Were entirely ready…Step 6 and The Spiritual Exercises

white spiral stairs with black metal railings
Were entirely ready…1: Reading of this post

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

Step 6: Alcoholics Anonymous

The wonderful thing about Step 6 is that it does not demand that we do anything about our defects yet. That can feel like such a relief when this one sinks in a bit deeper because we might be labouring under the sense that now the exact nature of our wrongs are on the table as it were, we are obliged to do something about them. This step slows down that process. No, we are not required to take action to remove our defects, the process is to be ready to allow God to remove them – in God’s own time. All we are is aware of them, and open and ready for God to work in us to remove them. What that looks like in practice will depend on the situation, our particular defect and probably many other facors we can only guess at.

I am reminded of A Pilgrim’s Progress by John Bunyan. Far be it for me to be critical of a respected work of English Christian Literature, but I just could not get on with that book. I joke that is was too puritanical for me, but that is not a joke, it actually is. Bunyan was a Puritan, I am not. My problem with it is in the essence of Step 6. There is the point in the book where Christian, the Prilgrim, meets with the Saviour of the world. But then, Jesus disappears again, and leaves the Pilgrim to walk the rest of this dangerous journey on his own, under his own steam, using his own strength and talents. I guess this part was supposed to represent the Ascension, but to me it felt a bit like being left to my own devices, and woe betide me if I strayed off the path, that was all my own fault and I would get what I deserved! In short, it felt punitive, that God is distant, abstract: watching and critical, waiting to see if I measured up, judgemental. It is not how I experience Him.

I am much more of that fractious child, who wriggles in His arms and squeals to be put down. So He does and I run off to make a mess and get myself into all sorts of trouble I can’t get out of. When I run back to Him crying and scared, He scoops me up and holds me close to Him: no scolding, just safety. This image is some of the fruit of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich.

woman carrying a baby
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Were entirely ready…2a: Reading of this post

Sometimes, when I hear people talking about their prayer, I frequently hear the phrases:

God wants me to…

God said….

And I ask:

How do you know it was God?

It is not that I doubt their experience, I ask myself the same question. Discernment is a process whereby we come to recognise the authentic voice of God amongst the cacophony of all the voices and noise we hear. We cannot necessarily assume it is God because the voice speaking says it is. How easily the deceiver could deceive us if that was all it took. It is a question of responsibilty. There is a danger of misinterpreting the Step 6 and thinking we can sit back and leave it up to God to sort it out, be passive if you like. I think that is why I also raise the question of whose voice is it we are listening to. Is this person moving through life, not being an active agent in it, where things happen to them and it is interpreted as being what God wants? It is the opposite extreme to the puritanical attitude of the Pilgrim’s Progress, where I am in complete control of my own salvation and it is all down to me.

In “Breathing Under Water”, Richard Rohr attaches an analogy of the chicken and egg to Step 6. He says:

It first recognises that we have to work to see our many resistances, excuses and blockages, but then we have to fully acknowledge that God alone can do the “removing”! But which should come first grace or responsibility? The answer is that both come first.

Breathing under Water. Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr.

And he asks the very pertinant question:

Does God “produce” us, or do we by our own efforts “produce” God?

Breathing under Water. Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr.

It is an interesting question. Ignatius questions, but does not assume, that a lack of effort on our part might be responsible for the “non-production” of God. He encourages spiritual directors to explore with their directees:

When the one who is giving the Exercises perceives that the exercitant is not affected by any spiritual experiences, such as consolations or desolations, and that he is not troubled by different spirits, he ought to ply him with questions about the exercises. He should ask him whether he makes them at the appointed times, and how he makes them. He should question him about the Additional Directions, whether he is diligent in the observance of them. He will demand an account in detail of each one of these points

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

In the Rules for Discernment, he gives three reasons why we might suffer from spiritual desolation:

The first is because we have been tepid and slothful or negligent in our exercises of piety, and so through our own fault spiritual consolation has been taken away from us.

The second reason is because God wishes to try us, to see how much we are worth, and how much we will advance in His service and praise when left without the generous reward of consolations and signal favors.

The third reason is because God wishes to give us a true knowledge and understanding of ourselves, so that we may have an intimate perception of the fact that it is not within our power to acquire and attain great devotion, intense love, tears, or any other spiritual consolation; but that all this is the gift and grace of God our Lord. God does not wish us to build on the property of another, to rise up in spirit in a certain pride and vainglory and attribute to ourselves the devotion and other effects of spiritual consolation.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Were entirely ready…2b: Reading of this post

The questioning of the director in what “efforts” the directee is making is merely an exploration of possible reasons for the apparant “absence of God”. The dark night of the soul is recognised in itself as being profound spiritual consolation, however painful it might be to the person experiencing it. It is not my own personal experience, but people have told me of it being theirs. As Rohr has suggested and implict in what St. Ignatius is saying, both our efforts and grace are involved in the encounter with God and in making Step 6. Richard Rohr goes on to talk about paradox.

