The Paradigm Shift

The Paradigm Shift 1 : Reading of this post

…formed the pattern and the script for your remaining days.

Robin Laing, The Summer of ’46
The Paradigm Shift 2 : Reading of this post

Having left my mp3 player at work this week, I have resorted to playing CD’s in the car, old favourites I have not listened to for a while. “Walking in Time” by Robin Laing is one of those, especially “The Summer of ’46” and “When Two Hearts Combine”. These two songs have been haunting me all week. One of the exercises we were asked to do during my formation as a spiritual director was to write a life psalm. We were invited to draw on music, poetry, scripture – anything that had had an impact on our lives. There are elements of both of these songs in mine.

Life Psalm

I belong to my God and His desire is for me

To open up to Him so that He may gaze upon me.

I met Him in the mountains and lochs,

His footprints on the grass and His mist upon my skin.

I met Him in the silence and the secret places.

I called Him with His sign.

I belong to my God and His desire is for me

To open up to Him so that He may gaze upon me.

But I was distracted and looked away.

I don’t want to talk about it because every

Day without Him hurt just a little bit more

And I had probably been crying forever.

I belong to my God and His desire is for me

To open up to Him so that He may gaze upon me.

He met me in the quiet of the morning.

He took my hand and danced with me,

Leaving only the memory.

He told me this will heal

Because Love is here, and Love is real.

I belong to my Love and His desire is for me

To open up to Him so that He may gaze upon me.

How beautiful is my Love; how amazing.

I yearn for my Love; to be only His.

He forms the pattern and the script of my days.

His desires are mine; my desires are His.

It is given. He is mine, I am His.

I belong to my Love and His desire is for me

To open up to Him so that He may gaze upon me.

There are moments of conversion in our life of faith, and there is the paradigm shift. A paradigm shift is when something that happens changes our whole way of looking at the world: it is not a little change of opinion, mind or heart, it is more fundamental than any of those, it is a change of perspective. We cannot live the way we did before when it happens. And we do not necessarily know how to live with the change within us. It may take some time to adjust.

I remember clearly the first time I experienced such a thing. I was on retreat, and I was overwhelmed by God. I had considered infinity before in wonder; I had lain on the grass and looked at the sky, both in the day time and at night and contemplated how long the sky went on for, and where did it end; I had stood at the edge of the sea and pondered its depth, its violence and its apparent lack of borders, but I had never experienced this drop in an ocean that was a drop in a bigger ocean that was a drop in a bigger ocean; knowing that what I was sensing barely even scratched the surface of what I knew was there. I was a barnacle on a ship, clinging to the surface that was everything other than the water buffeting against me; it was everything to me, my whole world, my refuge, and it had no beginning and no ending, and had always been there, and always would be there, of that, I was certain. And the experience was exhausting: I slept a lot for the next three days. Big, big, big God. All I could do was ask:

How do I live with this?

So, how did I live with it? Before this point I had been a go to mass on Sunday, cradle Catholic, getting involved in doing things, being on committees, being active, playing in the music group – all good stuff, and by the way, I really ought to pray every day. Some days I even did. But my perspective on setting aside time for formal prayer shifted from the first kind of humility to the second and I found myself acting on that deeper desire to pray by getting up earlier to make sure I had time for morning prayer; only ten minutes to begin with, but then twenty, thirty and more, forty five minutes or a full hour when I do not have to balance it with getting to work, or when I am taking some extra time in the evening. It was like rolling a snowball down a hill, once it started, it grew and took on a momentum of its own; the desire being fulfilled and augmented simultaneously.

My candle holder.
The Paradigm Shift 3 : Reading of this post

Of course, the paradigm shift is not pain free, it usually comes with a cost. I have heard it said that if you hear the same thing said about yourself from three independent sources, then it is probably true. So, drawing from that, here are three independent sources attesting to the fact that the paradigm shift is not pain free.

He fumbles at your spirit
As players at the keys
Before they drop full music on;
He stuns you by degrees,

Prepares your brittle substance
For the ethereal blow,
By fainter hammers, further heard,
Then nearer, then so slow

Your breath has time to straighten,
Your brain to bubble cool, —
Deals one imperial thunderbolt
That scalps your naked soul.


Emily Dickinson

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

The Cloud of Unknowing
Becoming, Buffy The Vampire Slayer
The Paradigm Shift 4 : Reading of this post

Nothing is the same afterwards, everything has changed. Life as it was before seems superficial and unsatisfactory, without really being able to explain how or why. There is the awareness that something must change: not a task list of things to do. It is knowing that the path that was visible before is not the one to stay on, and that the new path, which is not visible, has only one stepping stone from here – the next one, and trusting enough to step onto it and take the next step, in the hope that the next stone is in place before your foot makes contact with the ground. The path is laid down as we walk it.

Neither was this first time the last paradigm shift: each one brought me deeper into God, and perpetuated a change which enhanced the process: I sought a spiritual director to support me, I started drawing and painting mandalas – compulsively to begin with – to try to express my experience of prayer: I gradually became an artist. My friend the art teacher is smiling right now because I dared to say that. Finally, in the “Song of Songs” retreat the year before I wrote my life psalm and made The Spiritual Exercises, there was a complete and total surrender, leading to an election which was confirmed in the process of doing The Exercises. I had been of the opinion that I was already surrendered to God – I had handed Him a blank cheque which I had signed, had I not? But when you still reserve the right to negotiate the price, you are not really surrendered. There is a movement from:

How much? Why do you need all of that? Well, okay, I suppose so.

to an unhesitant yes.

It is given.

It is what Ignatius means by The Suscipe Prayer:

Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess.

Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will.

Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Trebuchet, Urquhart Castle
The Paradigm Shift 5 : Reading of this post

It is finally, after a lot of difficult and hard work digging, holding the pearl of great price in your hands, the immortal diamond, a great gift He has given you, your free will, your self: it is holding all of this in your hand, considering Him for a moment, and with the ultimate act of free will, you hand it as a gift back to Him, for Him to do with as He chooses. No more negotiating, only discerning what is His desire, and then following through with it. I say that like discernment is easy, it is not, and it is where the struggle remains but once it is understood that it is God who says:

I desire it.

there is no struggle, even if His desire is for Morris Dancing! It is a once and for all, and an everyday surrender. All paradigm shifts in our spiritual journey are steps to this one. We can always keep hold of our free will, it is ours to keep or to give, once and for all, every day: it is not something that He will take from us by force or coercion, it is a gift already given by Him. Yet it is the sweetest, most blissful liberation to gift it back to Him, no matter what it costs. Doing so does indeed form the pattern and the script of your remaining days.

Robin Laing: When Two Hearts Combine

Tai Chi and Three Kinds of Humility

Tai chi and Three Kinds of Humility 1: Reading of this post.

One of the key meditations in the Spiritual Exercises is on Three Kinds of Humility and it outlines the different levels on which we might respond to God. Ignatius describes the different levels as:

The First…consists in this, that as far as possible I so subject and humble myself as to obey the law of God our Lord in all things …

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

The Second…it if my attitude of mind is such that I neither desire nor am I inclined to have riches rather than poverty, to seek honor rather than dishonor, to desire a long life rather than a short life, provided only in either alternative I would promote equally the service of God our Lord and the salvation of my soul.

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

The Third… I desire and choose poverty with Christ poor, rather than riches; insults with Christ loaded with them, rather than honors; I desire to be accounted as worthless and a fool for Christ, rather than to be esteemed as wise and prudent in this world. So Christ was treated before me.

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

Or, to express it more colloqually, the first because I should; the second because I want to, and the third, because I want to be like You. It is not to be critical of the first or second kind of humility, Ignatius is describing a deepening in our motives and movement, and we may operate with differing kinds of humility depending on the situation and our particular experiences at different points in our lives.

The first time I ever heard about Tai Chi, I was a student on a chaplaincy retreat in Walsingham in Norfolk. The retreat was called “God Games” and Fr. Gerry, a Marist father who was leading the retreat, gave a session on different ways of praying and introduced tai chi as a means of bringing the body into prayer. He taught us what I now recognise as the Preliminary Exercise in Tai Chi and had us practicing it for about ten minutes or so. I never forgot this session, and when I had the opportunity to learn tai chi some years later, I took it. There was also another bodily exercise of walking blindfold for a mile over a track to get to the Shrine at Walsingham, putting our trust in another person we had only just met that weekend. It is another session I will never forget!

Tai chi is an important part of my spiritual practice and my prayer, but I will confess here and now, that I am not a good student of tai chi. There are different aspects to tai chi: the form, standing postures, push hands, qi gong, sword form; but I only engage with the form and occasionally standing postures. A few months after I had begun learning it, I was stunned to learn that it was a martial art! I had understood it to be “meditation in motion” – one of my teachers had that motto on his tee shirt – and of course, my first introduction to the art had been in the context of it being a means of using the body in prayer. This opinion does seem a bit naive to me now, but then, that is it how it was. I did, and still do, not want to learn literal fighting. I do not want to brandish even a wooden sword- even though I would quite like a replica sword for my vanitas photography projects, and I feel too awkward for push hands: being drawn to spiritual solitide, I am not keen on the dance of shared internal energy around this practice, and yet, I understand the need for connection. Qi Gong I have only watched others do with a wild eyed curiosity. What can I say? I am a creature of paradox.

