What I am practicing

A couple of weeks ago I started to practice The Examen.  The Examen is a formal process that was handed down by St. Ignatius Loyala.  It is a discipline that requires a daily check-in, a reflection over the events of the day.  There are several steps that can get quite complicated but I prefer the more simple way that follows:

1.  I get centered with some deep breaths and ask God to sit with me as I practice this examen.

2.  I ask God to help me call to mind the things that God wants me to call to mind.  (this is not the time for random, crazy thoughts!)

3.  I begin by recalling all the moments during the day that I am grateful for.  I turn the events and people in my mind and savor the richness.

4.  Next, I recall moments during the day when I felt truly in the flow of God’s Grace…those times I cooperated with God…co-created or was a channel of love.

5.  Then, I recall the times when I resisted God’s flow of grace…moments I turned my back on God’s divine plan, God’s will for me or others.

6.  Finally, I ask for the grace to become the person God is calling me to be, moment by moment.

Apparently, this process should only take 5 minutes or so.  I admit because I am still learning the practice, it is taking me more like 15 to 20 minutes.  But I am assured by those who have been doing the Examen for some time that you find your way, that it melds into and becomes a part of you.  It becomes almost second nature to you so that during your day you spontaneously become aware of God’s little nudgings.  Eventually, the union between you and the Divine is such that as Paul writes, “It is no longer me, but Christ living through me.”

Its only been two weeks but I see some fruits.  I feel like I am on alert.  I have begun to experience a heightened sense of the importance of each encounter with another during my day.  It happens like this:  I approach someone or am approached and the encounter begins and then my mind leaps to attention and I think, “oh, yeah, this is important, this is THE thing.”

Its not everytime.  I still am flipping out in traffic.  And I can’t seem to disable that judging part of my brain but I am aware of it as it happens.  And one of the other fruits of the practice is that God isn’t whacking me over the head with my failings.  They sort of gently rise up and I think , oh, yeah, I did that.

Somehow they get swept way as I ask for the strength and the grace to become the me that God envisions.

Inspiration from the week

On Saturday, September 29, we celebrate the feast of
the archangels Michael, Gabriel, Raphael. I offer this poem on angels by Nobel Prize winner Czeslaw Milosz.

On Angels

All was taken away from you:

white dresses,

wings, even existence.

Yet I believe in you,

messengers.

There, where the world is turned inside out,

a heavy fabric embroidered with stars and beasts,

you stroll, inspecting the trustworthy seams.
Short is your stay here:

now and then at a matinal hour, if the sky is clear,

in a melody repeated by a bird,

or in the smell of apples at close of day

when the light makes the orchards magic.

They say somebody has invented you

but to me this does not sound convincing

for the humans invented themselves as well.

The voice—no doubt it is a valid proof,

as it can belong only to radiant creatures,

weightless and winged (after all, why not?),

girdled with the lightening.

I have heard that voice many a time when asleep

and, what is strange, I understood more or less

an order or an appeal in an unearthly tongue:

day draws near

another one

do what you can

sculpture by Christopher Erney

Allowing

Just when summer gets perfect, fresh nights, soft sun, casual breezes, crushingly full and quietly cooling trees, empty beaches and free weekends, it ends. Life is like that, too. Just when we get it right, it starts to change. The job gets easy and we know just how to do it and they tell us we’re retired. The children grow up and get reasonable and they leave home just when it’s nice to have them around. The days get less full of work but we’re older now and too stiff to play. That’s diminishment. That’s life on the edge of autumn. And that’s beautiful, if we have the humility for it. The autumn of anything—of a work, of a life, of a relationship—is something to reverence. Whatever we did for it, it did more for us.  –Joan Chittister

****************************************************************

One of the most difficult things for me is to accept life as it is.  I want to change it, tweak it, or at the very least spend lots of time wishing it were different.  I have been practicing a daily examen for about a week now.  One of the questions I ask myself is:  where during my day did I cooperate with God and where did I resist?