Almost all spirituality has a paradoxical character to it, which is why the totally rational or dualistic mind invariably misses the point, and just calls things it does not understand wrong, heresy or stupid.

Breathing under Water. Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr.

I love paradox; how you can be neither and both at the same time. One of the books I have read that has deeply influenced me is The Way of Paradox by Cyprian Smith, which is about the spiritual life as taught by Meister Eckhart. If you are on your toes, you will know that the quote at the top of my blog is from Meister Eckhart. I loved this book. I understood some of it, but by no means all of what I read. It might be time for a re-read, after Revelations of Divine Love by Julian of Norwich. Smith says of Ekhart’s spiritual way:

Two apparantly opposed realities will be brought by him into clashing confrontation until the dualism separating them is transcended and their underlying unity emerges like sunlight after rain.

The Way of Paradox by Cyprian Smith
blade blur bright close up
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Were entirely ready…3: Reading of this post

Like sunlight after rain…seriously, what a beautiful, evocative image of the spiritual struggle. It describes perfectly, the battle of the Step 6. But battle is the wrong word, it is tai chi, yin and yang: softness is the necessity, not hardness.

This swinging rhythm or oscillation between unlike poles, breathing in and breathing out, speaking and remaining silent, doing and resting is the basic rhythm of the spiritual life, and it is only within that rhythm that we can know God, experience Him, think and talk about Him.

The Way of Paradox by Cyprian Smith

It reminds me of the grace of the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises:

…make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.

Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things…..

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

From my own experience of making the Spiritual exercises, and from listening to people as a spiritual director, I notice that in this part of the Exercises, there is an oscillation about this point of indifference, and we do not remain there once we have experienced it. It is but a moment, what I would describe as an eternal moment, because the consolation in receiving this grace remains in the felt memory of the soul and is stored up to be called upon when we are in desolation and troubled by the turmoil of spirits. I have referred to this practice before.

white spiral stairs with black metal railings
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Were entirely ready…4: Reading of this post

To me, the essence of Step 6 is in the principle and foundation, and in the end of the first week of the Exercises, moving into the Second Week. We have acknowledged our disordered attachments and our powerlessness over them, and we have become willing to learn more about where God would lead us into freedom from them. Here, I will let Cyrpian Smith sum up the journey:

But to learn to pour out while remaining inwardly detached, to be at once in movement and in repose, is largely what the spiritual life is about: to the extent that we have learned that we are true Persons, true images of God, true sharers in the swirling, glowing, energetic life of the Trinity. To live like that also means to be untiring, for it brings about accumulation, not loss, of energy.

The Way of Paradox by Cyprian Smith

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 2

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2 part 1. Reading of this post.

The image of Julian gazing at the crucifix described in the second day of the Journey evoked conflicting emotions within me. In describing the blood running down Jesus’ face, she used the term:

…a living stream.

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

It brought back memories of the River meditation I had done during the First Week of The Spiritual Exercises, when contemplating the sinfulness of the world. I had been in the process of planning my Positive Penance Retreat day when I was praying with Day 2, so perhaps it is not surprising that this meditation was in my mind, since I was using it on my retreat day.

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2 part 2. Reading of this post.

During and since the Exercises, I have understood that my experience of this imaginative contemplation was a conversation with God about my work. It was as if He said:

We need to have a conversation about your work, but there are more pertinent things to deal with first.

As I notice the dates in my prayer journal now, my part one and part two of praying with Day 2 of the Journey straddle a meeting I had in my job which caused a shift in my perspective and from that moment, the writing on the wall was bright and clear, no longer invisible. Sure, it took a bit longer to make the actual decision, and then a bit longer for it to happen, but it did happen and I am living that decision now.

In the Quesions to Ponder section of the Journey, Lisa Dahil asks:

What images of Jesus’ crucifixion – scriptural, musical, or artistic – are most familiar to you? Do these images readily speak to you of love, as they do to Julian? Why or why not?

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

I did not find that question so easy, and I am glad she introduced the possibility of it not speaking of love, because my experience of it was both. In thinking about the standard wooden crucifix with a metal Jesus on it, I have to acknowledge a sense of horror at the torture, oppression and martyrdom. Not just the horror of what was done to Jesus, but there is a sense of irredeemable guilt and sometimes a sense of looking at it and experiencing a feeling of emotional blackmail whenever I am not being as good as I “should” be:

Look at how I suffered for you, and you cannot even do this for me?