So why do I do it? as I have already explained, it is a means to bring my body into prayer, and it brings with it a completely different kind of peace, of bliss, that anything else. It is the same as and different from contemplative prayer, both at the same time. Ignatius discusses the use of the body in prayer in the fourth addition:

I will enter upon the meditation, now kneeling, now prostrate upon the ground, now lying face upwards, now seated, now standing, always being intent on seeking what I desire.

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

and he says of spiritual exercises:

By the term “Spiritual Exercises” is meant every method of examination of conscience, of meditation, of contemplation, of vocal and mental prayer, and of other spiritual activities that will be mentioned later. For just as taking a walk, journeying on foot, and running are bodily exercises, so we call Spiritual Exercises every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all inordinate attachments, and, after their removal, of seeking and finding the will of God in the disposition of our life for the salvation of our soul.

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

The practice of the tai chi form for me, is prayer: it is spiritual exercise, plain and simple. The three kinds of humility describe three levels of my prayer experience with this practice and my movement through the different levels at different points in my life and practice.

An explanation of the principles of Yin and Yang from Taoism.
Tai chi and Three Kinds of Humility 2: Reading of this post.

The first kind of humility is where I am situated mostly in the ordinary time of my life. I have always found tai chi a struggle because it requires a completely different mindset to my day to day existence. Secondary school teaching is a demanding, pushy environment, it is all yang, aggressive, forceful, hard, outgoing energy, extrovert, fire. This side of my personality has to dominate to get things done. Tai chi asks me to shift, to be more yin, yielding, soft, inward, introvert, water. I find this shift difficult and I resist it. I always found the evening classes a struggle in the middle and at the end of the week after a day at school, and my head fought with me the whole time. I am sure I was a frustrating and disruptive student.

So, much of where I am at regarding my practice of tai chi is that I should do it more, and more regularly. I have a wonderful patio in my garden where I can practice, but I do not use it nearly often enough or habitually, for many reasons: it is too cold, dark (even though I have a movement activated light out there), I am too tired, stressed or busy. The autumn and winter litter around the edges displays my neglect, and does not reflect the amazing consolation in this practice; only the desolation of my resistance to it.

Tai chi patio – suffering from neglect and resistance, like my tai chi practice.
Tai chi and Three Kinds of Humility 3 Reading of this post.

When I go on retreat however, I have established the habit of doing tai chi for about an hour after lunch and it very quickly moves from I should, to I want to – the second kind of humility. And it can be seen in the ease of the flow of movement in my practice. I move in a couple of days from doing tai chi to being in the flow. I am aware of where there is resistance and by putting my consciousness there, it begins to relax. I am speaking here physcially, of my muscles and joints, and also spiritually, of my prayer. I cannot describe the bliss of this state of practice, or the closeness of my experience with God. He is there throughout, talking, laughing, being all at once mischievous and then tender. Sometimes, in my imaginative contemplation, I imagine myself doing the tai chi form, and Jesus or the whole Holy Trinity are there in the room doing it with me. My desire is for this level of practice in my ordinary life, but I resist it. I have talked about resistance in prayer before.

And then there is the third kind of humility and tai chi. During tai chi classes my teacher would say:

Let go of all unnecessary resistance.

When I made the Spiritual Exercises by the twentieth annotation, the thirty day retreat, I maintained this daily habit throughout the thirty days of the retreat, with only one or two days rest from it. Being in the flow became the normal level for most of the time. I started to bring phrases from my prayer into my form; placing particular phrases from scripture with movements that fitted with the rythym or meaning. For example, “ward off ” I put with:

Protect your heart,

Which were words I heard during my colloquy when praying with the woman caught in adultery and Jesus saying:

Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

John 8:7

and “fair lady works the shuttle” I put with my prayer to Him, from The Prodigal Son meditation:

I have sinned against heaven and against You.

Putting scripture and the words of my prayers into my tai chi form in this way broke down resistances I was experiencing in the exercises, these examples in particular coming from the first week when contemplating sin. There were a few times when the tai chi moved to a level I have never experienced before, or since, when I was not being in the flow: I was the flow; there was no unnecessary resistance – only that needed to move and be upright. I was tai chi, metaphor not simile. I can only describe it as being both unaware and aware of myself as a physical body, of being purely energy moving, flowing, responding. I would liken it to the third level of humility Ignatius describes: it is to be like God, and it seems to me to be grace. As in tai chi and prayer itself, I can only put my awareness there and let go; it is not something I can make happen. It might look like Master Jiamin Gao doing tai chi – on the inside though, I do not look like this when I am practicing tai chi.

Master Jiamin Gao of US Wushu Center: She begins about 1 minute 8 seconds into this video clip.
Tai chi and Three Kinds of Humility 4: Reading of this post.

My closest friend is an artist, and was working through a life drawing course where she was to draw people moving, and holding postures. I agreed that she could do this while I was doing tai chi practice, and I can see the differences in her drawings around what was happening within me during my practice. She could see the difference from watching me. She has been inspired to learn tai chi herself.

The director on a retreat a few years ago gave me a sequence of movements to go with The Suscipe Prayer from the exercises, and I add them onto my form whenever I do it, with tai chi energy and style. It is very powerful.

Tai chi and Three Kinds of Humility 5: Reading of this post.

I drew this yin and yang mandala a few years ago on that retreat. It represents the dual aspects of my personality, the active and the contemplative. Since I have been working with my own spiritual director, I have been trying to balance these aspects of myself and so reconcile my split spirituality. I realised when I did this painting that it was not the right balance that I needed, but to be free to flow from one to the other without resistance: to be able to go from teaching to tai chi without the internal struggle that entails, to be busy one moment, and then able to go to my prayer spot without having to give myself a motivational talk; and to be able to go in the opposite direction, also without resistance, to move from prayer to housework, or just work, without the reluctance, or the negative feeling and resentment that I just want to stay here where I am now, in this prayerful space. So, here I am practicing what I have learned from tai chi: I am putting my awareness where the resistance is in the hope that I will relax and move into a deeper level of humility in my prayer and in my life.

So, here is a question for you:

Where are you resisting God calling to you in your own life?

Maybe putting your awareness in that place will gently bring about a release from that resistance, with His grace. I am holding you in my prayers.

On Speaking Pleasantly.

Altar in the Lady Chapel in Ely Cathedral
On Speaking pleasantly 1: Reading of this post.

No foul word should ever cross your lips; let your words be for the improvement of others, as occasion offers, and do good to your listeners.

Ephesians 4:29; The New Jerusalem Bible

A friend of mine at church recently commented on my choice use of language on some of my social media posts (asterix’s included) and my jocular, but nevertheless aggressive expression of the violence in my heart being incongruent (my words, not my friend’s) with my practice as a spiritual director, and how I am when I am leading sessions on prayer. Quite right, I say. My friend has spoken truthfully, and with love, as Paul encourages us to do in his letters. Swearing is an issue for me, I hold my hands up to that particular fault, and it is not my intention to justify it here: it is not a good thing generally speaking and it makes nice people feel uncomfortable. There has been some discernment in my life around this subject however, and it is that process I want to share here.

I was not brought up to swear; quite the opposite in fact. It was definitely frowned upon at home growing up. I developed the habit when I started playing football in my twenties.

I say dear girl, that was rather a harsh tackle!

Is not really conducive to picking yourself up off the ground again and going after the ball. There needs to be a shorter, more motivational phrase in that situation. And where I come from, there is also the prevailing attitude that you get your studs in first, to use a contextual footballing analogy. So, there is evident a transition from who I was and from where I have come, to who I am becoming.

On my annual 8 day IGR the year before I made The Spiritual Exercises – the Song of Songs retreat, a story for another day – I discerned after a lectio divina on one of Paul’s letters, a feeling of discomfort at my own, and persistent use of uncouth language. I decided that I would stop swearing, and only “speak pleasantly” in the future. It took me about three days in the silence of the retreat to stop swearing in my self conversation. It is amazing how deeply embedded such language is when it is a habit. When I came out of the retreat, I was no longer speaking these words out loud and it was noticed by people around me. So what changed? Why has this unpleasant habit grown in me again?

