And with the beholding of [Jesus’ passion]…I did not see sin, for I believe that it has no kind of substance, no share in being, nor can it be recognised except by the pain caused by it. And it seems to me that this pain is something for a time, for it purges and makes us know ourselves and ask for mercy; for the Passion of our Lord is comfort to us against all this…And because of the tender love which our good Lord has for all who will be saved, He comforts readily and sweetly, meaning this: It is true that sin is the cause of all this pain, but all will be well, and all will be well, and all manner of thing will be well. These words were revealed most tenderly. showing no kind of blame to me, or to anyone who will be saved. So I saw how Christ has compassion on us because of sin.
Then our good Lord put a question to me: Are you well satisfied that I suffered for you? I said: Yes, good Lord, all my thanks to you…Then Jesus our good Lord said: If you are satisfied, I am satisfied. It is a joy, a bliss, an endless delight to my that ever I suffered my Passion for you; and if I could suffer more, I would suffer more…For although the sweet humanity of Christ could suffer only once, His goodness can never cease offering it…The love which made Him suffer it surpasses all his sufferings, as much as heaven is above earth.
Reading: John 13:1b
Psalm 103:1a, 4-5
“With this the fiend is overcome.” Our Lord said this to me with reference to His blessed passion, as He had shown it before. In this He showed a part of the fiend’s malice, and all of his impotence, because He showed that His Passion is the overcoming of the fiend…Also I saw our Lord scorn [the devil’s] malice and despise him as nothing, and he wants us to do so. Because of this sight I laughed greatly, and that made those around me laugh as well; and their laughter was pleasing to me…for I understood that we may laugh, to comfort ourselves and rejoice in God, because the devil is overcome.
Reading: Hebrews 2:14-15
At the time I wanted to look away from the cross, but I did not dare, for I knew well that whilst I contemplated the cross I was secure and safe…Then there came a suggestion, seemingly said in a friendly manner, to my reason: Look up to heaven to His Father…I answered inwardly with all the power of my soul, and said: No, I cannot, for You are my heaven. I said this because I did not want to look up, for I would rather have remained in that pain until Judgement Day than have come to heaven any other way than by Him…So I was taught to choose Jesus for my heaven, whom I saw only in pain at that time. No other heaven was pleasing to me than Jesus, who will be my bliss when I am there.
Reading: 1 Corinthians 2:1-2
Psalm 90: 1, 2c
[In her vision of Jesus’ passion Julian writes:] “I saw in Christ a double thirst, one physical and the other spiritual. For insofar as Christ is our head, He is glorious and impassible; but with respect to His body to which all His members are joined, He is not fully glorified or wholly impassible. For He still has the same thirst and longing which He had upon the Cross, which desire, longing and thirst, which as I see it, were in Him from without beginning; and He will have until the time that the last soul which will be saved has come up into His bliss. God’s thirst is to have [us], generally drawn into Him, and in that thirst He has drawn His holy souls who are now in bliss. And so, gathering His living members, always He draws and drinks, and still He thirsts and He longs.
Reading: John 4:14
…but what breaks the impasse is that Christ wants us to trust that He is constantly with us.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill
and on day 7 of the journey she writes:
Our Lord wants to have the soul truly converted to contemplation of Him and all of his works on general.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill
And it brought to mind the question, the title of this post, that was asked at the beginning of a lecture I attended for the Ignatian Spirituality Course a few years ago. My immediate response to the question was an unequivocal :
Yes, of course He does.
But imagine my surprise when my friend next to me responded with an equally unequivocal:
No, He doesn’t.
So, all is not necessarily as straightforward as it immediately seemed to me. The lecture was about discernment and moved to talk about group discernment in the church. It is not this lecture that I particularly want to discuss here, but the question posed at the beginning of it:
Does God get what God wants?
In the reading for day 6 of the journey, Julian describes an oscillation between spiritual consolation and spiritual desolation, where in one moment she was filled with joy and the sense that nothing could ever separate her from God, and then in the next she was:
…abandoned to myself, oppressed and weary of my life and ruing myself, so that I hardly had the patience to go on living…40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill
If we look at the state of the world today – we only have to watch the news – and if we were to take at face value the fact that we experience spiritual desolation: separation or movement away from God, that we are sinners, that we do not always trust that He is constantly with us in every moment of our lives, and that we are not always truly converted to contemplation of Him and all of His works in general, then I can see why my friend expressed the opinion she held.
