritual Director, he is sometimes very interested in hearing what I feel about what I feel. What we feel is what we feel, and is a sign post to what is going on within us. What we feel about what we feel suggests something about our own self judgement and being aware of it may indicate a movement of spiritual desolation or spiritual consolation. This conversation, whether it is with a spiritual director, or with a sponsor in a twelve step fellowship, can be helpful in highlighting these deeper movements within us, and bringing them into the light so that we can see with greater clarity.

To me, the second of the twelve steps is describing a process of discernment and spiritual consolation. It is where I have been sitting these last few weeks, and relates to me making a second time choice about my life. It has been a long time coming, and was put on the shelf when I made The Exercises, to be dealt with another day, when the time was right. That right time is now, and I have made a decision, with God, in how to live more deeply and for His greater glory. Ignatius suggests that when we do make a choice, we offer that choice to God and listen for His response. It is where I am now, and to fulfill this choice will take a deeper trust in God and a belief that following through on it will restore me to sanity. I notice His smile and the growing sense of peace and certainty within me:

…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.
Morning. My prayer spot one weekend I spent in a hermitage.
Came to believe. Step 2 and The Spiritual Exercises 5: Reading of this post.

I did begin this post two weeks ago, but got no further than the first line and the featured image. Being in it is not conducive to writing about it, and neither was it conducive to writing about anything else. Hence my absence from blogging these last two weeks. I am hoping to be back to my usual routine this week.

I’m going to end with a song I posted before and a scene from Wallander, which I have been watching on my “Film Fridays”. I recognised myself in Wallander and realised, as Ignatius suggests, that it is the advice I would give to that imaginary person who spoke to me about what I myself was feeling, and the spirits that were moving in my soul.

I should represent to myself a man whom I have never seen or known, and whom I would like to see practice all perfection. Then I should consider what I would tell him to do and choose for the greater glory of God our Lord and the greater perfection of his soul. I will do the same, and keep the rule I propose to others.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J Puhl S.J.
Maggie Said, Natalie Merchant

There is no perfect end, just time to leave.

Maggie Said, Natalie Merchant.
Wallander hands in his badge.

Dancing with God

Dancing with God 1: Reading of this post.

I learned some ballroom dancing when I was a university student and one of the most memorable moments of that dancing was at the social “practice” evening. I was about eight lessons in, and had only just learned the basics of the waltz, with the pivot turn being the subject of the previous lesson, when they played a “snowball” waltz. The way it works is that a couple, who were partners on the university team, would waltz for a bit, and then they would separate and each choose a new partner from the crowd gathered around the floor. This process would continue until everyone who wanted to dance was on the floor. After a bit, I was asked to dance by a PhD student, a few years older than me, who was part of the University dance team and from my perspective, a phenomenal dancer. As we got onto the floor, the music stopped and the DJ put on a new song: this one was a Viennese waltz! I was horrified. I told my partner that I was just a beginner, and that I did not know this dance. He smiled softly, told me just to relax and follow him, that it was his job to lead me, and asked me to trust him. I struggled for a bit, trying to work out what to do, to anticipate what the next steps were and I could feel the tension in my body as it put up some resistance. That is until a few bars in when it clicked – I did not have a clue, why was I trying to work it out? He knew what he was doing, all I had to do was stop trying to control where we were going, to stop over thinking it, and to give myself over to him in cooperation and trust. So I did. The next few minutes were absolutely amazing, and forever imprinted on my soul: I learned to trust, I learned to follow, I learned to dance. We went whizzing round the floor, round and round, then slow on the spot almost, and then round and round in the other direction: I was giddy, breathless and euphoric. It occurred to me how fantastic this was, and immediately I became self aware, my right heel caught in the front of my left shoe and we both went sprawling across the floor. My partner got up and offered his hand to help me up saying:

I am so sorry, that was my fault. Please forgive me.

I tried to tell him that it was really all mine, but he would not hear of it. And then it was time for us to change partners again.

The Plantation Gardens, Norwich
Dancing with God 2: Reading of this post.

Of desolation and consolation in the Exercises Ignatius says:

He who enjoys consolation should take care to humble himself and lower himself as much as possible. Let him recall how little he is able to do in time of desolation, when he is left without such grace or consolation.