I recognise this voice as not being of God, of how it is used to exert power and control. It is fallacious reasoning that demands an account from us, which tells us we are not good enough and it cuts us off from the sense of God’s love that Julian is talking about. We spend time in the Principle and Foundation of The Exercises coming to recognise how we are loved by God, because without knowing God’s love for us deeply, facing the full reality of our sinfulness in the First Week might just be too much to cope with.

Another response I had to this image was of anger: anger at the injustice of what was done to Him. I also felt shame and confusion that sinfulness and hatred could have any small moment of triumph, and that people can be so fickle and can be turned so easily by lies. I find that frightening. Dahill states:

For Julian, Jesus’ death is not an appeasement of God’s wrath.

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

I do not think I have ever seen it as God’s wrath, more the wrath of humanity. I mentioned shame and confusion, noticing that this is the grace of the First Week of The Spiritual Exercises.

Here it will be to ask for shame and confusion because I see how many have been lost on account of a single mortal sin, and how many times I have deserved eternal damnation, because of the many grievous sins that I have committed.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Trans Louis J. Puhl

Julian’s response to this vision has none of the turmoil I experienced in contemplating Day 2 of the Journey. She recognises:

…it was He…

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

And:

…suddenly the Trinity filled my heart full of the greatest joy…for where Jesus appears the blessed Trinity is Understood…

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

Then there was the other side to my conflicting emotions on praying with the material for Day 2. I imagined myself stepping into Rublev’s icon of the Trinity. In the Divine Dance, Richard Rohr tells that in Rublev’s orignal artwork, there was a mirror, which invited us to join in, to take a place within God. Julian says:

…the Trinity is our endless joy and our bliss…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill
40 Day Journey’s End: Day 2 part 3. Reading of this post.

It is here that I connected with the Love she is talking about. A sense of falling at His feet, of being Veronica and wiping the blood from His face. I am struck by Mel Gibson’s film of The Passion, and how, amidst the violence and the gore, there are moments of tenderness, where Jesus is seen, and those who see Him are seen by Him. It seems to me that He draws strength from those who love Him, and whom He loves. When I was praying with His passion in the Third Week of the Exercises, it was a feature of my imaginative contemplations that the moments of connection with those who loved Him and walked with Him as He made this journey, were significant in strengthening Him so that He could fulfill His task. It was in this sense of raw openness that I understood something of the love that Julian was conveying in her description. His response to my conflicting emotions:

I am Love. Never fear, I am always here, even there.

There was a movement in me through praying Day 2 of the Journey. I noticed the changes that were taking place in my life. They seemed such small changes, but in reflecting futher back I was able to recognise how far and by how much those small things had resulted in quite big shifts.

I know this is Your doing. You have answered me. Thank you.

My response to Psalm 118:22

Sometimes in prayer, what we are talking about is not what we are talking about. While I was contemplating Julian’s image of the crucifix and experiencing conflicting emotions within me, I moved from fear to experiencing the Trinity as my bliss; an eternal moment of being lost in God, where everything disappeared and there was only God. Nothing else mattered. What I was left with afterwards was a clear sense of where and how God was with me constantly in my life, where growth was happening and my own gratitude for His presence and love.

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 1

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 1

40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (i)

What is interesting for me to notice as I read back over my prayer journal for the first “Day” of my journey with Julian is that I am still, even now, wrestling with the same old patterns of resistance. Sometimes they are not so strong in distracting me from my prayer, and sometimes they are. Watching films or box sets when I should be doing my Examen and going to bed. There is that word “should” : I always raise an eyebrow when I hear it in Spiritual Direction. My desire is to spend the time with Him, to live differently, more in tune with Him, and yet, there is an inertia to doing just that when it comes to it. You might know what I mean. I do not believe I am the first person to ask why I do these things that are self destructive when I want to do something different. And my head ties me up in knots. I see that I began my journey feeling a lot of resistance, not just in the arguments in my head as I fought the inertia, but I was restless and uncomfortable in my body.

Even when prayer is like this, and I drag myself to it; even if it is on the reclining seat of the sofa and not in the more alert position in my prayer spot, just by putting myself in that space, I am expressing my desire to encounter God and I am opening myself to the opportunity for connection with Him.

Julian says in day 1 of the 40 Day Journey:

He wishes to be sought.

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

I heard a story once of a reporter asking Cardinal Hume how long he prayed for every day. He replied:

Oh, for about a minute.

The reporter was apparantly quite shocked and queried his lack of commitment not being commensurate with his leadership position in the Church, to which he replied along the lines of:

Yes, but it does take me about twenty nine minutes of sitting still to get to that point.