Ignatius says of the reasons for spiritual desolation:
The principal reasons why we suffer from desolation are three:
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.
In Julian’s description of her oscillation between spiritual consolation and desolation, we might see the third reason at work. Ignatius is clear that while God does not cause spiritual desolation, He does allow it. We also see it in the book of Job:
He allows the enemy to walk among us, making his whispering, trying to draw us away from God, to profane Him. And, like Job, we have a choice, we have free will. The catechism of the Catholic Church says of freedom:
As long as freedom has not bound itself definitively to its ultimate good which is God, there is the possibility of choosing between good and evil, and thus of growing in perfection or of failing and sinning.Catechism of the Catholic Church, 1732
We might consider that making the Suscipe Prayer, or our own version of it, is binding our freedom definitively to God.
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess.
Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it.
All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will.
Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.The Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
It is choosing to surrender ourselves completely to Him: it is a once and for all choice and an everyday choice. It is as Julian describes, complete trust and contemplation of Him.
I have described my rudimentary understanding of God being outside of time and space before, in a visual analogy. I have another: imagine time lapse photography of a seed being planted in a flower bed and its growth is filmed. Lets keep to the theme and make it a sunflower seed, like my inner child was planting in the garden with Him. In normal time lapse photography, we would see the sunflower grow quickly, and everything else in the flowerbed too. In my imagination of God’s eye view, it is only the sunflower, the one He is focusing on, that is changing in this film. What is my point? If He is looking at me, in the intimacy of my relationship with Him, He sees all of me, throughout eternity, all at once in this one eternal moment. If this Sunflower seed is growing towards Him, if this surrender to Him and contemplation of Him occurs at any point in eternity, then He is there now, experiencing that, and He has what He wants. It is me, who is limited in this present struggle with my own resistance and failings, that may not currently believe that He gets what He wants, because from my frame of reference in the here and now, He is not getting what He wants. But every temptation is an opportunity to choose Him, and every time I choose Him, I am moving towards Him, and giving Him what He desires when He invites me to be with Him. In the whole, big eternal picture, is it not what He desires? for us to use our gift of free will to choose Him? to bind our freedom definitively to Him? As this is true for me, is it not also true for every other soul He gazes upon?
I guess that, in spite of the turmoil, war and the pain; the sinfulness, violence and brutality of humanity; everything that nailed Him to that cross, when I look at Him in prayer, and when I am still and allow Him to look at me, I hold on to the hope, courage and faith to say that yes, I do believe that ultimately, God does get what He wants. He told Julian after all that:
It was necessary that there should be sin; but all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.https://christianhistoryinstitute.org/incontext/article/julian
Our Lord wants to have the soul truly converted to contemplation of Him and all of his works on general. For they are most good, and all His judgements are easy and sweet, bringing to great rest the soul which is converted from contemplating blind [human] judgements to the judgements, lovely and sweet, of our Lord God…so long as we are in this life, whenever we in our folly revert to the contemplations of [others’ misdeeds], our Lord tenderly teaches us and blessedly calls us, saying in our souls:…My beloved child, attend to me. I am enough for you, and rejoice in your saviour and in your salvation. And I am sure that this is our Lord working in us. For the contemplation of other [people’s] sins makes as it were a thick mist before the soul’s eye, and during that time we cannot see the beauty of God, unless we can contemplate [these sins] with contrition with [the sinner], with compassion on [him or her], and with holy desires to God for [him or her].
Reading: Matthew 7:1
Psalm 123: 1-2
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
I am kidding. I am a feminist, and I make no apologies for it. It seems to be a contentious statement though, hence people always start the sentence with a denial, and I am wondering how you are feeling right now as you are reading this post? The first time I encountered formal feminism was when I was sixteen at an Open Day for Glasgow University (I think it was Glasgow) when I visited the table run by the FemSoc, the Feminist Society. I think that is what they were called at that time. I picked up a badge which said:
Women who want to be equal to men lack ambition.