On the other hand, 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.

Dancing with God, in a variety of different ways, is a frequent theme of consolation in my prayer. I have stored up many, many memories of dancing with God in my prayer life which sustain me when the going gets tough. As when dancing with the PhD student above, I have to relax, cooperate and trust, to let God lead and to follow where He leads. When I do it allows the flow and the magic happens. When I hold back, when I resist and try to control the movement, it is stilted and laborious. Dancing with a partner in this way is about relationship, communication and sensitivity; it is about call and response. In his book, The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr says:

Now we are prepared to say that God is not, nor does God need to be, “substance” in that historic Aristotelian sense of something independent of all else but, in fact, God is relationship itself.

The Divine Dance, Richard Rohr

He attests that the relationship is the vehicle, and of metaphor he quotes the Canadian writer Donald Braun :

That which is belittled in plain speech finds the respect it warrants in the subtleties of metaphor.

The Journey from Ennuied, Donald Braun

In the inner experience of my prayer, dance is indeed an excellent metaphor for my relationship with God.

Dancing with God 3: Reading of this post.

For example, I was always very comfortable, familiar and friendly with Jesus and although there was a “God the Father”, who I just called God, He did seem very far away and formal, and the Holy Spirit, well, to be very honest, I did not really have much idea what the Holy Spirit was like at all: ethereal, intangible, mysterious – who can get a handle on the Holy Spirit really? And then on one of my annual retreats, I bought my little traveling icon of Rublev’s “The Hospitality of Abraham”, AKA The Holy Trinity, and I started to have it in front of me every day while I was painting mandalas. Over the retreat I began to realise that I did know the Holy Spirit, and that I had always distinguished between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. It was the scene from the film “The Prestige” that surfaced in my mind that made this revelation to me:

Dancing with God 4: Reading of this post.

Here, Sarah is not consciously aware that it is not her husband she is talking to, but his identical twin brother. Her husband is the one lifting their daughter away from the argument, ostensibly Alfred’s assistant. They are living their trick, and not even the respective loves of their lives are in on it. Earlier she had said to him:

Some days I think you love me, and some days I think you don’t.

Or words to that effect. So here, when he answers her:

No, not today.

he is being very honest, because he is not her husband. Her husband does love her.

What was it that this scene revealed to me? While Sarah might not have been conscious of it, she was able to perceive differences between her husband and his identical twin (and she did not know there was a twin). It dawned on me that sometimes in my prayer journal I wrote “Jesus” and sometimes I wrote “JC”, and I always had done, even when I kept a diary as a teenager. I realised that I was intuiting subtle differences in the aspect of God that I was perceiving from my prayer, and that I was distinguishing between Jesus and the Holy Spirit. Some people I know do not experience the Holy Spirit as a person, but I definitely do. JC is what I call Him by.

This revelation made God the Father seem even further away than before: I had in mind those distant, English Victorian fathers, of the sort depicted in Mary Poppins. When I talked to the spiritual director guiding me on my retreat about this, he suggested that I ask the Father in prayer, what He would like me to call Him. When I did, He asked me to call Him by His name:

The most personal name of God revealed to Moses, and treasured as a sign of intimacy and favour.

Theological Glossary, The New Jerusalem Bible

And He invited me to slow dance: He invited me into intimacy with Him. Suddenly, He was not so far away, but up close and personal as in the picture featured at the top of the post. I could sense His strength, incredible strength, and a poignant loneliness which touched me: even as He said with a deep longing:

I have waited for this moment for a long time.

Imagine, God is lonely for us! All of God is longing for intimacy with us. It is as Julian of Norwich says in Day 8 of the 40 Day Journey:

God’s thirst is to have [us], generally, drawn into Him…

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

In the Spiritual Exercises, through use of our memory and imagination in prayer, Ignatius invites us to experience and live with God and to grow into a deeper intimacy with Him. It is to enter wholeheartedly into the Divine Dance.

Another time I might tell you about morris dancing with the Holy Spirit, but for now I will leave you with a song that I understand God is especially fond of. Enjoy.