40 Day Journey’s End: Day 4

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

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

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

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

And Julian asks:

But what is that to me?

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

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

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

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

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

God is my lover.

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

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

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

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

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

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

beautiful beauty blur close up
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

The questions to ask ourselves regarding our work, and our relationships, to my mind are:

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

Am I loving well those I am in relationship with?

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

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

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

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

The Cloud of Unkowing

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

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

…He is true rest.

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

Be still and know…that I am God.

Psalm 46:10
sportive woman with bicycle resting on countryside road in sunlight
Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

St. Ignatius invites use to converse with God “as one friend speaks to another” and the conversation with God at this point in my prayer was intimate and loving.

I am your rest.

You are my rest.

I am the God that heals you.

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

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

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

You are precious to me, you are my treasure.

St. Augustine has said:

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

St. Augustine

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Looking the Gift Horse in the Mouth

I’ve been thinking a lot about my mum recently. Probably because the family have now got the house cleared, cleaned and ready to sell. My eldest came back from Scotland last weekend with some things for us from my mum’s house, including the piano, which has gone to my youngest. My mum will well pleased with that arrangement I imagine. My mind wanders to a story that she repeated many times to me in the last few years of her life. She struggled a lot with restless legs and it meant she often had poor sleep and spent the small hours “walking the floors” as she described it. She had a great devotion to the Sacred Heart – her name was Margaret Mary, like mine, so no surprises there I guess. She was constantly speaking to Him through the many pictures around the house, and one of her favourite prayers was, when driving into a car park:

Please Sacred Heart, find me a parking space.

Photo by MART PRODUCTION on Pexels.com

One always opened up immediately no matter how busy the car park was, I kid you not. It happened so consistently that other members of my family, who do not necessarily believe, use it when they cannot find a parking space! Sure, we can argue about coincidence and patience and whatever rational explanation you like, I’m just telling you what I’ve witnessed. Anyway, I digress – back to walking the floors. One night, after about a week of broken sleep, when she couldn’t stand it anymore, she turned to her picture of the Sacred Heart and challenged Him with words to the effect of:

Don’t tell me to offer it up and to think about everything you went through! You only suffered for a day, I’ve been going on like this for a week and I can’t stand it any more!

An honest prayer, even though I think she believed herself to be disrespectful. She had the sense of God laughing in response and the restlessness disappeared, allowing her to get a good night of sleep.

Within this context, I also found myself reaching this point of:

Enough already!

regarding my own health condition – myalgic encephalomyelitus (ME/CFS). I described before how I had accepted it as a gift, and an answer to my prayers arising from the desire to live more slowly: to realise that it is the cure for my workaholism, because I was not going to let that go on my own. It’s been nearly eighteen months since I got sick, and then failed to completely recover from it. My first experience of chronic fatigue lasted thirteen months and then I got well. Maybe subconsciously I was holding onto the belief that that would happen again, especially with all the ways I am being proactive and that my energy does improve when I look after myself. But that is unlikely to happen this time…it is for life, not just for Christmas, as they say. In football, it is the last ten minutes of the game, when you are so very tired because you have given it all you have, but you have to dig even deeper to keep it going to that final whistle…you don’t want to lose the match at this point! It is where I am on my journey with ME/CFS and with God. I’ve accepted this gift horse and I’m looking in its mouth and not liking what I see, maybe even struggling with it sometimes, and I know that those dark clouds of despairing or anxious fear are swirling around in the distance. It’s like the Battle of Hogwarts in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows where they createe a defence bubble around the school that keeps Voldermort’s army at bay, but it starts to dismantle as the dark forces continue to attack it. I’m in Hogwarts, protected, but watching that protection begin to disintegrate.

There is another image from my prayer that plays alongside this one though: I’m sitting in the deep calm of the storm, leaning against Jesus, as it all swirls around above us. Both of these images for me are spiritual consolation. It might seem strange to say that about the first image because I mentioned fear, but when we apply some useful discernment questions here it will show what I mean.