My situation changed within months of returning from the Exercises a year and a half later; I found myself bombarded with persistent, aggressive and undermining hostility daily, for a sustained period of time, which was desolating to my spirit. In my morning prayer, I always asked for the graces of strength and courage to face the situation, and so I faced it, and stood against it. One of the ways the enemy works, as described by Ignatius in The Spiritual Exercises is the following:

The conduct of our enemy may also be compared to the tactics of a leader intent upon seizing and plundering a position he desires. A commander and leader of an army will encamp, explore the fortifications and defenses of the stronghold, and attack at the weakest point. In the same way, the enemy of our human nature investigates from every side all our virtues, theological, cardinal and moral. Where he finds the defenses of eternal salvation weakest and most deficient, there he attacks and tries to take us by storm.

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

I draw attention to the relevant phrase I have put in bold type. I maintained my pleasant, if firm and composed, speech throughout, both while the situation was in play, and in private, until I read, as part of my studying of the art of spiritual direction, that unexpressed anger can be turned inward and lead to depression: I immediately recognised what was happening within me, that the desolating voices were like a buzzing, flickering light bulb, destroying my faith in myself and my belief in my ability to fulfill my calling and they were using my virtue to ensure that a powerful sword against those voices was left in the scabbard.

St Patrick’s Breastplate Mandala
On Speaking pleasantly 2: Reading of this post.

Ignatius also suggests how to resist the enemy:

…the enemy becomes weak, loses courage, and turns to flight with his seductions as soon as one leading a spiritual life faces his temptations boldly, and does exactly the opposite of what he suggests.

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

Or let me put it another way through a story given in The Song of The Bird, by Anthony de Mello:

The devil once went for a walk with a friend. They saw a man ahead of them stoop down and pick something up from the ground.

“What did that man find?” asked the friend.

“A piece of truth”, said the devil.

Doesn’t that disturb you?” asked the friend.

“No”, said the devil, “I’ll let him make a belief out of it.”

The Song of The Bird, Anthony de Mello

Or, another way, concerning scruples, Ignatius says:

If one has a delicate conscience, the evil one seeks to make it excessively sensitive, in order to disturb and upset it more easily.

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

And:

A soul that wishes to make progress in the spiritual life must always act in a manner contrary to that of the enemy.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl
Ironwork from a garden seat at Penhurst Retreat Centre.
On Speaking pleasantly 3: Reading of this post.

The conversation with a spiritual director is very helpful in discerning when our own virtue and delicate conscience is being turned against us. I will never forget the moment in my meeting with my director, when I described that buzzing, flickering light bulb and how those critical voices were telling me how rubbish I was and how incapable I was for the role that God had called me to. When I verbalised this “self talk”, the foul words I was internalising, I was shocked. I understood in that moment the strength of the pull of desolation, and how important my daily pleas for the graces of strength and courage were, and how God was always there, pouring his grace out so that I was not overwhelmed by it. Neither will I forget His strength surge within me when the next time, in private, I let out a torrent of expletives and expressed my fury. Until this point, I had been a gardener in a war, and at last, I brought my warrior to the war and was now using weapons that God had not forbidden me to use.

In a different biblical translation, the phrase I began with reads:

29 Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up,[a] as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear.

Ephesians 4:29 New Revised Standard Version, Anglicised Catholic Edition (NRSVACE)

I am reflecting that the evil talk can also be the desolating voices we listen to within ourselves. Discernment about where these voices are leading us is the point of the second part of the phrase. It is important to notice the effect these voices are having on our soul. At a bible study session I went to when I was a student, the priest leading it told us that when Jesus responded to the news of Herod beheading John the Baptist, He said:

Go and tell that fox for me, “Listen, I am casting out demons and performing cures today and tomorrow, and on the third day I finish my work.

Luke 13:32

And that the modern equivalent of calling Herod a “fox” would be to call him a “bastard”. Whether that is true or not, clearly Jesus is not speaking pleasantly about Herod, and His words here certainly inspire me with strength and encouragement in speaking out. Neither is Jesus speaking pleasantly when He says to the scribes and pharisees:

You snakes, you brood of vipers!

Matthew 23:33

So, the context matters. When we use strong language to stand up to and speak out against evil, we might not be speaking pleasantly, but it does not make it “evil talk” . When the effect is to strengthen and encourage, to build up ourselves and others in facing up to temptations boldly, then perhaps it is completely appropriate. Each occasion and context requires discernment. So as far as I am concerned, my friend at church is right, perhaps sometimes my use of strong language is inappropriate, and it is something I resolve to amend.

What do you find attractive about Jesus?

What do you find attractive about Jesus? 1: Reading of this post.

Previously I wrote about The Two Standards Meditation from the Spiritual Exercises and illustrated something of the modus operandi of Jesus and of the enemy. In this key mediation Ignatius makes the first point:

Consider Christ our Lord, standing in a lowly place in a great plain about the region of Jerusalem, His appearance beautiful and attractive.

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

The Two Standards Meditation appears in the second week of The Exercises, as does the Imaginative contemplation on The Nativity. The grace asked for in the second week is:

…for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.

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

There is a convergence in these two points in a question asked by Gerard W. Hughes in God In All Things, which I have paraphrased in the title because it is how the question has ingrained itself into my heart. He asks:

What do you find attractive in the teachings of Jesus?

God In All Things ,Gerard W. Hughes

And he goes on to say:

Focus your heart on these things. An attraction is a sign that you are being called to live out those qualities in your own way, in your own circumstances.

God In All Things ,Gerard W. Hughes
What do you find attractive about Jesus? 2: Reading of this post.

Going back a period of years, I spent some weeks pondering just this question from Gerard Hughes, along with a question my own spiritual director had asked me which niggled at me. It is an experience I often have in with my director, and while I attempt an answer there, on the spot, my dissatisfaction with my answer leaves me pondering more deeply, subsequent to my meeting with him. Around about the same time I was also reading Choice, Desire and the Will of God: What More do you want? by David Runcorn and The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. There was definitely a theme going on and the feeling of it was as if there was something on your tongue that you needed to say, but every time you made to speak, the words were lost: or that there was a shape emerging out of the mist, and just as you were about to recognise it, it sank back again into obscurity. In retrospect I know that the process was about discovering the deepest desire of my soul, and at the end of it, when I had articulated it, it was as if I had found the place where my pearl of great price was buried and I had only just acquired the field. I was ready now to start digging.

I paraphrased the question because my answer to it was more to do with Jesus Himself, how He was, how He manifested His teachings. I have heard it said that:

The best sermon is a good example.

and Jesus exemplified what He taught: His actions matched His words, He practiced what He preached. For me, other than His authenticity, what I find most attractive about Him is that He always responded to people in the way that they needed in order for them to come closer to God: He always knew what to say and what to do with any given person or situation. He knew when to challenge, when to heal, when to teach.

For example, the rich young man who went away sad. We are never told what happened after that, but I like to think that he could not remain unchanged after Jesus looked at him and loved him, before throwing down the gauntlet, before giving the young man the challenge of his life, which he had actually asked for. I like to believe that after time and discernment, the young man did take up the challenge and effected a change in his life.

And the woman with the haemorrhage, who sought healing and received even more. After so many years of being an outcast because of her bleeding, He not only healed her, but claimed her as His kin, drawing her out, to speak up. I went to a talk by Elaine Storkey when I was a student and I vividly remember her take on this particular Gospel story. She told us that in the context of the time, this woman could have been stoned for defiling a religious leader, hence her fear in speaking out. So not only did He heal her physical ailment, but also the effect of years of erosion of her self esteem: spiritual healing as well as physical.

There are so many more examples I could give; these two are only a sample of my favourites and they show me something of my attraction to Jesus. At the end of my period of pondering, the deepest desire of my soul which I finally managed to express was:

To have the freedom to be who He would have me be.

And I realised how clever God is, because it describes a process, in two parts, of constant discernment; and I already understood that it is the process that draws us closer to God. The first part is:

Who would He have me be?

and the second part is:

What is limiting my freedom to be who He would have me be?

What do you find attractive about Jesus? 3: Reading of this post.

The process is consistent with the movement of the Exercises, through the Principle and Foundation to the Contemplation to Attain Love.

Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition.

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

The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.

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

Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, according to all reason and justice, what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it. Thus, as one would do who is moved by great feeling, I will make this offering of myself:

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

In The Alchemist, Santiago meets a crystal merchant whose desire is to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but he only made it so far in his journey when he stopped to run his crystal shop and effectively got distracted by the business of the world. The merchant reasons:

Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive…I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living…I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.

The Alchemist, Paul Coelho

Earlier, when he first meets Santiago, the merchant laughs at Santiago’s expression of his own dream and the impact on Santiago is desolating:

There was a moment of silence so profound that it seemed the city was asleep…It was as if the world had fallen silent because the boy’s soul had.

The Alchemist, Paul Coelho

The merchant still had his desire, but gradually, his soul became quieter in expressing it because the pain of not progressing towards it was unbearable. It is the manifestation of the phrase:

Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.