It made me laugh, and I picked up a card which read:
Standing up and fighting like a man is easier than sitting down and writing like a woman.
I did not understand that statement then, and even though I pinned this card on my notice board for years, I am still not sure I understand it. I am sitting here writing now, and I would much rather be doing this activity than fighting! Maybe, it is that I just do not agree with it.
In my 40 Day Journey this week, Julian has been considering Mary, Jesus’ mother, and how she was:
… marvelling with great reverence that He was willing to be born of her who was a simple creature created by Him.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich; edited Lisa E. Dahill
This prayer was very fruitful for me. I have always found the familiar images of Mary problematic – she has not exactly been presented as a feminist icon, but I will pick up that story another day perhaps. For the moment, I simply want to acknowledge there is an area to talk about here. I also noticed, when I did the imaginative contemplation on the Annunciation during the Spiritual Exercises, that when she agreed to walk this particular path with God, even though she was betrothed to Joseph, at no point did she say to Gabriel:
Well, I really would like to, but I need to check it out with Joe first, just to make sure that he is okay with it.
In other words, she submitted herself to God’s authority without stopping to consider any social conventions of her being subject to a man’s authority, or even his feelings; and she had no doubts that she had a right to do so. To my mind, it makes her a feminist.
I have been very much influenced in my understanding of scripture by reading that I did when I was studying for the Catholic Certificate of Religious Education (CRE) when I first became a teacher. I studied four modules on scripture, two on the Old Testament and two on the New Testament and read further than directed because I was so thirsty to learn more. Three books that changed my perspective and how I interact with scripture were: “What’s right with Feminism?” by Elaine Storkey – I said earlier that I had attended a talk given by her; “Wives, Harlots and Concubines, The Old Testament in Feminist Perspective” by Alice L. Laffey; and “In a Different Voice” by Carol Gilligan. The latter book I had read as part of my teacher training, rather than the CRE correspondance course I did in conjunction with Strawberry Hill College, as it was then.
There is a classic hypothetical scenario, The Heinz Dilemma, designed by Lawrence Kohlberg, presented to people in psychological studies and their answers are analysed, not necessarily for their solution, but for the reasoning behind their solution. There is a video resource that I have used in science lessons that presents the scenario to prepubescent children and then follows them through puberty and presents it again three years later to demonstrate how the brain changes during puberty and we become capable of more complex reasoning and able to cope more with grey areas. The scenario goes along these lines:
A man has a wife who is very ill and is dying from her illness. The pharmacist down the street has a medicine that can cure her, but it is expensive. The man is poor and cannot afford to buy the medicine. Should he steal it? Discuss.
Traditional psychologists used answers and reasoning given to this scenario by boys and girls to surmise that men were rational and logical and that women were emotional, with the underlying assumption that rational was superior. Gilligan offers a different interpretation of the results than traditional male psychologists. She argues that men and women reason differently and that their reasoning was based in part on how they were defined by society and how they defined themselves. Men, she points out, were more likely to define themselves in terms of position and status, whereas women were more likely to define themselves in terms of their relationships. I spent a short period noticing it whenever people introduced themselves to me at the time, or when they introduced themselves on quiz shows on the television. Men might say:
I’m James, and I’m an engineer from London.
and women might say:
I’m Mary, wife of David and mother of two fantastic teenage boys.
I notice it less so these days, nearly thirty years later, but then again, I am not looking out for it so much and I got rid of my television. We can see this bias in scripture too: many women are unnamed and are identified in terms of their husbands or sons, for example Bathsheba is simply referred to as the wife of Uriah in Matthew’s genealogy, the woman with the haemorrhage is unnamed. On the other hand, men are named, and defined in terms of their position in society: Luke defines Zaccheus as the chief tax collector. Men are rarely defined in terms of their relationships, without any reference to their position or status, the Roman centurion whose servant was ill, for example. Of course, there may be many contradictory examples on both points,and there are also the gender roles of the time to take into context too. I am not offering it here as a hard and fast rule.