Where is it coming from?

Where is it leading to?

In the Hogwart’s image, even in the midst of a community taking a stand against evil and working together for the common good, I am relying on my own magic power to protect me from the forces of darkness which are driving me into spiritual desolation:

I call desolation…as darkness of soul, turmoil of spirit, inclination towards what is low and earthly, restlessness rising from many disturbances and temptations which lead to want of faith, want of hope, want of love. The soul is wholly slothful, tepid, sad and separated, as it were, from its Creator and Lord.

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

I may be in the quiet centre of the dome, but without God, with only our own power, the safety shield crumbles and the darkness comes flooding in and I am afraid and overwhelmed. In my imagination I oscillate between both images. In the storm image, I am leaning on Jesus and the quiet centre is more than quiet, it is serene and safe. It is spiritual consolation:

Winter storm over the Northeast (night time thermal image)
Winter storm over the Northeast (night time thermal image) by NASA Goddard Photo and Video is licensed under CC-BY 2.0

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 ones soul by filling it with peace and quiet in it creator and Lord.

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

For me, to flip between these two images is no accident. It is like being shown desolation and consolation side by side in similar, but different images. Ignatius says of being in desolation:

When one is in desolation, he should be mindful that God has left him to his natural powers to to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy in order to try him. He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it.

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

I do not believe that this desolation is where I am, although I can definitely feel the pull of it at times and I am guarding against it. The second image of the storm is explicitly inviting me to lean on Him, to discern the movements of spirits within me, to not try to rely all on my own strength or determination. And so I come back to the Principle and Foundation of the Exercises and the room of indifference:

Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honour to dishonour, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.

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

The essence of looking a gift horse in the mouth is to see its age. I guess the discouragement in doing so is in finding out that we have been given an old nag – a negative judgement of the gift. Where does it lead? Ingratitude. What if we were to accept the gift horse as a gift, regardless of what is in its mouth? I learned from the Spiritual Exercises that sorrow is a grace: uncomfortable for sure, but grace nevertheless. So, I’m looking at what spiritual desolation and spiritual consolation look like in this space and as I acknowledge my swirling emotions, I imagine myself in the quiet of the storm leaning against Jesus. I am not praying for healing from ME/CFS because I recognise it as the gift of healing of workaholism that I asked for so fervently and for so long, and believe me, that has not gone. Instead, I am praying for indifference in those “enough already” moments and serenity when I see those swirling dark clouds, knowing that He is here with me and I am leaning on Him.

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 6

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

Prayer material and guided prayer.

In [all] this delight I was filled full of everlasting surety, powerfully secured without any painful fear.This sensation was so welcome and so spiritual that I was wholly at peace, at ease and at rest, so that there was nothing upon Earth which could have afflicted me. This lasted only for a time, and then I was changed, and abandoned to myself, oppressed and weary of my life and ruing myself, so that I hardly had the patience to go on living…And then presently again God gave me comfort and rest for my soul…And then again I felt the pain, and then afterwards the delight and joy, now the one and now the other, again and again, I suppose about twenty times. and in the time of joy I could have said with St. Paul: Nothing shall separate me from the love of Christ; and in the pain I could have said with St. Peter: Lord, save me, I am perishing. And so we remain in this mixture all the days of our life; but [what breaks the impasse is that Christ] wants us to trust that He is constantly with us.

Reading: Romans 8:38-39

Psalm 31: 1a, 2

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 6. Guided prayer.

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

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

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

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 4

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

Prayer material and guided prayer.

In this little thing (like a hazelnut) I saw three properties. The first is that God made it, the second is that He loves it, and the third is that God preserves it. But what is that to me? It is that God is the Creator and the lover and the protector. For until I am substantially united to Him, I can never have love or rest or true happiness; until, that is, I am so attached to Him that there can be no created thing between my God and me. And who will do this deed? Truly, He Himself, by His mercy and His grace, for He has made me for this and has blessedly restored me….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; for they love and seek their rest in this thing (that is all the cosmos, seemingly as small as a hazelnut) which is so little and in which there is no rest, and do not know God who is almighty, all wise and all good, for He is true rest.