Henry David Thoreau

In my 40 Day journey with Julian of Norwich (Day 4) Julian says:

For this is the reason why those who deliberately occupy themselves with wordly business, constantly seeking worldy well-being, have not God’s rest in their hearts and souls;

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

and in the personal reflections the question is asked:

In your faith tradition, what is the appropriate balance between a “this worldly” investment in human life and one’s total commitment and allegiance to God? Can both be lived simultaneously? Explain.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill.
Page from Jesus’ Day Off, one of my favourite books.
What do you find attractive about Jesus? 4: Reading of this post.

They are important questions. How do we live in the world and stay true to our calling? Understanding what it is that attracts us, what it is that is calling to our soul, what it is that brings us to life, and constant discernment, is necessary to help us to keep our souls from becoming sad, one of the descriptions Ignatius gives of spiritual desolation. Asking ourselves what we find attractive in Jesus and His teachings, and focusing our hearts on those things may be, as Gerard Hughes suggests, a signpost in how we, personally, can live in the appropriate balance between our worldly investment in human life and our total commitment and allegiance to God; and live both simultaneously.

What's the Story?

What’s the Story? 1: Reading of this post.

As I have been contemplating this week’s post, there has been a voice in my head saying:

The stories are getting in the way!

I have thinking that this was the voice of God, and feeling a little guilty because of my resistance; I have continued to read another chapter or five of the fiction book I had picked up, or watch another couple of episodes of Grimm. I have no television, but my daughter has a Netflix account, so occasionally I succumb when I am tired, stressed or ill. I try to keep it to films, because they are complete within themselves, and box sets lure me in and I become immersed in them. I am the same way with fiction, so I usually save that kind of reading for the holidays. I bought three fiction books last weekend and I have already read two of them and the holidays have only begun. Oops.

As I was making breakfast the other morning, and thinking about the post I was trying to write and not feeling it flow, again I heard the voice:

The stories are getting in the way! You are never going to get your post written, you have nothing to say.

I noticed how jarring the voice was, how critical: water on a stone. And then I listened for the softer, gentler, more loving sound, the drop of water on the sponge.

The stories you have engaged with are about stories. It is all about the story.

What’s the Story? 2: Reading of this post.

So here is a different post to the one I had planned to write. I loved fairy tales when I was a child, and I was a voracious reader. The Grimm’s tales haunted me, they were indeed grim, with their darkness, coldness and cruelty. One time when I was talking to my spiritual director about getting lost in a book, he asked me what kind of books drew me? Rather than criticise myself for being distracted by the story, it was more to notice what it was that attracted me to what I was reading, or watching. I thought about it and realised that I was drawn to fantasy and it was about swords, magic and dragons. The fantasy genre typically has an underdog, often with unknown or hidden – even from themselves – identity, with supernatural powers, who ends up becoming a saviour, a hero. In my preferred stories, there is some moral ambiguity, something to wrestle with – the villains have redeeming qualities and the heroes have weaknesses.

I notice the parallels: a poor baby born in a stable – the underdog; the supernatural power – the miracles of Jesus; in Celtic spirituality, dragons accompanied God, so here, disciples; and of course the sword that pierced His side, or even the sword as symbol for the cross. In my mind there is always the mystery, the question – did Jesus always know His identity or was it something He had to grow into? In my prayer experience of the second week of the exercises, it was something He discovered, but I am not trained in theology, so I am not offering that as an answer, simply a description of my prayer experience.

In the book I have just finished, Strange The Dreamer by Laini Taylor, there is a key turning point where our hero, Lazlo Strange, a lowly librarian with a very vivid imagination and dreams, steps out of himself in a heartfelt plea to the warrior strangers to take him with them to the land he has always dreamt of, and where they are from. The recommendation he makes for himself, much to the palpable disapproval of his society is:

I know a lot of stories.

His words had come spilling out in answer to his own question:

Who am I ? What do I have to offer?

His self doubt came rushing in as soon as the words left his mouth: his adversary laughed, but the head of the warriors did not. They took Lazlo with them.

As a spiritual director, I listen to other people telling me their story, and it is the story of their own relationship with God. I listen for where He is moving and working in their stories, for where there is connection and transformation in response to that connection. I also listen out for the touch of that opposed to God, the critical voice, the self doubt; where the volition is to disrupt, to spoil and to slow down the movement towards God, in an effort to reverse it completely. I am aware when I am listening that it is not my story, but nevertheless, when I recognise the presence of God in the story of the person in front of me, it moves me and quite literally brings me out in goosebumps.

No, I tell you this because I was told to tell it – by what you might call ‘ a higher authority’ – and truth is, the thought of how to tell it has taxed me for so many years.

Miss Garnet’s Angel, Salley Vickers

As for my own story, I am telling of it here, in these pages. My tales are infused with my prayer and lived experience of God: the images I think in all tell of my history with Him as it has built up and ingrained itself in my memory. It is also His story, because He is at the centre of it, He is the reason for it.

And so to “the reason for the season”, as a popular caption appears at this time every year, it is part of His story, retold at Carol services, school nativity plays, at church every year. The Incarnation – His story, His intervention in our world. It is easy to grow cynical and bored with the familiar, to allow the commercialisation of Christmas to distract from and corrupt what is there at the heart of it. I remember one Christmas when I was a teenager I decided not to “do Christmas” because I felt it to be commercialised and that it had lost its meaning. It was honestly the worst Christmas I have ever experienced, because even though I sang the carols and went to mass, I had missed the whole point: love, plain and simply, love. My family had respected my rebellion and had not expected any presents from me, or complained about the lack thereof, but they had not responded in kind: they gave gifts as they would have, unconditionally, and did not alter their behaviour in any way. I was moved by their generous response to my rebellion and I was miserable. If you really do not believe that it is better to give than to receive, try not giving in one of those places where we are encouraged to stop and remember those we love especially, and notice how it feels. For me, it did not feel like an emotional blackmail at my failure to conform to social convention, it felt like a missed opportunity. No more Grinch for me.

What’s the Story? 3: Reading of this post.

The story of the Incarnation illustrates the generosity of God: He does not hold back in His gift giving. One of my friends once told me that at mass, she had had the sense that God was listening to His story being told and that He loves it: He never tires of hearing us tell it. It reminds me of the scene from The Shack, where during dinner Mack has been telling the Holy Trinity about his family, and he comments that God knows all of this anyway. Sarayu (The Holy Spirit) replies by saying words to the effect of:

Yes, but we like to see it through your eyes.

In Ignatian Spirituality, one of the great gifts to prayer is imaginative contemplation. To enter into scripture as if we were there, to bring God into our bodies as it were, allows us to participate in God’s story and allows God to participate in our story in a way that is up close and personal. By using our memory and imagination, the first power of the soul, the story becomes real within us: it is no fantasy. God moves from being transcendent to being intimate, He comes alive within us. My story becomes His story, and His story becomes my story. It is the story of the Incarnation. To share our stories with each other is relationship and it is as true for God as is it for our family and friends. Far from getting in the way, stories draw us in, and God is to be found in the story.

The Perfect Imperfect

Sunflower mandala.
The Perfect Imperfect 1: Reading of this post.

Perfectionism is an issue. From my training as a scientist I know that accuracy and detail is important: it makes the scientific conclusions drawn from valid data as rigorous as possible, without overstating explanations as fact. Science is careful when it is done formally. Public perception and popular science expressing opinion are not necessarily so rigorous, and there are counter arguments presented to those opinions parading as science because the author also happens to be a scientist. My concern here is not with science, because I see no contradiction between science and religious faith. In my opinion, that argument is contrived.

I remember a distant conversation with a man, but I do not remember the occasion or circumstances, nor the man. He may have been a Muslim man, and I think that he was, and he was talking about the weavers of Persian rugs. He told me that although the patterns in the rugs are clear and logical, the weavers always weave into the rug a mistake: imperceptible, but they never make them perfect:

…because only God is perfect.

And while I do not remember the occasion or who this man was, I do remember the warmth in his voice, and the light in his eyes, when he said this. It is why the truth of it has remained with me, even when everything else around it has faded in my memory.

If you have looked at my Mandala page, and other posts where I have included a mandala image, you will know that I create these pieces of art out of prayer, and that it is a compulsion that began from an imaginative contemplation I had once on a retreat, where I was trying to express, albeit inadequately, my prayer experience: words were not enough, and neither is the art. I am still trying to express this one prayer, and it draws me deeper each time and sustains me. In the course of my journey with the mandalas, I discovered the book “How the World is Made, The Story of Creation According to Sacred Geometry and was struck by the contrast in the images of the Heavenly City mandala when drawn by hand and generated by computer:

The Hand and The Computer, A Note on the Illustrations: How the World is Made, The Story of Creation According to Sacred Geometry, John Michell
The Perfect Imperfect 2: Reading of this post.

The architect and geometer Jon Allen is quoted as saying:

We lose something when we use computers to draw geometry. However beguiling their mechanical precision, they lack “heart”: in some subtle way we become observers, rather than participants.

