Grace and Spiritual Exercises

Grace and the Exercises

I know a man in his 90’s who has lived a good life.  He fought in WWII on the Beach of Normandy.  He told me bodies of his fellow soldiers were falling all around him but he was not killed.  Wow! I said, you must have a purpose in your life!  He told me if he does he doesn’t know what it is…  Ignatius tells us we all have a purpose in the Spiritual Exercises Note 23 called The First Principle and Foundation. (The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, by Louis J. Puhl, S.J., Loyola Press).  Ignatius states: “Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul” (SpEx, p. 12).

I began the 19th Annotation of the Exercises about five years ago under the direction of Sr. Madeleine Gregg, fcJ.  When I read the First Principle and Foundation, I looked at it thinking that this would be a work of our own doing to save our own souls by doing these things by our own works of praising, reverencing, and serving our Lord.  However, Sr. Madeleine’s instructions that we are all loved sinners satisfied me.

Considering the significance of the Principle and Foundation to Ignatian spiritual seekers today, I believe it is absolutely critical to properly understand the importance of Grace to the Spiritual Exercises and specifically to the First Principle and Foundation.  I intend to offer a modified grace based suggestion for reading the First Principle and Foundation more conducive to the both/and nature of Ignatian Spirituality and the unitive type of spirituality that calls us to Divine union with the One Mysterious God.  Grace and works will be discussed as a solution to the dilemma posit by the Principle and Foundation and St. Ignatius’ own words about grace will mollify the idea of saving souls by our own works.

Firstly, let us consider Ephesians 2: 8-10:

8.) For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God – 9.) not the result of works, so that no one may boast. 10.) For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life” (The Go-Anywhere Thinline Bible, Catholic Edition, NRSV, Harper Catholic Bibles, p. 1082).

We clearly see that the Apostle Paul tells us we are saved by Grace through Faith, not works and even the Faith is not of our own doing, but a gift of God’s grace.  In the same passage we are saved and created for good works which would include praising, reverencing, and serving God, our Lord, as Ignatius mentions.

We see St. Ignatius growing in grace and knowledge throughout the Spiritual Exercises.  Grace or a form of grace is mentioned about 40 times in the Exercises. Ignatius’ Rules for Thinking with the Church, his rule 366, 14 states:

Granted that it be very true that no one can be saved without being predestined and without having faith and grace, still we must be cautious about the way in which we speak of all these things and discuss them with others (SpEx p. 160).

The caution Ignatius urges is in view of Martin Luther’s reformation and the beliefs concerning predestination in his age, but Ignatius admits to the impossibility of salvation without grace but asked those in his care to be careful in discussing the matter.  He speaks of grace in rule 369, 17, arguing for free will, not predestination:

Likewise we ought not to speak of grace at such length and with such emphasis that the poison of doing away with liberty in engendered (SpEx p. 161).

            Throughout the Exercises the concept of God’s grace is promoted.  What could Ignatius do but admit to the primacy of Grace and Faith for one’s salvation even if he asks it be kept quiet so he can be obedient to the Church?  Some in high positions might have disagreed with St. Ignatius.  After all, Ignatius had faced the Inquisition several times and had spent time in jail for his radicality.  Perhaps this is why the First Principle and Foundation reads as it does.  One just cannot save himself.  Therefore, Ignatius gradually weaves in the doctrine of grace throughout the Exercises, here a little, and there a little.

For instance, let us look at Rules for the Discernment of Spirits 320, 7:

He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it. For though God has taken from him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation (SpEx p. 143).

Grace is foundational in St. Ignatius’ eyes for salvation. Ignatius and the Jesuits were instrumental in the Catholic Counter Reformation and the Council of Trent.  Perhaps Ignatius’ obedience to the Church caused him to carefully insert his beliefs about grace later in the Exercises and not in the Principle and Foundation.  Because God first calls us, and allows us to freely choose our response to His initial Grace, I believe the first Principle and Foundation could be rephrased in view of God’s grace to read:

[By Grace] Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, [by grace,] and by this means [,grace] to save his soul [,by grace, through faith, the work of God.]

Our response to God’s saving work in us and our thankfulness for God’s first calling us is a desire to do more for God, thus works are respones to grace in every case.  It is crucial for those who give the Spiritual Exercises to others to understand the grace filled meaning of the First Principle and Foundation right from the start and let everybody know right from the beginning that we are all loved sinners saved by God’s grace to do good works.  Grace works!

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

 

 

 

Book Review of Close to the Heart: a guide to personal prayer

Book Review

Close to the Heart: a guide to personal prayer, by Margaret Silf, p. cm., Published by Loyola Press, 1999, 230 pages, Paperback, $12.95, ISBN 0-8294-1452-5

Reviewed By:

John A. Cooper

mailto:john.cooper@email.shc.edu

            Years ago, while taking the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, 19th Annotation while visiting our family farm in Illinois I got up early at 5 AM as was my habit, to get in my prayer and meditation before others arose.  My aunt got up soon after me one morning and, being a devout Catholic, began to pray the Rosary. “You know,” she said, “there are many ways to pray.”  I had not thought about that before, but there certainly are many ways to pray.  Margaret Silf surveys many of those ways to pray in this book, which is a wonderful guide to prayer, but not an all-pervasive guide.  For instance, ways to pray such as sacramental prayer are mentioned little, if at all, nor is Praying the Rosary.  She writes from an Ignatian Spirituality point of view, simplified for those of us who are not experts in prayer, as if anyone were an expert in prayer.