Reading: Matthew 6:33

Psalm 46: 9-10

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Day 4. Guided prayer.

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

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

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

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Lenten Book Group 2022

First Session today, 2nd March at 3.30 – 5.00pm GMT. It is still not too late to join!

I will be recording a Lectio Divina guided prayer for each day of the 40 Journey and posting it here in the morning.

The guided prayer will also be available as a podcast on Spotify, Google podcast and other platforms. The channel is called : Sunflower Seed Spirituality.

The Friends of Julian of Norwich invite you to spend time during Lent in the company of one of the greatest Christian mystics of all time: Julian of Norwich. We will be using the book “40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich” by Lisa Dahill and weekly meetings will be held on Zoom on Wednesdays during Lent from 3.30 – 5.00pm GMT, beginning on Ash Wednesday 2 March 2022. 

The author of the book, Lisa Dahill says: 

Your 40-Day journey gives you an opportunity to be mentored by a great spiritual writer.  The purpose of the journey, however, is not just to gain ‘head knowledge’ about Julian of Norwich.  Rather, it is to begin living what you learn, and to touch base with others once a week to share experiences and insights. – 

If you have been following my blogs for a while you will be aware that I made this journey myself over the period of a year and I have begun to share my experiences of my journey in subsequent posts. Earlier this year I joined the Trustees of the Friends of Julian of Norwich and I am excited about this being the book they had chosen for their lent book group this year. I will be leading the Zoom sessions on Wednesdays during Lent.

From the time of my own journey you will see that the book presents material for daily prayer: a section from Revelations of Divine Love, an extract from scripture and a psalm fragment. There are also points for reflection, questions to ponder and suggested prayers. The idea in the book group is to spend some time each day with the material and to join with others who are making a similar pilgrimage in the zoom meetings on Wednesdays. In these meetings there will be reflections on the week just journeyed, faith sharing in small groups and prayers, in order that we sustain each other for the week to come. 

Julian of Norwich cell.

Lent is a time when the Church encourages us to focus more on prayer and the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich offers an opportunity, structure and support for us to do just that. If you are interested in deepening your relationship with God this Lent by making this journey, you can find more information or book here. 

40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich: Lenten Book Group 2022

So here is a series of events I am involved in with the Friends of Julian of Norwich:

The Friends of Julian of Norwich invite you to spend time during Lent in the company of one of the greatest Christian mystics of all time: Julian of Norwich. We will be using the book “40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich” by Lisa Dahill and weekly meetings will be held on Zoom on Wednesdays during Lent from 3.30 – 5.00pm GMT, beginning on Ash Wednesday 2 March 2022. 

The author of the book, Lisa Dahill says: 

Your 40-Day journey gives you an opportunity to be mentored by a great spiritual writer.  The purpose of the journey, however, is not just to gain ‘head knowledge’ about Julian of Norwich.  Rather, it is to begin living what you learn, and to touch base with others once a week to share experiences and insights. – 

If you have been following my blogs for a while you will be aware that I made this journey myself over the period of a year and I have begun to share my experiences of my journey in subsequent posts. Earlier this year I joined the Trustees of the Friends of Julian of Norwich and I am excited about this being the book they had chosen for their lent book group this year. I will be leading the Zoom sessions on Wednesdays during Lent.

From the time of my own journey you will see that the book presents material for daily prayer: a section from Revelations of Divine Love, an extract from scripture and a psalm fragment. There are also points for reflection, questions to ponder and suggested prayers. The idea in the book group is to spend some time each day with the material and to join with others who are making a similar pilgrimage in the zoom meetings on Wednesdays. In these meetings there will be reflections on the week just journeyed, faith sharing in small groups and prayers, in order that we sustain each other for the week to come. 

Julian of Norwich cell.