Jon Allen, Drawing Geometry, as quoted by John Mitchell, Sacred Geometry.

The second mandala in the above image, I have to acknowledge, leaves me feeling a bit cold: not because it is in black and white, but because it is too clinical. It does not move me, whereas the hand drawn one above it captures my interest much more. I know it is not an issue of colour, because I am a member of a mandala group on another social media site and I scroll past the computer generated ones, no matter how colourful they are. I am always more likely to pause to ponder those that have been hand drawn.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Matt 5: 48

So what it is that draws me to those mandalas that are imperfect, and repels me about the ones that are perfect? For me, the essential element is process, or movement. In the retreat when I first created my mandala and I spent another day, as suggested by my director, writing down my journey to the final drawing, I finished with the realisation:

…it is the process itself that is important, because it is the process we engage in that skews us towards God, that draws us closer to Him, that transforms us so that we become more like Him.

God in all Things mandala, drawn at Loyola IGR, 2009.
The Perfect Imperfect 3: Reading of this post.

One of the meditations during the first week of the Spiritual Exercises is on hell. Ignatius encourages us to imagine the place of fire and brimstone, as tradition describes. I imagined however, a place where nothing every changed, where there was no stimulation to the senses at all: no sound, smell, taste, no texture to feel, neither hot nor cold, and everything was white, no shadows, colour, nothing; for all eternity, nothing. And being fully conscious of that. I screamed, there was no sound, I cried, there were no tears. I could not hear my own heartbeat nor my own breathing. To feel, even for a moment, that there was no escape from such a place was indeed hellish.

The Perfect Imperfect 4: Reading of this post.

When I see the triquetra, I do not see a static shape, I see a constant flow. It is also what I see when I look at Rublev’s icon of the Hospitality of Abraham, a constant flowing love between the three persons of the Holy Trinity, and with a gap, where I am invited to join the flow. It is as described by Richard Rohr in “The Divine Dance”. God is constant movement. In the Contemplation to Attain Love in the Exercises Ignatius asks us to consider:

…how God works and labors for me in all creatures upon the face of the earth, that is, He conducts Himself as one who labors.

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

As I understand it, the perfection of God is in the eternal movement of God.

St Beunos. Mandala on wood.
The Perfect Imperfect 5: Reading of this post.

The above mandala is of the labyrinth at St. Beunos, painted on wood. Normally, I would have tidied up where the colour has spilled over onto the gold by way of finishing off the mandala, and here, even though it seems sloppy and a bit embarrassing, it was clear in my prayer, that it had to be left this way. The colour spectrum represents the Holy Spirit, and the Holy Spirit:

…does not stay between the lines.

It represents the wildness of God, that He will not confine Himself to our expectations of Him. And this is my point. When we see a pattern, our brain knows what that pattern is supposed to do. When something is off about it, we are drawn to that imperfection, it bugs us and leads us into contemplation, from the imperfect as we see it, to the perfect, as we would like it to be: it is the process, the journey, the desire for improvement.

A computer drawn mandala has no room for improvement. Any change to it leads away from perfection. If God is perfect, moving away from perfection is a movement away from God, into spiritual desolation.

However an overdrive for perfection, into the area of the law of diminishing returns, can also be spiritual desolation. I recognise it within myself, the tendency towards pride, and it leads to obsession with work and neglect of other aspects of life, such as relationships and prayer. In his book “The Me I Want to Be”, Jon Ortberg talks about “Signature Sins” . He says:

The pattern of your sin is related to the pattern of your gifts…

…it starts close to home with the passions and desires that God wired into us and tries to pull them a few degrees off course. That subtle deviation is enough to disrupt the flow of the Spirit in our life, so coming to recognise the pattern of sins most tempting to us is one of the most important steps in our spiritual lives.

The Me I Want to Be, Jon Ortberg

Recognising our own pattern of sin is an important movement that occurs during the first week of the Spiritual Exercises.

At the other end of the scale, the push for perfection can cause paralysis, rather that obsession. For example, I was helping a child with ionic bonding recently. She was refusing to draw dot/cross diagrams into her beautifully and perfectly presented exercise book because she deemed them to be messy. The unattainabilty of perfection was getting in the way of the learning process. And so the feeling of it never being good enough can get in the way of doing anything at all. It is the process that draws us to God, not the final result.

The final result, because of its imperfection, will, if we allow it, continue to draw us into this process with God.

The Perfect Imperfect 6: Reading of this post.

The mandala above was the third one I coloured on the Loyola retreat after creating this design. It was a prayer for my younger child who had been bullied at school that year by a group of three boys. The purple represents suffering, the yellow, hope; the red, faith; and the blue, love. In following the pattern, one of the shapes which should have been yellow, is in fact blue. When I realised my “mistake”, I heard Him say within me, that for a child to recover from such a thing as bullying, it takes a little more love. I knew how I needed to respond to my child when I got home from my retreat.

In our imperfection, there is God’s perfection. We live in His freedom and are open to His grace when we live in our imperfection and allow it to be the case.

Christ the King and The Two Standards

Christ the King and the Two Standards 1: Reading of this post.

I have been referring to the different ways the enemy works that Ignatius describes in The Spiritual Exercises. He underpins these rules of discernment in two key meditations: The Kingdom of Christ and The Two Standards. Given the Solemnity of Christ the King this week, and my recent guided imaginative contemplation on the gospel for this feast day, a reflection of these meditations in context of this great feast seems appropriate.

Christ the King
Christ the King and the Two Standards 2: Reading of this post.

The meditation on the Kingdom of Christ comes in the space between the first and second week of The Spiritual Exercises, after considering sin and knowing myself as a loved sinner, and before the contemplations on the life of Christ; before coming to know Him more deeply and connecting with our desire to follow Him, and perhaps make an election, a choice as to a way of life. The military, patriarchal and hierarchical language of these meditations can be problematic depending on background: it was for me, on all accounts, but by maintaining a sense of fluidity, and a focus on the essence of each one, these initial barriers can be deconstructed until the imagery itself no longer gets in the way.

The Kingdom of Christ meditation firstly brings to mind an earthly king, or with a modern perspective, a leader or role model: someone we admire and respect, someone we may, or may not, choose to follow. The model of a knight serving a monarch as Ignatius knew it, may be akin to the representation of these relationships as depicted in the television series “Merlin”, between Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.

Christ the King and the Two Standards 3: Reading of this post.

This particular scene for me, depicts very well what Ignatius means when he says:

Consider what the answer of good subjects ought to be to a king so generous and noble minded, and consequently, if anyone would refuse the invitation of such a king, how justly he would deserve to be condemned by the whole world, and looked upon as an ignoble knight.

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

I would like to say, if you are not familiar with the series, Merlin is joking in his answer: it is characteristic of his intimate relationship with Arthur and he did not need to be asked.

When I made the Exercises myself, I found myself choosing Martin Luther King, and I smiled at the realisation that I had indeed chosen an earthly “King”. As we ponder our choice of leader, it connects us to what it is that is moving in us, what our values are and what inspires us. For me, I was drawn to Martin Luther King’s courage and purpose; his conviction in standing his ground, even to the detriment of his family life, and the physical violence the activists he inspired had to endure; his refusal to accept his “inferiority” as the critical voices would have him believe, and his persistent challenging of the established authorities of the day. Mostly though, as depicted in the bridge scene from the film Selma, was that he connected through prayer to God: all of his actions were grounded in faith. This scene is very powerful and still moves me, even though I have watched it several times.

Christ the King and the Two Standards 4: Reading of this post.

Then we are asked to consider:

…Christ our Lord, the Eternal King…

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

and how much more we might be prepared to do or give to follow Him than we would for the human king or leader. At this point, we are not being asked to make any decisions or commitments, just to consider the possibility of such. This key meditation ends with the prayer:

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life.

Knight. Bodwellian Castle, North Wales
Christ the King and the Two Standards 5: Reading of this post.

The meditation on The Two Standards comes in the middle of the second week of The Exercises and assumes that we have already chosen our side, that of Christ the King, and it contrasts the modus operandi of those aligning themselves with Satan, and those aligning themselves with Christ. For the former, Ignatius uses strong language: deceit, summons, goads, lay snares, bind with chains. All of it speaks of coercion and force. He tempts us first to:

…riches, the second honour, the third pride. From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.

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

For those under the standard of Christ, we hear that Christ our Lord is beautiful and attractive, that He chooses, recommends, attracts, servants and friends, and Ignatius uses the word desire, such an important word in Ignatian spirituality. He outlines three steps in opposition to the enemy:

…the first, poverty as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to honour of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride. From these three steps, let them lead men to all other virtues.