I did meet Cardinal Hume when I first moved to Norwich and I shook his hand. This does seem like the kind of thing he could say, from my brief experience of listening to his talk and shaking his hand. This story always encourages me when I am restless and resistant to prayer. I know that if I can just put myself there, I am more likely to make that intimate connection with God, to experience that eternal moment, even if my head will not stop spinning for the whole time and I was distracted by all the things I have to get through that day. It is not something He holds against me.

…our Lover desires the soul to adhere to Him…it is so preciously loved by Him…

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E . Dahill
40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (ii)

So I acted against my restless body and my busy head, and I put myself in that space because I knew that I desired Him, and I knew that He desired me. Somewhere in that first part of The Journey, I noticed myself:

…clad and enclosed in the goodness of God.

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

I felt it as a warmth – emotional and physical – that lingered with me for the rest of that day. It brought to mind an imaginative contemplation I had experienced when I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I was a servant, a wine pourer, at the wedding feast at Cana, and after Jesus had turned the water into wine, YHWH and JC (the Holy Spirit as I call Him) appeared at the party. YHWH asked me to dance a rumba with Him. I became vapour, a fragrance, lost in the dance with Him.

I noticed that during this first prayer with Day 1 that I became aware of people that I interacted with in my daily life. One person in particular, where the relationship was difficult, I got a sense of the huge problems this person was dealing with in their life. I was moved to compassion for them and a desire to help, even if my ability to help was limited to regarding and interacting with them more kindly and to praying for them.

Image by karin smulders from Pixabay
40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (iii)

During my second prayer with Day 1, I was focused on the extract from Psalm 139. There were again distractions at the beginning of the prayer and an odd interaction with what appeared to be God, but my response to this character was to go limp and floppy like a rag doll. My spiritual director on The Spiritual Exercises had said to me in one of our conversations about what happens in prayer:

If something feels odd, it probably is odd.

I think I may have objected at the time, but I have never forgotten it, and it comes to mind whenever I realise that something is odd in my prayer. On my spiritual direction course, they talked about St. Bernard (I think it was St. Bernard) who once had a vision that “Jesus” appeared to him, dressed as a Roman Legionary. The point of discerning if this vision really was Jesus is that it did not seem like Him. In the Rules for Discernment for the Second Week, Ignatius says:

It is characteristic of the evil one to fight against such happiness and consolation by proposing fallacious reasonings, subtilties, andcontinual deceptions.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Trans Louis J. Puhl

It is a mark of the evil spirit to assume the appearance of an angel of light. He begins by suggesting thoughts that are suited to a devout soul, and ends by suggesting his own. For example, he will suggest holy and pious thoughts that are wholly in conformity with the sanctity of the soul. Afterwards, he will endeavor little by little to end by drawing the soul into his hidden snares and evil designs.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Trans Louis J. Puhl

The point here is that not everything that appears to be God, or of God, is God, or of God. There are times when we may be dealing with the imposter. Discernment is the process by which we learn to recognise what is of God and what is fallacious reasonings, subtilties, and deception.

40 day Journey;s End Day 1 (iv)

When I sensed the oddity in the prayer, I imagined myself back in the Room of Indifference from the my experience of the Exercises. This was the moment of grace during the Principle and Foundation when I experienced indifference. I described this experience before. Ignatius tells us to store up these moments of consolation in order to strengthen us when we are in desolation. So I imagined myself once more sitting in the chair at the centre of the room, my palms face up, and I said:

I will wait.

And He was there, no doubts or oddness.

I recalled some conversations I had had that day. My mum is ninety now and much to her frustration, has developed a stutter. A young man in my church is autistic and finds social interactions difficult. I remembered a the beginning of a retreat as a student, where we were asked to briefly introduce ourselves. There was a student there from Zimbabwe, who told a winding story about one day when he went out on a walk back home. I remember at one point wishing he would hurry up and get to the point when it immediately dawned on me, that was the point. It was not a summary list: this was someone who was present. By telling us a story, he was revealing who he was , he was introducing himself. As I recalled my conversations with the two people who struggled to talk that day, I recognised that there had been a similar movement within me, a movement from impatience to patience, as I saw the person in front of me. The fact that someone may struggle to express themselves does not invalidate what they have to say. It only requires for them to be seen, and for the other to be patient and listen.

When I prayed the second prayer with Day 1, I said to Him:

It was You. I praise You, I am wonderfully made.

And His reply:

You are wonderfully made. I made you.

To really see the other, to see them as God sees them is the Contemplation to Attain Love. It is to love as God loves. There are moments when it cuts through into our consciousness. This was the fruit of Day 1 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich. It was to look at those others and recognise in my heart:

You are wonderfully made.