Lent is a time when the Church encourages us to focus more on prayer and the 40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich offers an opportunity, structure and support for us to do just that. If you are interested in deepening your relationship with God this Lent by making this journey, you can find more information or book here. 

Walking with Angels

blond woman with long hair sitting on city bus and posing as angel

I’ve been thinking a lot about angels in the last few months, ever since I prayed with “Pray as You go” on the feast of the Archangels. on September 29. I’ve been pondering angels ever since, and every time they are mentioned my ears have pricked up.

My understanding is that angels are messengers of God and since I am of the opinion that regular people can and do convey messages from and of God, it equates that people might be regarded as angels in a sense, when they are fuflifilling such a purpose. In fact, I say it out loud to people, and I am not half joking. I might say:

You are an angel disguised as a student/daughter/friend/colleague.

Try it some time – it really brings a smile to their face to hear it.

Where am I coming from with this?

Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.

Hebrews 13:2

The Book of Tobit, of which I am so fond, has it as a fundamental premise. How would it have been if Tobias had been obnoxious to the stranger he hired to guide him (the Archangel Raphael)? It seems to me to be a good rule of thumb.

When my youngest was little, perhaps around the age of nine, she was having a tough time at school with some bullying. I’d given her a notebook to use as a journal so that she could vent and get it out of her head. Things tend to spin around in there. She encouraged me to read part of it once when I was helping her to tidy up her room. She had written:

I think my mum is an angel, a real, live, actual angel.

It brought me out in goosebumps and still moves me today when I think about it.

blond woman with long hair sitting on city bus and posing as angel
Photo by Anastasiia Shevchenko on Pexels.com

In The Spiritual Exercises, the first exercise of the first week is a contemplation of the angels. A long time ago, when I first became aware that I wanted the do The Spiritual Exercises, I started with this first exercise of the first week. In my defence, I fully admit that I did not know what I was doing. It was really scary. In this exercise we imagine the angels reflecting God’s glory, and how some of them decide to refuse to and they began to turn dark. I’m describing it as I remember it. When I spoke to my gentle and wise spiritual director about it, he advised me to put the book away, that it was a handbook for spiritual directors, and the Exercises were to be done with a spiritual director. How wise he was, I know that now. I regard my director as one of the angels in my life.

It has been a tough year and a bit for me with a lot of upheaval and some dramatic and permanent changes in my life. I resigned from my job as a science teacher – I posted about the day I made that decision, not explicitly, but not subtly either. I started my own business as an Online Chemistry tutor, hoping that it would give me the time and flexibility to do more spirituality work – and it has. After an infection last December, which the ME/CFS specialist believes to be COVID, in spite of the negative test, I am left with this long term, permanent health condition. My mum died at Christmas and honestly, it is the strangest thing in the world not to be calling her today. The thought of calling her has been in my head all day and I’m having to remind myself that she is not there anymore.

The last big period of upheaval in my life was when I was training to be a Spiritual director and when I did the Spiritual Exercises in 2016 and this lastest series of earthquakes seems to be to be a part of the same conversation with God. Is is almost as if we had to allow the dust to settle from the first series of events before we could move on with the next part. As I look back over the last year and a bit, I can see the angels that have helped me on my journey, in practical ways in making my work transition, in drawing me into spiritual work in ways I could never have predicted, and also in the liminal space.

I am thinking of my friend Bill Stebbe who I visited when he was dying. I read the Book of Tobit to him – he had never read it. I have a friend who worked in care homes and has been at the bedside of several people as they died. She talks about the presence she senses as death approaches, even talks to. It makes my hair stand on end and I have asked her to change the subject more that once, lest I start to cry. Yet, when I was reading the Book of Tobit to Bill, I had a sense of Raphael being there, smiling, as he listened to the story of his journey with Tobias. I have it in my head that the little dog in he story is God. I might have picked that up at a lecture I went to a long time ago, but I’m not sure.