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

The Two Standards meditation imagines a battleground between the two sides, and it is our own souls that are that battle ground. When I have been describing the movements of discernment in previous posts, the way the enemy works, the imagery of the darnel and the wheat, as described by Aschenbrenner, it is to examine how this battle is being conducted in myself. Where am I being bullied, harrassed or driven into thoughts, feelings and actions? And where am I being attracted and drawn? Where might there be misdirection, where something seems to be good, but the underlying sense of the movement is of water on a stone, rather than as water on a sponge? Discernment of spirits, discerning God’s voice from that of the enemy is both simple and complicated, obvious and subtle, clear and confusing. It will always be a battleground, no matter how deeply we advance on our spiritual path. It is always asking the questions where is this coming from and where is it leading to? Having an understanding of how the enemy works in us in our own particular situation and way is important in enabling us to be able to resist, with the grace of God. We explicitly ask for this grace in the Two Standards meditation:

I ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for a knowledge of the deceits of the rebel chief and help to guard myself against them; and also to ask for knowledge of the true life exemplified in the sovereign and true Commander, and the grace to imitate Him.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Cross. Bodwellian Castle North Wales
Christ the King and the Two Standards 6: Reading of this post.

Through prayer, with a daily Examen, and with the understanding and discerning ear of a spiritual director, we have the tools to help us to identify where and when we are being driven, rather than drawn: where our desires, thoughts, feelings and actions are leading us towards God rather than away from God. It is the freedom given here that moves us to worship Him and to accept His invitation.

Draw me after you, let us make haste.

    The king has brought me into his chambers.

We will exult and rejoice in you;

    we will extol your love more than wine;

    rightly do they love you

Song of Songs 1:4
Incarnation Mandala

The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps

Vanitas – Inhertiance
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps, reading of this post.

I read in Fr. James Martin’s book “A Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything” that one of the founder members of Alcoholics Anonymous, Bill W., had received spiritual direction from a Jesuit priest, and Andrew Garfield in his interview about the film “Silence” on the Late Show, mentioned that The Twelve Step program is based on Ignatian Spirituality. Andrew Garfield did the Spiritual Exercises by the nineteenth annotation with Fr. James Martin, so I expect it is where he learned this particular gem. I said in an earlier post that I had spent some time in a support group and I quoted the third of the twelve steps. The group to which I belonged was firstly Alateen, and then Al Anon, since my dad was an alcoholic. Alateen and Al Anon are twelve step fellowships for family members and friends of people whose lives have been affected by alcoholism. Knowing what I know about The Twelve Steps and The Spiritual Exercises, it would not surprise me in the least if the first is built on foundations of the latter. In the first year of my formation as a spiritual director, we were asked to write about other spiritualities that had influenced us in our lives: I wrote about the Twelve Steps as one of mine, because it is fundamentally a spiritual programme, without having any specific religious affiliations. It truly expresses and lives “God in All Things”. As it is Alcohol Awareness week in the United Kingdom this week, and the theme for the week is “Alcohol and Me”, it seems the most appropriate time, and the most appropriate post, for me to write, especially since I am now attending Al Anon meetings once more. The Twelve Steps and the Twelve Traditions are read at the beginning of each meeting.

The Twelve Steps

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

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

3. Made a decision to turn our will and our lives over to the care of God as we understood Him.

4. Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

6. Were entirely ready to have God remove all these defects of character.

7. Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

8. Made a list of all persons we had harmed, and became willing to make amends to them all.

9. Made direct amends to such people wherever possible, except when to do so would injure them or others.

10. Continued to take personal inventory and when we were wrong promptly admitted it.

11. Sought through prayer and meditation to improve our conscious contact with God as we understood Him, praying only for knowledge of His will for us and the power to carry that out.

12. Having had a spiritual awakening as the result of these steps, we tried to carry this message to alcoholics* and to practice these principles in all our affairs.

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

*In the twelve steps used by Al Anon and Alateen, step twelve is modified to read “others” rather than “alcoholics”.

St. Beunos: main garden steps
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps 2, reading of this post.

The first point to stress is that this program does not belong to any particular religion, and the mention of God can be problematic for some people. However, the phrase “Power greater than Ourselves”, or “Higher Power” is both helpful and challenging. I knew an AA member once who told me that having no religious faith, he struggled with the concept: not with accepting that he was powerless, the first step made sense to him by the time he came to AA, because he knew that alcohol was more powerful than he was by the way that it had affected his life: it was the idea of God he struggled with. In the end, he accepted GOD as an acronym for “Group Of Drunks” because he accepted the Higher Power of his AA group and knew that it helped him to sobriety, to stay sober and was ultimately life giving, leading him to better health, self esteem and reconciliation with his family.

One of the slogans used in twelve step fellowships is:

Let go and Let God.

and Saint Ignatius calls consolation:

…every increase of faith, hope and love.

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

Regular use of the above slogan leads to a deeper trust in God. The enemy does not lead people into life, ultimately, and it was in Al Anon, through the Twelve Steps, when I first learned to recognise the action of God, as I understand Him, in the lives of these courageous and honest people, even if they did not call Him by the same name as me.

Where steps 1 – 3 might have echoes of the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises, where the movement is towards indifference to created things and to seek only what God would have us do and be, steps 4-6 overlap with the First Week, where the grace to be asked for is sorrow and knowledge of myself as a sinner, and to come to know the nature and patterns of my own sinfulness, while still holding onto the knowledge that I am loved by God. Making a personal inventory, the fourth step, is no joke: it is a warts and all approach and is consistent with the movement in the first week of the Exercises. I allow light to shine on all my defects of character, to recognise the pattern of them, to feel the sorrow of them, and so come to the point of desire to be free from them.

Step 5 is important here, and probably worth repeating:

5. Admitted to God, to ourselves and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.

The Path
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps 3, reading of this post.

It is very easy to delude ourselves into thinking that we do not really have to share our wrong doings with another person, that God forgives us anyway. Absolutely, He does, but one of the ways the enemy works, according to Saint Ignatius, is as a secret lover, whispering lies to draw us away. His answer is to tell: a spiritual director or some other person well versed in discernment. In Al Anon, or another twelve step program, the other person may be our sponsor, someone who understands where we are and sees the patterns by which we can be tied up in knots. Sharing the exact nature of our wrongs is not about self abasement or self loathing, and it is not necessarily a good friend who simply comforts and affirms us in the error of our ways because they want to cheer us up and reassure us that we are not all that bad. The challenging and loving director or sponsor encourages us in our spiritual growth, and yes, while that can be painful, it is life giving and worth it. In the Roman Catholic tradition, receiving the Sacrament of Reconciliation at this point in the journey may be spiritually refreshing.

The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps 4, reading of this post.

Steps 7 – 11 echo the second week: they are about making a decision about how we live, and to trust it to God, being willing to be guided in our decision by His will. There is discernment involved here in all aspects of our lives and in the individual decisions we make in every day situations, and while some of our decisions can be big decisions, many of them are not. In the Al Anon book “One Day at a Time in Al Anon” the meditation for October 8 ends with a quote from Thomas A’ Kempis:

Whensoever a man desires anything inordinately, he is presently disquieted within himself.

Thomas A’ Kempis: The Imitation of Christ

Ignatius cites as the purpose for the spiritual exercises as:

…the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.

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

It is an important business: it is about making the right decisions and for the right reasons, and enabling us to live peacefully with the consequences of our decisions. It brings serenity, that much used word and sought after grace of the program. Sometimes it may simply boil down to the decision to be kind and courteous in this particular conversation: to choose our attitude. Another tool the program has to help us to focus this principle in our little decisions in the course of a day is the Just for Today card, which is something I use regularly:

Just for today I will be agreeable. I will look as well as I can, dress becomingly, keep my voice low, be courteous, criticize not one bit. I won’t find fault with anything, nor try to improve or regulate anybody but myself.

Al Anon Just for Today card.

The one above is one of my favourites, and one I find quite challenging. It encourages me to find the right balance between superficial vanity and slothfulness: to love myself and to see myself as God sees me. And of course, it also encourages me to see others as God sees them, and to love them as God loves them, and to refuse to see it as my job to fix or convert them to my way of thinking.

The Twelve Step program diverges from the Exercises at the second week however. The second, third and fourth weeks of the exercises have their focus centred on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus and therefore locates them very specifically within the Christian faith. The Twelve Steps is a non religious program for everyone. In the preamble to the steps it says:

The principles they embody are universal, applicable to everyone, whatever his personal creed.

The Twelve Steps, preamble.

Ignatius offers an eighteenth annotation of The Exercises where he says:

The spiritual exercises must be adapted to the condition of the one who is to engage in them…

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

and he goes on to describe different situations and ways that it might be done. He begins his conclusion with:

But let him go no further and take up the matter dealing with the Choice of a Way of Life, nor any other exercises that are outside of the First Week.

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

Ignatius is effectively saying, horses for courses: if beyond the first week is not appropriate, then there is no need to pursue it further. It might be considered that The Twelve Steps is in effect an Eighteenth Annotation of The Spiritual Exercises, where we:

…take what we like and leave the rest.