40 Day Journey’s End: Examen

40 Day Journey’s End Examen 1: Reading of this post.

I finally finished my 40 day Journey with Julian of Norwich on Shrove Tuesday, just in time for the beginning of Lent. While the time since then has certainly been very full – I have left the classrooom and I am setting up as an online tutor – I have been pondering the Journey in the back of my mind. Here feels like the suitable point to make an Examen of my journey and the fruits that it has borne. I began the journey on Thursday 5th December 2019 and in that time, completely filled the prayer journal that I had started at the beginning of the third week of the Spiritual Exercises, and I finished the journal with the last entry of the Journey, the day before the beginning of Lent! A strange convergance: endings an beginnings. It had been my intention, in preparation for writing this post, that I read through my journey and summarise it all here, in a nice tidy blog post, a beautifully wrapped package; a wonderful display of the glory of God and the graces He so generously gives. And then I read my journal entries for Day 1 of my 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich. I realised immediately how impossible it would be to do that – there is too much. Each day warrants its own post. I will endeavour to do that as I continue posting on this blog. So, I closed my journal and decided to write an Examen here from my memories of this time on the Journey.

40 Day Journey’s End Examen 2 : Reading of this post.

Gratitude

I am grateful for all of the graces that I have received in this journey: the intimacy with God and the deepening trust; the fulfilment of the conversation about my working life which began during The Exercises and the courage to take that path. I am grateful for the affirmations of my work received through the people I am directing, through my guided prayers with Radio Maria England and through the retreats I have led. I am grateful for the friendship of Bill Stebbe, which grew in the time of that retreat day where I bought the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich and made the decision to make this pilgrimage. I am also grateful that I was able to accompany Bill in his dying, and for the grace of humility which I received during that time. And as Julian herself lived in the time of plague, and the current pandemic was an event waiting to happen at the time I picked up the book and began this journey, I am grateful for the relative safety in which I have been able to live and work throughout, and continue to be able to do so, even as I am weary of it.

Grace

I ask God for the grace to see my journey as He sees my journey.

40 Day Journey’s End Examen 3: Reading of this post.

Account

The predominant image I have from the Journey, and also from The Spiritual Exercises, is of myself as a child: not the memories of me as an actual child, but of my inner free child, Sunflower. I described her in the post All Things in a Hazelnut, where I picked up the book. This child is always open and honest with God. She says things as she sees and feels them, without dressing them up to make them palatable or acceptable. Even when she is restless and fractious, refuses to be held and wriggles in His arms saying:

Put me down! put me down!

He does, with some amusement, and watches over her tenderly as she does her worst and comes running back to His open arms when she realises her trouble and her need. And God loves and adores her, and regards her as precious. This is where God has been for me in this journey, and how I have turned away to those inordinate attachments that are self destructive to me, and then turned back again when I recognised that I had messed up again. As always, my tender loving God has picked me up and held me close once more.

Pardon

The free child is also open and honest when she recognises her mistakes. She does not try to justify or explain. Moved by her sorrow, her desire is simply to repair the relationship that she sees she has hurt by her behaviour. Asking for forgiveness is her expression of that sorrow. He listens and forgives.

Resolve to Amend

From here, the world is different. Things have changed.

And they have – I have been writing about the changes taking place in my life throughout this last year. It is not to say that these inordinate desires have been vanquished – they most certainly have not. I am still wrestling with the same distractions and resistances that I was dealing with at the beginining to the Journey. Sometimes, I am that little girl planting sunflower seeds with Him in the garden, full of wonder and awe. Sometimes I am still that fractious child, wriggling in His arms, trying to break free to do those naughty things that are not good for me and cause me, and perhaps others around me, pain and harm. To me on a bad day, it may feel that I have not made much progress, but to Him, well, maybe that Sunflower stalk is just a little bit taller as it reaches for the sun.

Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God

by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn, Matthew Linn, Miranda Francisco (Illustrator)

Admitted to God…Step 5 and the Spiritual Exercises

Admitted to God 1…reading of this post.

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

Step 5: Alcoholics Anonymous

As if Step 4 was not hard enough, Step 5 is also difficult and sore, and at the same time, pours a soothing balm into our self inflicted wounds. Our wrongs, by their very essence, are those things that we identified as being faults and failings: places where we did not live up to being the person we were created to be; the dark corners where we hide away those things about ourselves that we are embarrassed and ashamed of; we are now being asked to bring out onto the light of day, not just to show them to God, not just to look at ourselves, but to show them to someone else. To be appropriately and openly honest about the bad and the ugly within us. Daunting work.