In the liminal space, I’m also thinking of my mum. If you can describe a funeral as lovely, it was. I planned it with her a few years ago. She might even have called me an angel when we were finished. We sat down together, chose the hymns she wanted. I had to cut the list down though – she really had too many favourite hymns! But we used some of the ones we cut to inspire the readings for the mass. Three of the grandaughters sang them like angels. She would have loved it – it was everything she wanted and more.

“Being with the angels” is a euphanism we use to say someone has died. Does it make it more gentle? more easy to accept? Is it a comfort? I ask these question genuinely, because I do not know the answers to them. Both the directness of my culture and my scientific background lead me to be matter of fact and use accurate, rather than colloquial language, with no intention to deny, belittle or avoid uncomfortable emotions. People do not know what to say to someone who is grieving and we have developed some appropriate expressions to awkwardly express our sympathy. Sorrow is a grace. We ask for it in the first and third week of the Spiritual Exercises.

Constantine and the Angel Gabriel

I realise that this is a meandering post. I am contemplating the angels and they are a mystery to me. I have no tight ideas. I know I do not like stories that depict them as bad. For example, the film Constantine portrayed Gabriel as twisted; and some of the fantasy books I have read portray them as being just like people but with wings and supernatural powers. Others portray them as servants, maybe even slaves, with no perks, who are envious of humans. And in some of these stories, they seem to be punished severely by being banished from God for what appears to be even a minor expression of desire that is other than what they are perceived to be supposed to be doing. One exception perhaps is Angel-A.

Have we made angels in our own image in the same way we can try to make God in our image? Are we confused because sometimes it is other people who are our messengers from God – nothing apparantly supernatural there? I have no answers here. The only thing that makes any sense is what I experienced in the first Exercise of the first week of the Spiritual Exercises:

…recalling that they were created in the state of grace…

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

In my imagination, the ones who did not fall, chose to reflect the light and the glory of God. Maybe there is no more to know than that.

40 Day Journey’s End: Day 3

The phrase that first caught my attention when I was praying with Day 3 of the journey was:

…it is everything that is made…lying in the palm of my hand.

I pictured the photo I had taken of a ceramic hand candle holder I have, with a hazelnut in it. I took this picture for a previous post, after the retreat day I did last year at the Julian centre.

Currently, I have a small stone with the word “serenity” written on it sitting in the palm of this hand. It reminded me of my own definition of serenity, of being conscious and aware of God’s presence no matter what I am doing. The phrase also brought to mind the image of myself, as my inner child Sunflower, while planting in the garden with God, holding the sunflower seeds and contemplating them in awe as it dawned on me that God made me. This memory is from an Imaginative contemplation I made during The Spiritual Exercises when I was praying with Psalm 139, and is a powerful consolation I have stored up, as Ignatius suggests.

When one enjoys consolation, let him consider how he will conduct himself during the time of ensuing desolation, and store up a supply of strength as defence against that day.

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

The sunflower seeds of course, also remind me of Meister Ekhart who I quote at the top of my blog and the sunflower, of me myself, growing into God. While these thoughts were going round in my head during this prayer, I imagined myself as being curled up in the foetal position and being buried underground, being in a sort of hibernation state, a waiting phase. While contemplating my own creation, because it is what I was contemplating, the meaning behind the images I was dwelling on, I noticed my feelings. I felt so tired and weary, demotivated and lethargic. Quite the opposite of what we envisage by a process of creation. I just wanted to rest and to take refuge in Him. There was definitely turmoil of spirits going on in this prayer:

Then it is characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles backed by fallacious reasonings that disturb the soul. Thus he seeks to prevent the soul from advancing.

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

Even as my desire was simply to fall into God and remain there, my head was busy berating me for my laziness. I was making lists of everything I had to do and trying to give myself a kick up the backside to just get on with it and at the same time, I was being drawn into self pity because I lacked the energy and the desire to just get on with it. Self pity is something I cannot bear: I do not tolerate it in myself for very long. I knew that prayer was the only time I felt serene and yet I experienced resistance to pray – go figure. It is an ongoing wrestling match within me, by no means something I experienced in the past, it still happens! Nevertheless, I had the sense on Day 3 of my journey that God was not too fussed about me getting on with it, that He was fine with me taking time to rest in Him, and to sleep if I needed to. I settled into the prayer and into serenity.