It has beome so clear to me how much I resist what is, rather than allowing it to be.  What would happen if I released into life’s tides rather than swam against?  Where would the currents of grace take me if I simply allowed things and myself to be?

I sit with this wonderful poem by Donna Faulds

There is no controlling life.

Try corralling a lightning bolt,

containing a tornado. Dam a

stream and it will create a new

channel. Resist, and the tide

will sweep you off your feet.

Allow, and grace will carry

you to higher ground. The only

safety lies in letting it all in –

the wild and the weak; fear,

fantasies, failures and success.

When loss rips off the doors of

the heart, or sadness veils your

vision with despair, practice

becomes simply bearing the truth.

In the choice to let go of your

known way of being, the whole

world is revealed to your new eyes.

What I am practicing

I haven’t done this kind of a post before but it was bound to happen.  I was certainly going to have to admit that I was wrong, that something I had written was off the mark.  I am after all only human.

A couple of days ago I mentioned to my daughter, the writer, that I had written something un-right.  Her response was, “just delete it.”  But I explained that my blog reflected my journey and I had promised to be honest and had warned that it might look and be messy walking with me.  And so it is.

You’ve probably guessed that it was my last post, the one about God not wanting needy children.  It probably didn’t resonate with you and left you unsettled.  Me too.  The things is that I like being a beloved daughter.  I like needing, being completely dependent on my loving Creator.  That, by its very definition, makes me the neediest child.  Is that wrong?

Macrina Wierderkehr reminds me that my life nourishes the heart of God.  She writes:  “God needs our cries.  God has to love, and who is there to love if not me, if not you?”

So if that is not it, then what is it that is off about my relationship to God and to myself?  Reflecting on my words, I do see some truths.  I think my image of God does need to grow.  I often make God in my own image and my love is often way too small.

Is it any wonder that, when I can’t live up to my intentions and I fail to be the person I believe God wants me to be, I hide?

Is it any wonder that I stomp and refuse to move or distract myself with something shiny and pretty?

I wish, like Macrina, I could truly believe that in these moments of failure the best form of prayer is to weep for the woman I am refusing to be.  But believe it fully or not, I have no choice really.  I am grateful for the growing strength of my awareness muscle.

I am not sure at all of how to change and let my image of God grow.  But I did come across this exercise at the end of last week and I have been using it over the last few days.  And, I am also reminded of this scripture from Paul:  alone I can do nothing but united with God, I can do all things.

Affirmations for a Loving Attitude

Use these affirmations to improve your attitude and focus more clearly in a positive manner.  It is best to speak them with the lips (even in a whisper) rather than repeat them menatlly.  Let feeling rise up without getting too involved with them.

God Affirming You–Imagine God speaks these words to you:

  • You are always acceptable to me,  no matter what other people or you might think about you.
  • I see and appreciate the many good things you do each day.
  • I see and appreciate your good intentions, even when you fail to carry them out with your behavior.
  • I see your ill-intentions and behavior, but I love you all the same and forgive everything even before you ask.
  • I see your stubbornness and unwillingness to change, but I will wait forever if that’s how long it takes for you to respond to my love.  (my favorite)

adapted from St. Romain’s Caring for the Self, Caring for the Soul

Growing up

We do not see things as they are, but as we are. 

(Anais Nin)

Recently I was talking to a friend.  She said, “I realize that my relati0nship with God is often still that of a little girl to a huge father.  And while sometimes that can be a positive image…it works great when I am a good little girl, but when I am bad, I don’t want God to see me.  I hide.”

Me too.  If you followed my blog this summer, you probably saw one image I used of a little girl in the field picking flowers and along with that image I reflected that I sometimes can even hear God gazing down at me, smiling and saying: “That’s my girl.”

But when my friend shared this revelation of her own, my heart flipped inside me.  You know that feeling when you hear something true.

Its time to grow up.  Part of growing up is no longer needing the approval of others. I have been particularly dogged by this addiction to what others think of me.  I do that with God most of all.  But God says, “I call you friends,” not needy little children.  Growing up means letting go of this.

