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.

Were entirely ready…Step 6 and The Spiritual Exercises

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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.

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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
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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.

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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