It is worth remembering, that we have not come to this point in isolation – we have already been journeying in the steps and are walking here with God. At this point, we have submitted to our Higher Power in Step 3, and have committed to this work: we trust Him enough. To try to this step without having made the journey to it would be like doing the first week of The Spiritual Exercises, without firstly having prayed with the Principle and Foundation – not to be recommended. I did try that once a long time ago. I really wanted to do The Spiritual Exercises, but my children were too young for me to go away for thirty days to do them. I had not heard of the nineteenth annotation, where you could do them in every day life, at that time. Not that that would have made a difference. I think I had too much on my plate to be able to devote myslef completely to them at that point in my life. I know that now, but then – I naively thought I could pray my way through each of these meditations. So, I started with the first contemplation of the first week – that seemed logical enough. That meditation is about the fall of the angels and it left me in a very dark place, full of fear and anxiety, like having had a nightmare, and God was not there! When I talked to my spiritual director about it, he was firm in his suggestion of me putting those books away, that the Exercises were a guidebook for directors who were accompanying people as they made them, they were not intended to be done alone.

Part of a wall n the Plantatin Garden in Norwich.
Admitted to God 2…reading of this post.

The same is true for a Twelve Step program. While we do the work ourselves, we are not alone in it, and we cannot do it alone. There is too much room for dishonestly, denial and delusion when we go it alone: we are too close to our faults and cannot see the wood for the trees. When we share our turmoil and the traps and turns with an experienced and caring other, when we bring God into that conversation and allow Him to shine His light on us, these malicious whisperings lose their power to hurt us.

St. Ignatious describes the different ways the enemy works in us in vivid analogy. The particular one I am thinking of here is as a “false lover”:

He seeks to remain hidden and does not want to be discovered. If such a lover speaks with evil intention to the daughter of a good father, or to the wife of a good husband, and seeks to seduce them, he wants his words and solicitations kept secret…In the same way, when the enemy of our human nature tempts a just soul with his wiles and seductions, he earnestly desires that they be received secretly and kept secret.

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Wrought iron spiral candle holder
Admitted to God 3…reading of this post.

And Ignatius does not just describe the problem, he offers us the solution:

He is greatly displeased if his evil suggestions and depraved intentions are revealed by the daughter to her father, or by the wife to her husband. Then he readily sees he will not succeed in what he has begun…

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

But if one manifests them to a confessor, or to some other spiritual person who understands his deceits and malicious designs, the evil one is very much vexed. For he knows that he cannot succeed in his evil undertaking, once his evident deceits have been revealed.

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

It is uncomfortable, but ultimately life giving, because it helps to free us from those traps which ensare us, often repeatedly, when we act on our compulsions and our signature sin, in spite of ourselves.

Ignatius mentions two people we can talk to about our faults: a confessor and another spiritual person who understands. I would equate a spiritual director as the second person here , and the first, in the Roman Catholic tradtion, to which I belong, as the priest who hears our confession. In my experience, these two conversations are very different. In Breathing Under Water, Richard Rohr writes on Step 5:

What humanity needs is an honest exposure of the truth and true accountability and responsibility for what has happened.

Breathing under Water. Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr.

I would say that the most honest confessions I have ever made in my life – forget the five minute shopping list – are when I have been on an individually guided retreat and have already spent six days in silence, speaking only to a spiritual director, and the confession is made in a face to face conversation, no hiding behind the grid of the confessional box. At the end of the honest exposure, the accountability and responsibility, there is forgiveness. I am also able to forgive myself.

Rohr contrasts two models: the juridical model

sin–> punishment –> repentence –> transformation

and the restorative model:

sin –> unconditional love –> transformation–> repentence

He says:

God shocks and stuns us into love. God does not love us if we change, God loves us so that we can change.

Breathing under Water. Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr.

It is the movement I was describing in the earlier post: How does He look at Me?

Graffiti on a door in Norwich
Admitted to God 4…reading of this post.

In my second year of training to be a Spiritual Director, I was drawn to write my paper on the Exercises on penance, and my understanding of it is in this light. It is about reparation, not punishment, it is about making it right when I have messed up, and I do and will mess up. I am a sinner after all.

Rohr sums it up:

Step 5 is far from any notion of retributive justice, which the sacrament of “penance” too often became, and returned it to the much more biblical notion of restorative justice – to restore relationships themselves, to restore integrity with myself, and to restore a sense of communion with God.

Breathing under Water. Spirituality and the Twelve Steps. Richard Rohr.