Growing up also means truly understanding down to my core that not everything is about me.  This is where that insight from Anais Nin comes in:  “We do not see things as they are but as we are.”  I hide from God because I expect God to be like me.  I disapprove so I think God dissapproves.  I hold back love so I think God holds back love.  I judge so I think God judges.  My love is small, so I think…

And so I sit and wonder: does growing up mean letting God grow too?  Maybe that is thing about the mystics…they met God as God is not as they conceived God to be…they let God be God and were surprised and delighted every time.

This past Sunday I turned 48.  I am ready to grow up.

Inspiration from this week

I just realized as I read over these two pieces, the prominence of the word, hands.  I love when things like that happen.  Such coincidences, to me, are baby miracles that assure me that it is the one true God who communicates through inspirational words.

(Also, a disclaimer:  I love sharing things I find, little gems of wisdom and insight.  Sometimes they resonate very deeply but often times they are like that tune you want to recogize but just can’t get your brain to recall. There is a certain familiarity but at the same time what feels like an ocean of distance to truly knowing.  When the latter happens I kind of jump on and ride those wings of grace.)

From the ancient Persian “poet of poets,” Hafiz:

Beautiful Hands

This is the kind of friend you are–

Whithout making me realize

My soul’s anguished history,

You slip into my house at night,

And while I am sleeping,

You silently carry off

All my suffering and sordid past

In Your beautiful Hands.

And this lovely prayer written by Charles de Foucauld:

God, I abandon myself into your hands; do with me what you will.

Whatever you may do, I thank you; I am ready for all and in all creatures–

I wish no more than this, O God.

Into your hands I commend my soul;  I offer it to you with alll my heart,

for I love you, God,

and so need to give myself,

to surrender myself into your hands without reserve and with boundless confidence,

for you are my God.

My soul at rest

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” [Matthew 11: 28-30]

I was reminded of this passage recently.  Certainly the first line has always brought me solace but, in the past, when I have come across this scripture, the words have confused me, seeming to contradict one another.  How can a yoke be easy or a burden light?  And, in the past, I have stopped short when it became too difficult but today I feel like wrestling.

Doing some research, I learn from William Barclay that in Jesus’ time a ” Rabbi’s “yoke” was his teaching, interpretation, and application of the Torah. A student or disciple who followed the Rabbi took on his yoke, meaning the sum of requirements for fulfilling the Law as taught by that particular Rabbi. The symbolism is clear; a teacher’s yoke represented the obligations and sacrifices—the “burdens”–required of his followers.”

I learn also that in its agricultural use, a yoke was tailor made for the animal that bore it and that often a younger and older animal were paired up under one yoke.  Clearly, the younger animal was to learn from the older, more experienced animal and be led in a sense even though they walked side by side.

With these allusions in mind, I reread the passage and I discover a new meaning.  Jesus is saying that rather than burden me with tedious and overbearing laws, the requirement to be his follower is relatively light.  Just one…to love.

Secondly, the yoke I will bear has been custom made for me in the sense that I have been known to Jesus and beloved even before my birth.  So the yoke I share with Jesus is unique to me, fits only me.  Its easy…not necessarily “easy like Sunday morning” but easy in the sense that it will not feel unnatural to me or ask me to become someone I am not.

Then I stop to think of my burdens.  What are they?  I read one commentary that said the search for truth had completely exhausted the people of Jesus’ time.  I can certainly relate to this.

I am thoroughly exhausted of trying to save myself with the latest idea, newest book or coolest program.  I am tired of trying to look perfect, have the perfect life or be perfect.  None of that works.  I am tired of feeling guilty and ashamed when my latest plan doesn’t get me where I think I should be.  I am tired of being disappointed in myself for failing, for giving into my temptations.

Compared to shouldering this burden, the offer to yoke, or unite myself to Jesus and finally receive rest is such an amazing one.  What holds me back?  Is it that the offer sounds too good to be true?  Is that after all this time I still don’t trust Jesus…I don’t know who he really is or whose I am?

The good news is that the offer doesn’t expire and my desire is great…rest for my soul.  I close my eyes, breath deaply and feel myself falling.