The point Gilligan makes regarding the moral dilemma is that men argued from a position based on status and position, and sought a solution to the problem from a legalistic perspective, whether the man should or should not steal the medicine. Women generally refused to accept that premise, and sought a solution around building a relationship with the pharmacist in order to find an arrangement to obtain the medicine.
In my engagement with scripture, subsequent to my reading, I started to notice that there were women, like Mary, who accepted God’s authority, without making any reference to male authority figures – Samson’s mother for example. When her husband does get involved and makes a fuss around all sorts of protocols regarding burnt offerings, and asking questions regarding what had already been discussed with the woman, I imagine the angel looking at her and rolling his eyes as he says to him:
Let the woman give heed to all that I said to her.Judges 13:13
I also notice that when Jesus interacts with people, it is always from the perspective or relationship. I mentioned the woman with the haemorrhage before. From a legalistic perspective, this woman could have been stoned for defiling a religious leader, but He draws her into relationship and claims her as kin. The Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 – from a legalistic perspective, this conversation should not have taken place: she is a woman not of his kin, he is a man; she is of a different social group where there are tensions with Jesus’ people; but again, He draws her into conversation and relationship. And we are familiar with Jesus being critical of the legalism of the scribes and the pharisees. It seems to me that from the psychological perspective, Jesus reasons like women do with emphasis on loving and cooperative relationship. It is not surprising, given the idea of the Holy Trinity: relationship is where it is at.
The most striking affirmation that Jesus gives to my mind is in the story of Martha and Mary. Mary takes on what might be considered as the man’s role, sitting and talking with Jesus, while her sister, Martha, runs around, doing all the women’s business by making sure the practicalities and hospitality are sorted out. How often do we see this pattern today? For me, the most fantastic and liberating thing happens when Jesus says:
It is Mary who has chosen the better part, and it is not to be taken from her.Luke 10:42
He makes it clear, that a woman does have a choice in her own life and that others have an obligation to accept those choices and to not try to exercise control over those decisions. I am a feminist because He affirms my belief that I have autonomy in my soul and free will: I have a right to choose to surrender myself to His authority once and for all and every day and it is for me to discern my choices through prayer and my relationships with others and the church. And if it brings me into conflict with any man who is insisting I accept his authority first, what then? Should I obey a man and disobey God? I am a feminist, because my answer to that question is no, and I believe that I have every right to give that answer. It is my right to make Ignatius’ suscipe prayer my own:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and my entire will, all that I have and possess. Thou hast given all to me. To Thee, O Lord, I return it. All is Thine, dispose of it wholly according to Thy will. Give me Thy love and Thy grace, for this is sufficient for me.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl
I make no apologies for it.
I have linked to this film clip before, but since it is entirely relevant here, I will link to it again.
Previously I wrote about The Two Standards Meditation from the Spiritual Exercises and illustrated something of the modus operandi of Jesus and of the enemy. In this key mediation Ignatius makes the first point:
Consider Christ our Lord, standing in a lowly place in a great plain about the region of Jerusalem, His appearance beautiful and attractive.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
…for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
There is a convergence in these two points in a question asked by Gerard W. Hughes in God In All Things, which I have paraphrased in the title because it is how the question has ingrained itself into my heart. He asks:
What do you find attractive in the teachings of Jesus?God In All Things ,Gerard W. Hughes
And he goes on to say:
Focus your heart on these things. An attraction is a sign that you are being called to live out those qualities in your own way, in your own circumstances.God In All Things ,Gerard W. Hughes
Going back a period of years, I spent some weeks pondering just this question from Gerard Hughes, along with a question my own spiritual director had asked me which niggled at me. It is an experience I often have in with my director, and while I attempt an answer there, on the spot, my dissatisfaction with my answer leaves me pondering more deeply, subsequent to my meeting with him. Around about the same time I was also reading Choice, Desire and the Will of God: What More do you want? by David Runcorn and The Alchemist by Paul Coelho. There was definitely a theme going on and the feeling of it was as if there was something on your tongue that you needed to say, but every time you made to speak, the words were lost: or that there was a shape emerging out of the mist, and just as you were about to recognise it, it sank back again into obscurity. In retrospect I know that the process was about discovering the deepest desire of my soul, and at the end of it, when I had articulated it, it was as if I had found the place where my pearl of great price was buried and I had only just acquired the field. I was ready now to start digging.