…everything has been through the love of God…through the love of God…

This phrase struck me in two ways. The first way – which may be how Julian meant it? – was that it was because of the love of God that everything came about. The second meaning was what I understood by it immediately, and it was what I spent the rest of my prayer contemplating. It was “to go through the love of God” in the way that we say we have been through something, usually something traumatic, that has caused a change in us. This was my understanding of the phrase and it led me to ask:

What does it mean to go through the love of God?

It may involve suffering – the cost of discipleship, a well worn phrase. As such, we might expect it to be painful to go through the love of God. When I pin point the places where I have changed as a result of my interactions with God it certainly felt that the painfulness of it was a necessary part of the process. It took me back to various times when I had prayed imaginatively with the Good Samaritan parable. Needless to say, I have always been the poor beaten up soul at the side of the road and He has always been the one to come and rescue me and to take me to a safe, comfortable place. In retrospect, even though I was unaware of it at the time, these points were threshhold moments in my life and things changed irresversibly from these moments on.

At the end of this first prayer with Day 3 of the Journey, I found myself resting in God, in spite of the difficulties and pressures of my life or maybe because of them. It was the best place to be and I was serene.

On the second day of prayer with Day 3 I was drawn by the psalm fragment and what caught my attention was the phrase:

…you are mindful…

Psalm 8:4

and the critical voice in my head said:

..and I am not!…

I was very distracted again at the beginning of this prayer, there was a lot of noise in my head. However, when I became aware of the distractions and my thoughts wandering, I brought my attention back to the phrase that had caught me and I was able to let go of the other voices and thoughts and to not hold onto them. I may have fallen asleep during this prayer – although I do not think that I did. I may have been so still that I lost all track of time. I love it when prayer is like that, the eternal moment. I remember feeling amazed, awed. And I asked Him:

Who am I that you are mindful of me?

I felt myself being pulled more deeply into Him, and His response was personal and intimate. St Augustine says:

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

St. Augustine.

He made me feel like I was the only person in the world. In Revelations of Divine Love, Julian says:

This human example was so powerfully shown, that a man’s heart could be ravished and he could be beside himself with joy at this great friendliness.

Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love

Julian also says:

Our Lord God also showed that it gives Him great pleasure when a simple soul comes to Him in a bare, plain and familiar way.

Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love

Imagine, a God who loves me like I am the only person in the world, and who takes pleasure in loving me.

And this is what Our Lord wants us to long for and to believe, to rejoice and take pleasure in, to receive comfort and support from…

Julian of Norwich: Revelations of Divine Love

I for one, marvel at it. I do not doubt it from my experience of prayer. Still, I marvel at it.

Humbly asked Him…Step 7 and The Spiritual Exercises.

Humbly asked Him 1: reading of this post

Humbly asked Him to remove our shortcomings.

Step 7: Alcoholics Anonymous

Well, it has been a while since my last reflection, when I was writing about the need to reform my manner of living to take in the new state of being I find myself in. I have been on a discernment journey in this time. I continued working too hard for a while; I completed an activity journal for a week for the ME/CFS service and I went on retreat. I arrived at St. Beunos completely exhausted and it took about three days for my energy to even begin to pick up on the retreat so that I could walk up to the labyrinth there. I wrestled with myself on that retreat. The director suggested prayer with the passage where Jacob wrestles with the angel, since she thought I might be wrestling with God, but I knew it was myself I was fighting, not God.

The Labyrinth at St. Beunos
Humbly asked Him 2: reading of this post

The movement to accept my new limitations with this health condition had centred around the Principle and Foundation of The Exercises, as I described previously, around the grace of indifference.

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things…we should not prefer health to sickness…our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created.