It feels very appropriate to be writing about step 5 at this point, given the retreat day on Positive Penance which I ran last weekend. The movement was very much to encourage a more personal, restorative approach to doing penance in Lent, rather than just picking up from the usual three, without necessary pondering their relevance to my own relationship with God. The point is to notice where am I not fully being in my relationship with God, and then seeking to act against the desolation and so express my sincere desire for reparation. I am currently acting against my tempation to workaholism, which had indeed led me and my soul to be:

…wholly slothful, tepid and sad…

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

I am acting against the symptoms and the root cause this Lent; all those areas where I make the easy, lazy choice. And I set the timer when I am working. I am allowed one ten minute snooze on the alarm to finish off, in an effort to prevent me from carrying on until it is too late to cook, exercise or even go to bed in a timely fashion, because my head is still spinning round. Since that snooze on the alarm is now beeping at me, I know it is time to switch off the computer.

A Conversation Between Directors: Paula Pearce

I thought I would change the format of what I was previously calling “Ask a Spiritual Director” to more of a conversation than an interview. Feeback from my “interview” with David suggested that the more conversational sections of the video were more interesting and worked better. I also thought that repetitive questions might get a bit dull. So, here, in this talking heads conversation, I am talking to Paula Pearce who has recently moved into the Diocese of East Anglia. Enjoy.

Imaginative Contemplation: Christ the King

The Solemnity of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King (Thirty-Fourth Sunday in Ordinary Time), Cycle A

Here, as stated before, it is my intention to draw from the forthcoming Sunday liturgy and to offer a guided prayer on one of the pieces of scripture in the same way that we have been doing in Exploring Personal Prayer. I do not intend to offer any reflections on the scripture. My suggestion is that you follow the Ignatian structure: preparation for prayer by reading the scripture, going to your prayer place and doing the prayer itself, and then moving away to another place and doing a review of the prayer. Keeping some sort of prayer journal is good practice. Note any moments of consolation in the prayer, where you felt drawn more deeply into God, and moments of desolation, where prayer was disturbed, where you were distracted and pulled further away from God: feelings of attraction and repulsion should be noted. These points may provide areas for repetition of the prayer. Also, if you have a spiritual director or prayer partner, someone who can listen with an ear to where God is in this, it may be worth sharing your prayer with them. I am following the processes outline in the prayer cards above. You may print these onto A6 or A4 card to have in your prayer space to help you become accustomed to this way of praying, remembering it is more of a flow than a rigid structure.  

The Call of the King

On this Feast of Christ the King, I am offering an imaginative contemplation from the Spiritual Exercises, which occurs between the first and second week of the Exercises. It invites us to consider an earthly leader – in Ignatius’ day, he suggests an Earthly King, but here it is adapted for our modern times. We choose someone that we admire greatly, and might even consider following. And then we consider, if we would think about following an earthly leader, how much more might we consider following Christ the King. The grace we are invited to ask for in this contemplation is not to be deaf to His call, but to be prompt and diligent to accomplish His most holy will.

There is an alternative Imaginative Contemplation for this feast day which I presented last year, should you prefer.

Imaginative Contemplation: Christ the King. Guided Prayer

Background music is the album: Keith Halligan – Lifestyle Meditation, Global Journey  

Made a Decision. Step 3 and The Spiritual Exercises

Made a decsion. Step 3 and the Spiritual Exercises.1

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

The Twelve Steps: Step 3

It has been a while since I wrote the reflection on Step 2. I finished that post with a poignant clip where Wallander handed in his badge. It was not something I could express explicitly at the time, but the clip caught the mood of my decision and alluded to it: I decided to hand in my badge. I had decided to resign from my job as a teacher, but at that point had not acted on it. I have now, and I am currently working my notice in school, which I agreed to extend until the February half term. The period inbetween is living the third step. I have written about this step before, and several times on the theme of surrendering to God. This third of the twelve steps follows on naturally from the first two, but to say that makes it sound easy. It is not easy.

In “Breathing Underwater” Richard Rohr says:

Surrender will always feel like dying, and yet it is the necessary path to liberation.”

Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr

and he makes the point of surrendering being a decision we make:

Our inner blockage to “turning our will over” is only overcome by a decision.

Breathing Underwater, Richard Rohr

He talks about the dangers of “the myth of heroic sacrifice”, or the martyr complex as revealing the false side of love. In the twelve step fellowship to which I belong it is called “playing the martyr”, and the character of wanting the be the “hero” is a personality type that is recognised in adult children of alcoholics. It is about always wanting to be good: I have to watch out for that one myself.

In relation to the Spiritual Exercises, I might align it with the 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

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

It is also consistent with the three powers of the soul that Ignatius describes:

…will consist in using the memory to recall…and then in applying the understanding by reasoning….then the will by seeking to remember and understand all to be the more filled with…

So, too, the understanding is to be used to think over the matter more in detail, and then the will to rouse more deeply the emotions.