It is not to say that The Twelve Steps are less: in one sense they might be considered more, because of their adaptation beyond the Christian faith to all religions and none. It is analogous to the movement of Christianity itself from the Jewish faith where it began, outwards to the Gentiles, and to the whole world. I cannot help but feel that both Ignatius and God approve.

Steps 7 – 11 also incorporate within them The Examen, the purpose of which is “to improve our conscious contact with God” and Ignatius is known to have encouraged the Jesuits in that,if they only had the space in their day for one prayer, then it is this one that they should do.

Can be printed onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer place if you would find it helpful.
The Spiritual Exercises and The Twelve Steps, reading of this post.

In fact, steps 4-6 also echo The Examen in their movement.

The twelfth step is suggestive of the Contemplatio, where Ignatius makes the first point:

…love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.

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

The concept of service is a principle which runs through The Twelve Traditions of twelve step fellowships, the purpose of which is:

…personal progress for the greatest number….

Al Anon, Tradition 1.

and members volunteer for a variety of roles from maybe chairing at a meeting one week, to speaking publicly at conventions. I once spoke at a convention in Edinburgh as a member of Alateen when I was eighteen. It is an important witness, because when people living in this chaos see that it is possible to find serenity, whether the alcoholic is still drinking or not, it is powerfully attractive. Ignatius describes in the Two Standards meditation of the Exercises how those under the standard of Christ attract and draw, rather than drive, bully and coerce. The eleventh tradition states this principle explicitly:

Our public relations policy is based on attraction rather than promotion;

Al Anon, Tradition 11.

Both The Twelve Steps and The Spiritual Exercises offer transformative processes by which to change our lives. The former provides emergency support and hope for those living in the chaos of deeply destructive addictions, and its byte sized slogans and steps give oxygen immediately in instances of suffocating despair and desolation, securing the idea that “no unhappiness is too great to be lessened.” Continual engagement with the program, with meetings and with the help of a sponsor fosters a deepening of these principles, in faith and love, as we continue to apply them to our lives, irrespective of our religious practice. They are a great gift. I once heard Bill W. and Dr. Bob, the other founding member of AA, described as the greatest social architects of the twentieth century and I believe that there is some truth in that statement. The Spiritual Exercises provide a similar process specific to Christian faith, and for everyone in acceptance of that faith, a means to deepen their personal relationship with God and live according to His will, regardless of their personal circumstances. There are some of us who are grateful to know and have both.

Serenity Prayer – used to close Al Anon, and other twelve step meetings.

Religion and politics

In front of Pilate. Detail from a door at the Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, Passion Facade.
Reading of this post to make life easier for my dyslexic friends and anyone else who also likes to listen.
Religion and Politics 1

There has been much talk in the UK press about what does and does not belong in politics, about who has and has not the right to speak out, and in what context. There were some articles in The Guardian newspaper questioning Her Majesty’s lack of involvement in the political arena and bizarrely, where lawyers challenged the right of judges making a judgment of unlawful behaviour with respect to proroguing parliament:

Government lawyers had told the court, which sits in Westminster directly opposite parliament, that the justices should not enter into such a politically sensitive area, which was legally “forbidden territory” and constitutionally “an ill-defined minefield that the courts are not properly equipped to deal with”.

The Guardian, September 24 2019
Sign in West Pottergate, Norwich. It has since been removed.
Religion and Politics 2: Of course, I meant to say 2 thousand and 19. Silly me.

In The Tablet (14 September 2019) the president of the Catholic Theological Association of Great Britain, Dr. Ashley Beck, is quoted as saying:

If we push the language of God out of this or that crisis or moral issue, we’re pushing God out,

Article in The Tablet, 14 September 2019, by Margaret Hebblethwaite, p31

and on the same page, in the same issue, Archbishop Eamon Martin is quoted as saying that bringing faith into politics is:

…not an optional extra for a committed Christian.

Article in The Tablet, 14 September 2019, p31

I started an argument once on an online group where the comment from the Bishops of the Church of England about how they were praying for the country and how Brexit had caused division and acrimony in Britain, was greeted with derision. Comments such as:

Well, that’ll fix it then.

and

They should keep their religion out of politics.

to me, showed a lack of very basic understanding of the nature of living in faith. The words from the bishops had come from their prayer together, and from their noticing the division and rise of aggression and violence in our society, the increase in racist attacks, of intolerance. They were speaking out, and calling out the deterioration of moral values and behaviour. Here is the prayer they made:

A prayer for the UK.

A Prayer for the UK

In this time of turmoil…

We pray for the Prime Minister and Party Leaders as they negotiate the political future of our nation:
Father, give them your wisdom and vision.

We pray, and calling for all in Parliament as they represent their communities:
Jesus, give them your humility and strength.

We pray for the media as they interpret events for the nation:
Holy Spirit, give them your truth and compassion.

We pray for ourselves, your Church, as we show your love to our neighbours:
Would we speak hope, embody courage and model unity in diversity.

Almighty God, we place our trust in you:
For yours is the kingdom the power and the glory, now and forever, Amen

Church of England, Prayer for Brexit
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Passion Facade. The word in gold on the door in the background: Veritat? meaning Truth?
Religion and Politics 3

Time and time again, I have heard this point of view, that religious faith should be kept out of politics: it dismisses it to merely a private matter. And there is a hypocrisy to this viewpoint. I object just as vehemently to having atheism thrust down my throat as the atheist does to any crude attempt to convert them, and I also have as much right to live my life, think my thoughts and express my opinion as the atheist does. The issue here is about respect: and the growing lack of respect in Britain is what prompted the Church of England response.

I should also comment that my political opinion on Brexit was the same as those in the online group: I took issue with their derision of the Church speaking out and their ad hominem attacks, rather than noticing the legitimate concern of the Church about the vitriolic discourse now rife in British society. The online group both missed my point and vindicated the point the Church of England was making.

The meaning of the word “political” as given by the Oxford dictionary is:


1. relating to the government or public affairs of a country.


relating to the ideas or strategies of a particular party or group in politics.

interested in or active in politics.


motivated by a person’s beliefs or actions concerning politics.

2. derogatory done or acting in the interests of status or power within an organization rather than as a matter of principle.

I am thinking that by this point, it is obvious that my opinion is that when we are called to be prophets, when we speak out, we are being political. It is inevitable: and to think it reasonable that a person of faith ought not to express their opinion publicly is to not understand what faith is. Worse than that, it is a double standard, because the atheist also speaks from a position of faith.

Scripture sets a precedent for the people of God being politically active. The Book of Amos has social justice as one of its major themes, where social justice is described as:

… a concept of fair and just relations between the individual and society. This is measured by the explicit and tacit terms for the distribution of wealth, opportunities for personal activity, and social privileges.

Remember that Jesus was crucified for sedition! One does not come in front of the governor of the region for judgement, or cause social unrest without being political. So, we are in good company here.

Why would they want to stop us from speaking out, from expressing our opinions when we are speaking from the ground of our being in God?

St. Ignatius has some things to say about how the enemy, the one opposed to God, goes about his business. The first is that he behaves as a spoiled child, simpering, batting his eyes, stamping his feet, throwing a tantrum and going in the huff when he does not get his way. (Okay, Ignatius actually said like a woman, and given his time, I’m going to let him off the hook on that one, and simply update what he describes to our day and age). The second is as a false lover, who flatters and whispers lies in secret and solicits something unwholesome, telling us it is just between us, our little secret and that we should not tell anyone else about it. The third is as a general, circling the castle to find the weak spot from where to launch an attack; stabbing at our soft underbelly and filling us full of doubt and self recrimination. When we are speaking out, standing up for our principles as guided by our faith, how many of these strategies do we notice in the people who stand in opposition to us?

Ignatius also makes suggestions as to how we deal with each of these scenarios. In the first, he suggests a show of strength, to be unwavering. Of course, any parent who has gone through the toddler years, knows that you have to stand your ground and weather the storm, even as your furious child is attracting all the disapproving, and sympathetic stares of others in the supermarket, or whatever public place they have decided to show you up in. Maximum power, minimum reason. In terms of weakness, one of mine is that I try to be reasonable and base my opinions and arguments on evidence. I know, you would think that this is a strength and in the academic world it is, but in the world of populist politics and online discourse, which fuels the lynch mob mentality, the voice of reason cannot always be heard above the noise, and sometimes may give the space for those who act from an unreasonable standpoint, who show no such scruples, to step in and abuse. Ignatius suggest shoring up the weak walls in our castle, and that may mean continuing in faith, in the course that we know to be right, to stand strong, as in the first case of dealing with the spoiled child. In the second scenario, the secret whispering, Ignatius encourages us to tell, to disclose what is going on in us with someone well versed in discernment of spirits: a spiritual director, or a close friend with such skills. When the turmoil of the dark recesses of our mind are put on the table and God’s light shone on them, they lose their power to potentially uproot us. Our doubts and fears expressed, cannot withstand the process of discernment when examined in the light with the help of another. And through this process we find the courage to face them. Notice that the company of those also engaged in this process of living reflectively in God is important in strengthening and encouraging us. Ignatius suggests discernment, prayer and penance to help strengthen us when we find ourselves beset with that which would pull us away from God. As for the latter, I have a lot to say about penance, but I will save it for another day, at the appropriate time.