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

And I oscillated about this point of indifference for a while. During my retreat however, something else began to happen, a different movement. I came out of my retreat perceiving that this long term health condition as a gift. Let me explain – because I am not being all idealistic and mushy here, and to see it as such is difficult and challenging. Nevertheless, it connects with Step 7, and humbly asking God to remove our shortcomings.

I have said before that I can be a bit work obsessed, and I have used the term “workaholic” frequently to describe myself. The teaching profession as it is today in the UK is conducive to bringing out the worst of the workaholic in anyone. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could survive teaching without being like that. I have seen too many good teachers buckle under the unreasonable demands, and perhaps I include myself in this group too.

I associated the River Meditation that I did during The Exercises and I used in my Positive Penance Retreat days with a conversation with God where it was understood we were talking about work. I was standing in the river in front of an outflow pipe and a black sludge, like crude oil – toxic and carcinogenic – was coming out of it. There were students I teach behind me, and I was tryng to block the black slime from getting to them. It was making me sick. And I could not stop it all, because some of it still flowed around my body and reached them. I could not protect them from the poison. At the time, my sense of it from God was:

We need to have a conversation about work sometime, but not yet. We have other things to deal with first.

Five months later, I got glandular fever and my first experience of chronic fatigue syndrome. One day, driving home from school and struggling, there was a moment when it occurred to me, and I said it out loud to Him:

One day I will look back and recognise that this is the moment I decided to leave teaching.

It is as St. Ignatius describes a First time choice:

When God our Lord so moves and attracts the will that a devout soul without hesitation, or the possibility of hesitation, follows what has been manifested to it…

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

From there, my desire to leave the teaching profession increased. I prayed for a slower pace, to have time to breathe and to pray, to be still and not so over worked. My sense on retreat was that this prayer was being answered here and now, at this point in my life. It is one of those be careful what you wish for moments, or as I read once:

It is laudable to ask God for what we desire, and dangerous.

Sculpture in the Main House at St. Beunos
Humbly asked Him 3: reading of this post

In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius talks about Exterior and Interior Penance: we can act from the interior movement within us or our actions can effect the change within us. Either way, the practice of penance is a serious expression of our desire for freedom from our inordinate desires that lead us away from God into spiritual desolation. People laugh when I say that I have to actively rest several times a day and that it is a real penance, but it is. I have been overworking for too many years and wearing my workaholism like a badge, a joke – something that is not to be taken too seriously. My soul has also been praying from release from this compulsion since that day in the car, perhaps even longer than that. I have been working Step 7 in this context for a while now, humbly asking Him to remove this shortcoming. In the few months I have already been self employed, it has become clear that I am not able to free myself from it and that here is some Divine Intervention: ME/CFS is a gift in the sense that it is freeing me from my workaholism compulsion and it is an answer to my prayers. It is not a piece of cake, it is penance – there is a part of me wrestling with sitting and resting several times a day, that is impatient to be cycling or walking around, even doing housework! There is also relief and gratitude too, I do not have to push so hard any more, I can let it go. This week, as I recorded my guided prayers for Radio Maria, I felt it acutely.

…the Lord hears, and rescues them

Psalm 37:17

This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?

John 6:60

In Pray as you go this morning they used the Gospel passage, and asked if there are things you have heard Jesus say, perhaps this week, that you have found hard to accept and they asked how you have dealt with that.

AMDG In the centre of the Labyrinth at St Beunos
Humbly asked Him 4: reading of this post

Step 7 seems deceptively simple on the face of it, we humbly ask Him to remove our shortcomings like it is all we have to do and then to wait to be released from them. When He answers our prayer and it may not be the light and fluffy answer we envisaged when we asked. It may be difficult and painful and we have to work through it with the support of others. It is a gift nevertheless.

God’s Desire, My Desire.