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

Here is described a process of deepening. Our imagination and memory begin to tell us something, and then our reason works it out and comes to a decision. It is not done and dusted at this point. The Eternal Lord of All things occurs in the space between the first and second week of The Exercises, and expresses a desire, a wanting to want it, as it is described sometimes. Three quarters of the journey of the Exercises, which take us to the Suscipe prayer and the expression of surrender, still remain. And yet, the movement throught the rest of the Twelve Steps suggests that with the decision, it is done. What is not made explicit in the step is the process of handing our will over. It is the struggle of Oda Mae Brown from Ghost agreeing to hand over the cheque and then handing over the cheque, even cheerfully and freely.

Made a decsion. Step 3 and the Spiritual Exercises.2

What does it look like to live this step? I recognise that it is what I am doing. It is once and for all, and every day. The once and for all was making the decision, sitting with it for a bit to notice movements within me and then acting on it by handing in that resignation letter. There is no turning back at that point. The consequences of acting begin to accumulate, a public announcement and a replacement appointment being made. The every day decision is noticing when that creeping fear of making a mistake in these uncertain times is creeping into my thoughts and then turning to God in trust that I am following the path He is leading me on. It is to notice the sense of lightness I walk with, the burden laid down, the life giving energy flowing through me. When I notice a sense of being overwhelmed by all the work that is in front of me in forging this new path I have been shown, it is to listen and hear Him say:

One day at a time, one step at a time.

Feeling fear is of itself not so much the problem, C.S. Lewis says as much in The Screwtape letters when the senior devil is trying to educate its junior in getting the young soldier to abandon his post, rather than just be afraid. Rather it is what our fear leads to. Previously, in my journey with Julian of Norwich, Julian recommends:

…but He then wants us to behave like a child. For when it is distressed and frightened, it runs quickly to its mother; and if it can do no more, it calls to its mother for help with all its might. So He wants us [to cry out]

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 30

The Spiritual Consolation is in allowing out fear to turn us towards God in faith and trust.

I call it consolation when an interior movement is aroused in the soul, by which it is inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord, and as a consequence, can love no creature on the face of the earth for its own sake, but only in the Creator of them all. It is likewise consolation when one sheds tears that move to the love of God, whether it be because of sorrow for sins, or because of the sufferings of Christ our Lord, or for any other reason that is immediately directed to the praise and service of God. Finally, I call consolation every increase of faith, hope, and love, and all interior joy that invites and attracts to what is heavenly and to the salvation of one’s soul by filling it with peace and quiet in its Creator and Lord.

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

Of course, there is a second part to this step:

…as we understood Him.

The Twelve Steps: Step 3

Made a decsion. Step 3 and the Spiritual Exercises.3

And this part of the step may prove challenging to those who prescribe to any particular religion. How do we really feel about someone else’s image of God that is different from our own? Can we accept the premise and so engage in dialogue as equals? or do we have to insist that we are right and they are wrong? And try to get them to admit it. I do not know about you, but I would certainly not feel very enamoured if someone else was trying to shove their image of God down my throat, so I am not going to set out with the agenda of shoving my image of God down theirs. Can I be generous and magnanimous, as God is generous and magnanimous, and find my God in the description of their Higher Power that the other person is describing to me? As a spiritual director, when people tell me about their relationships with God, they are personal and unique, and different from my own. But I recognise my God in who they are talking about. There is something intrinsically liberating about letting God be God in terms of how others understand Him. When I do not try to dictate how God is to another, it frees me to tell my story, and of my relationship with Him; it frees me to hear of how another relates to God. It is like when you meet someone, and realise that you have a mutual friend. When you start to share your own stories about your time and impressions of your friend, you recognise with joy that:

Yes, that is just like Him!

When I experience this in listening to another, it brings be out in goosebumps, and I know the reality of God. If I were intent on bringing the other round to my understanding, I am certain I would miss that.

The third step to my mind is a gateway to deeper freedom and relationship with God. It may be a process, but it starts with a decision, we make up our minds.

Exploring Personal Prayer Advent Course: Registration

I have now set up Registration for this online course. If you would like to register follow the link.

I will run the Exploring Personal Prayer Advent course live on Saturday evenings during advent, with a an Introductory talk on the Spiritual Exercises. The sessions will be as follows:

  • Sat 21 November: Presentation on The Spiritual Exercises
  • Sat 28 November: Lectio Divina
  • Sat 5 December: Imaginative Contemplation
  • Sat 12 December: Praying with Images
  • Sat 19 December: The Examen

I will use zoom for video conferencing. In terms of payment, I have set up a donations page if anyone wants to support me in this work, with some suggestions and an “other” option. Please don’t let it be prohibitive, it is the work that is important. Registration is so that I can prepare properly for those intending to be there. Below is an outline of the course with the dates:

I hope you will be able to join me.

Take care, God bless.

Margaret Mary