At the end of the day, Ignatius describes three steps for those standing with Christ:

…the first, poverty as opposed to riches; the second insults or contempt as opposed to the honour of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride. From these three steps, let them lead men to other virtues.

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

and in The Contemplatio, he makes the first point:

…love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Sagrada Familia, Barcelona, Passion Facade. Detail of Pilate washing his hands of the crucifixion of Jesus.
Religion and Politics 4

If we were to accept popular direction to keep our religious beliefs out of politics, are we not simply acting like Pilate, and washing our hands of what happens in our society? In unapologetic defense of my own position, I am a Psalm 40 person:

See, I will not hold my tongue,

As well you know.

Psalm 40: 9b. The New Jerusalem Bible, Readers Version.

IGR: Individually Guided Retreat

I have recently returned from my annual IGR, this year at Penhurst Retreat Centre in Kent, and I have been reflecting on conversations I have with a variety of people who have never had this experience.

I’ve been going on this type of retreat ever year for such a long time now (this year was my 19th IGR) that perhaps I take the process, but never the opportunity, a bit for granted.

As a PhD student, I was involved with the Catholic Student Council (CSC) and was the secretary on the Team for a year. As part of our preparation, we did a team retreat for three days, which started off in silence. I took to the silence as if I was designed for it. After a day and a half though, I had a chat with someone, not involved in the retreat, who told me that it was okay for me to talk. I lost something in that conversation: I can only describe it as if I had been in a dreamlike state that you might enter walking alone along a beach, where hours can pass and it seems like minutes, and then I had been forcefully brought back into the noise, chaos and pressure. It was something that I was unable to get back at that time, and I longed for more of it for years afterwards.

Over ten years later, I booked into Loyola Hall for an eight day IGR, and looked forward to spending that time alone with God. When you remove yourself from the world in this way, it is like the world stops turning, until you enter back into it at the end of the retreat. Certainly, you arrive there with your agenda and concerns, the things you want to talk to God about, and you may want Him to address, but after a day or two, you move onto His agenda. And often, the things that were so important when you arrived, seem less so at the end: you have a whole different perspective, even perhaps when you have not thought about them, other than at the beginning of the retreat. It is also a common experience that problems have resolved themselves, and answers have presented themselves without dwelling on them at all, once they are handed over to God at the beginning. Letting go and trusting Him are not to be underestimated.

So, what happens? Usually, there is time to settle in, including a house tour if you have not been to that place before, and dinner in the evening, which is a talking affair. It gives a little time to introduce each other in the group making the retreat at the same time. It is amazing how much you can get to know someone after eight days without speaking to them! Then there is a meeting where housekeeping is presented, and most importantly, you are introduced to your spiritual director for the week. You are shown to where you will meet with them and choose a time slot for your daily meeting. They may, or may not, suggest something from scripture to look at to help you settle into an attitude of prayer and silence, and after this point the silence begins. Each day, you meet with your director and share what is happening in your prayer, and usually, the director will make suggestions what you might pray with next, or they might ask you what you feel drawn to pray with. For me, this year, the director made no suggestions at all to me, and it felt a little scary initially, until I spoke to myself about my own formation as a spiritual director, and that I was more than capable of choosing myself, since I am well able to do it for others. She smiled when I told her of this initial feeling and said:

You seemed to know what you were doing.

It would be an example of the eighteenth annotation of the Spiritual Exercises in practice:

The Spiritual Exercises must be adapted to the condition of the one who is to engage in them, that is, to his age, education, and talent.

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

In teaching terms, it is effective differentiation. And speaking of difference, not every retreat, and not every director is the same. And so too for the impact. I have come back from some with a few changes I knew I needed to make; and I have come back from others different, with no idea about how to respond, but just the certainty that life was never going to be the same again, because I had fundamentally changed. After my fifth IGR, the shift was so significant that by the October half term I was feeling that my life as it was was unmanageable and that I had to find a way to live differently within my context. It was at this point that I sought out a spiritual director in everyday life, and his support since then is invaluable to me, and is one thing I am deeply grateful for. With some directors I have felt well met, others less so but we have been able to communicate effectively, and one or two, I have to admit, have brought out my rebellious, stubborn steak. One so much so, that I texted my director in life to ask:

What is wrong with the way I pray?

One year, I went to Loyola itself: Gerry W. Hughes had organised an ecumenical IGR there, and I was very fortunate to get a place on it. In his preamble on the first evening, on talking about the role of the director, he said:

At the very least, we pray not to get in the way.

Gerry W. Hughes, Loyola IGR, 2007.

In answer to my question, my director in everyday life affirmed me about my prayer and told me to trust myself, and also reassured me that it would be appropriate for me to ask for a different director if I felt unable to work with the one assigned to me. I decided to work with the one I had, and focused on my relationship with God, not with the director. In the fifteenth annotation, Ignatius says of the director that they:

…should permit the Creator to deal directly with the creature, and the creature directly with his creator and Lord.

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

I remember this particular point both when I am listening to others and when I am being listened to. Only once have I asked for a specific director: I usually try to remain open and trusting. I once met someone who had done the Spiritual Exercises in the thirty day retreat format and had not connected with her director at all. She continued to work with him for the duration however, and said that in the end, it was irrelevant, because the process was between her and God, and happened regardless. The best situation is where we get the director we need, which may not always be the director we think we want.

Regarding the location, I made myself very much at home at Loyola Hall before it closed, and since then at St. Beunos, where I made The Spiritual Exercises a few years ago. Every so often, circumstances have moved me to a different location, Penhurst this year, which has always been refreshing. The best locations, in my experience, are situated a bit out of the way, withdrawn from the world, where it would take a deliberate effort to put yourself out there. Both Penhurst and St Beunos are in beautiful, quiet, settings, well away from the business of the world. In two places I have been – Loyola and Dunblane – the town was right on the doorstep, and this made it more difficult, but not impossible, to sink deeply into silence and remain there. The business of the world, the shops, coffee shops, cars and streets were always calling, and the temptation to walk out on the silence when it was difficult was always there and easy to give in to. But on the other hand, temptation is just another opportunity to choose God, so choosing to remain in the silence in this situation is a huge deal and a movement towards greater spiritual maturity. It is good training to hold onto our centre when we are back in the world.

The day on an IGR follows a rhythm of its own, punctuated by structured periods of communal prayer, liturgy, mass, exposition, the meeting with the director and mealtimes. I’m quite at home with the concept of a timetable, and I usually factor in painting, tai chi and a shower, the latter happening at a different time of day from my usual routine for an unknown reason, but which feels quite natural on retreat. And of course, formal prayer periods. I aim for three one hour periods, but I often have to build up to that, or can only only manage two, or shorter prayer periods. There is a balance between discipline and flow – it is something to neither avoid nor force: it is about noticing how you are feeling and what is drawing you. If I felt I wanted to walk the labyrinth after lunch, instead of tai chi, that is probably what I would do; forcing myself to do tai chi at this point, simply because it was the designated activity on my self designed timetable and I must be disciplined in my spiritual life, may well prove to be unproductive. If I felt like I did not want to go to the communal liturgy in whatever format it took, and I have, quite a lot, I would take careful notice of what was moving in me, before I decided whether to go or not. Discernment is key, even in what we choose to do on retreat, and often, spending time sitting staring into space is required.

As for mealtimes, suffice to say, quite often the inner battles people have manifest themselves in the dining room with either too much or not enough eating, crying, sighing, inappropriate laughing, staring, coming in late…all manner of ways, that perhaps we might consider rude. It is best to be kind in our inner attitude, because we have no concept of how others are being challenged by God, or how the spirits opposed to God are whipping up an internal cacophony within them. And when it is our own struggle, it is still best to be kind in our inner attitude towards ourselves.

Window, Penhurst Church

So, why do I do this kind of retreat every year? First and foremost, I promised God on the the first one that I would. Secondly, I need to. During the year in between, my edges become a little frayed by the constant bombardment and sensory and emotional overload of the world in which I live and work and the retreat allows me to rest in God for a significant period of time that I cannot replicate in my day to day life. I sink deeper into Him on retreat, and it re-orientates me. Sometimes, the shift is paradigm, like an earthquake, where the plates have been moving gradually for a while, and the tension is such that a huge movement occurs. And sometimes, it is simply much needed rest within His love, where I come back to myself again. If it is not something you have ever done, and you have the opportunity, I thoroughly recommend that you give it a try for yourself.