God’s desire my desire 1 : Reading of this post

My dear old mum is ninety and recently fell over and broke her hip – a common injury in people of her age. I visited her a few weeks ago, once the lock down restrictions on travel were lifted and stayed for a week. Suffice to say, she is struggling a bit and has suffered loneliness during the long months of lock down. It was nice to be there with her, even if the conversations circled round every ten or twenty minutes and the ever constant television was awful. We talked about our faith naturally enough. One of our conversations was around why God lets or makes things happen. She is a very traditional Catholic of her generation and not given to questioning perceptions and images of God handed down in the popular culture. I am not going to change that. With a certain lightness of tone, I told her that I thought it was quite simple. If we want what God wants for us then God will always give us what we want. I am aware that it sounds flippant. I centred it around the the structure of the Ignatian prayer period I use in the guided prayers. It goes like this: I ask that all my intentions and actions be directed purely to His service and praise as preparation: I place myself in His gaze and become aware of myself there to get a sense of how He is looking at me; I then contemplate His desire for me, before I ask for my desire. This order is deliberate. I ask for grace in response to His desire for me. If He is asking me to have that difficult conversation with the friend or sister who has offended me, I might ask for the grace of courage or compassion to enable me to open the conversation to make it right, and to forgive the harm that was caused.

God’s desire my desire 2 : Reading of this post

Here I am now, a few weeks on, being challenged with this very idea. I have been feeling quite tired for a while now – since before Christmas in fact, and in a conversation with someone recently it dawned on me that it was since the last time I was ill, at the beginning of December. You may have noticed the frequency of my reflections and other posts has declined in this time. It is not all about the fact that I am setting up as a self employed online Chemistry tutor, alongside my spiritual direction work. After some normal blood test results I was finally diagnosed with ME/CFS last week. The doctor is certain that the illness I had in December was in fact COVID, even though my own test was negative, since some of my close colleagues had it, and it is this that has triggered the ME/CFS. I would not be honest if I denied that I was a bit gutted about that. I experienced it before, five years ago after glandular fever. It brings into play a conversation with God during the Spiritual Exercises during the River meditation I used in the Positive Penance Retreat Day. It raises that age old question about God allowing disease, and it would be easy to be filled with self pity. Is this really what God desires? And therefore, is this what I desire?

God’s desire my desire 3 : Reading of this post

I am reminded of the Principe and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises:

…we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things…we should not prefer health to sickness…our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we were created.

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

When I put myself here, back into the Room of Indifference I found during my experience of the Spiritual Exercises, my inner dynamic changes. As a human being, I am limited and I feel pain, tiredness and I get sick. Here, I am still limited, it is just that those limitations have changed. Ignatius talks about different ways we can make a choice in our lives, and he also talks about how to live well within our situation when our freedom to choose is limited. He says:

It will be very profitable for such persons…in place of a choice, to propose a way for each to reform his manner of living in his state by setting before him the purpose of his creation and of his life and position, namely the glory and praise of God our Lord…

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

It raises, not the paralysing question of why does God let these things happen, but the more pertinent question of how do I reform my manner of living within my new limitations so that it praises, reverences and serves God? From shifting my focus from wanting to be well and healthy to what is God’s desire for me in this – in this moment, in this day and at this point in my life – as I say in my guided prayers, my attitude changes. I let go of self pity and my trust in Him deepens. I make it sound easy: I know that it is not. I experience fear and uncertainty just as everyone else does, and I yearn for that carefree exertion and freedom of cycling out for the day to visit a church and pray with the Pray As You Go app as I have done in the past with my Holy Trinity Cycling Tours. But the movement within me is real. What is God’s desire for me now, in this moment, in this prayer, in this day and at this point in my life? That is what I desire. It is as it was before ME/CFS, and it is as it is now with ME/CFS. The specifics might be different, but the Principle and Foundation remains.

God’s desire my desire 4 : Reading of this post

Going forward, my posts may be shorter or less frequent, or both. They might even be less tidy and contain more mistakes – sorry, brain fog is an ME/CFS thing. I am no longer living as if I will get better tomorrow but I am looking at a way to reform my manner of living in this state, as if this is my state in life. I will still be writing and probably more frequently than I have been, because now I know I can manage my energy better. He would still have me tell my story and share my journey. Thank you for following me this far.