I paraphrased the question because my answer to it was more to do with Jesus Himself, how He was, how He manifested His teachings. I have heard it said that:
The best sermon is a good example.
and Jesus exemplified what He taught: His actions matched His words, He practiced what He preached. For me, other than His authenticity, what I find most attractive about Him is that He always responded to people in the way that they needed in order for them to come closer to God: He always knew what to say and what to do with any given person or situation. He knew when to challenge, when to heal, when to teach.
For example, the rich young man who went away sad. We are never told what happened after that, but I like to think that he could not remain unchanged after Jesus looked at him and loved him, before throwing down the gauntlet, before giving the young man the challenge of his life, which he had actually asked for. I like to believe that after time and discernment, the young man did take up the challenge and effected a change in his life.
And the woman with the haemorrhage, who sought healing and received even more. After so many years of being an outcast because of her bleeding, He not only healed her, but claimed her as His kin, drawing her out, to speak up. I went to a talk by Elaine Storkey when I was a student and I vividly remember her take on this particular Gospel story. She told us that in the context of the time, this woman could have been stoned for defiling a religious leader, hence her fear in speaking out. So not only did He heal her physical ailment, but also the effect of years of erosion of her self esteem: spiritual healing as well as physical.
There are so many more examples I could give; these two are only a sample of my favourites and they show me something of my attraction to Jesus. At the end of my period of pondering, the deepest desire of my soul which I finally managed to express was:
To have the freedom to be who He would have me be.
And I realised how clever God is, because it describes a process, in two parts, of constant discernment; and I already understood that it is the process that draws us closer to God. The first part is:
Who would He have me be?
and the second part is:
What is limiting my freedom to be who He would have me be?
The process is consistent with the movement of the Exercises, through the Principle and Foundation to the Contemplation to Attain Love.
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
The first is that love ought to manifest itself in deeds rather than in words.The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Then I will reflect upon myself, and consider, according to all reason and justice, what I ought to offer the Divine Majesty, that is, all I possess and myself with it. Thus, as one would do who is moved by great feeling, I will make this offering of myself:The Spiritual Exercises of St, Ignatius, trans Louis J. Puhl S.J.
In The Alchemist, Santiago meets a crystal merchant whose desire is to make the pilgrimage to Mecca, but he only made it so far in his journey when he stopped to run his crystal shop and effectively got distracted by the business of the world. The merchant reasons:
Because it’s the thought of Mecca that keeps me alive…I’m afraid that if my dream is realized, I’ll have no reason to go on living…I’m afraid that it would all be a disappointment, so I prefer just to dream about it.The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
Earlier, when he first meets Santiago, the merchant laughs at Santiago’s expression of his own dream and the impact on Santiago is desolating:
There was a moment of silence so profound that it seemed the city was asleep…It was as if the world had fallen silent because the boy’s soul had.The Alchemist, Paul Coelho
The merchant still had his desire, but gradually, his soul became quieter in expressing it because the pain of not progressing towards it was unbearable. It is the manifestation of the phrase:
Most men lead lives of quiet desperation and go to the grave with the song still in them.Henry David Thoreau
For this is the reason why those who deliberately occupy themselves with wordly business, constantly seeking worldy well-being, have not God’s rest in their hearts and souls;40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill.
and in the personal reflections the question is asked:
In your faith tradition, what is the appropriate balance between a “this worldly” investment in human life and one’s total commitment and allegiance to God? Can both be lived simultaneously? Explain.40 Day Journey with Julian of Norwich, edited Lisa E. Dahill.
They are important questions. How do we live in the world and stay true to our calling? Understanding what it is that attracts us, what it is that is calling to our soul, what it is that brings us to life, and constant discernment, is necessary to help us to keep our souls from becoming sad, one of the descriptions Ignatius gives of spiritual desolation. Asking ourselves what we find attractive in Jesus and His teachings, and focusing our hearts on those things may be, as Gerard Hughes suggests, a signpost in how we, personally, can live in the appropriate balance between our worldly investment in human life and our total commitment and allegiance to God; and live both simultaneously.