This book in the Prayer/Spirituality genre contains a well-defined and systematic structure.  Her outline is clear and each of the four parts of the book contains a “Taking it Further” section suggesting some to-do actions that will be helpful in cementing her principles into action.  There are no footnotes, bibliography, or index, since this is book is essentially a heart to heart talk, not a scholarly treatise.  The book displays Margaret’s intriguing writing style as she opens her life to us and uses examples from her own life to illustrate the points she is making.  She is formerly a technical writer in the computer field who now writes Prayer, Spirituality, and Devotional books.  She has written more than 12 books and writes articles for America magazine.  She is not affiliated with any denomination.  A good resource for her background can be found at http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/explorations/teachers/view/121/margaret-silf.  I recommend this book and view it as a “keeper” that one may periodically peruse when one’s prayer life might fall into a dry spell.

In her introduction, Silf affirms what my Aunt said about many ways to pray.  She says: “Remember that there are infinite ways of praying. No way is ever the right way or the only way” (Close to the Heart, p. xv).  Her purpose is to dispel fears “and to restore our confidence that God will welcome our approach” (to prayer) and “to open up pathways we may have lost” (in prayer methods) (p. xii, xiii), making prayer paths to our heart as we reach for communion with the Mystery.

Part One of her book recommends reaching stillness in our hearts, listening for God to speak to us as we enter sacred space, valuing silence, connecting with our innermost desire for God and the state of Divine union with Him.

Part Two focuses on our inner space, our hearts where God longs to be home, meditations on our own life story, and review of our day.  Also, Silf focuses on praying for others and the world, mentioning “arrow prayers,” which are short darting prayers for immediate needs. She then begins to show us how to dig in deeper, using methods that explore our soul at its core.

Part Three, “Praying with Scripture,” focuses on using the Word in prayer, “Finding God in All things,” in our personal lives, workplaces, – everywhere.  The ancient prayer method of Lectio Divina, prayer and meditation on Scripture, is discussed as well as prayers of Imagination, and Ignatian based conversational prayer with God (Colloquy).  Discussed are prayers from the dark night of our souls when things are not going well, but we still pray.  Finally, in Part Three, Unitive, or Heart Centered prayer is discussed.[1]

Part Four discusses barriers to prayer and how to handle the barriers.  What do we do with distractions?  How do we stay centered in prayer? What if God does not speak? How do we pray in the Church and with trusted spiritual friends? Should we keep a Journal?  How do we pray with and for those on the margins of society?  Such questions as this help us realize prayer is very much an open ended endeavor.

The final section, chapter 26, is “Letting Prayer Become a Way of Life” where she says “I hope that we have actually come to the end of the beginning” (p. 225).  She wants us try out in everyday life the ways to pray she has told us about, choosing the methods which best suit us.  Our prayers, she suggests, will bear fragrant fruit in our lives as they “catch the scent of God in our lives” carrying this fragrance of prayer into the world and our daily lives (p. 230).

John Cooper

[1] As an example from Part Three, in the Chapter, Conversing through Prayer – Between friends, and the very day I needed this method of prayer, which I had never heard of in my life, I had a dispute with a friend about the interpretation of a contract between each of us.  Definitely, I feel I am right, and definitely, he feels he is right.  Silf recommends: “Just let yourself be in a place, in your imagination, where you feel safe, and invite the Lord to be there with you, maybe telling him about the problem you have with this person. Then, when you feel ready, draw the person into a safe place with you, and express, through Jesus, what you are feeling.  Give the other person an opportunity to say how he or she is feeling about things.  Finally, you might turn to Jesus and ask him to share his truth and his love with you both.  Notice what suggests itself to you during this period of prayer” (p. 146).  What I heard Jesus say was, “I will give you all you need.”  I am letting the problem rest in His hands.

 

I Can’t Breathe!

I Can’t Breathe!

            I can only imagine how a drowning person may feel.  My Uncle, Bill McCulley, taught me to swim on his farm in Illinois, in a pond on the Wilt Place.  He was a Navy veteran, and an excellent swimmer, and I trusted him to save me if anything happened to me.  The fish and snakes brushing up against my legs did not seem to matter.  One of Bill’s attributes, besides being very strong, was his ability to go under water, without breathing, of course, for a long, long time.  I know he loved me enough to save me if I went under water.  Jesus died because he could not breathe under water.  I can only imagine the suffering he felt.  I know Jesus loves me, and will save me, just like my Uncle, Bill would have.  We will get back to Jesus, and breathing under water later.

I am writing this reflection about Breathing under Water: Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, by Richard Rohr, a well know Franciscan teacher and priest.  We are discussing addiction and will also draw upon Addiction and Grace, by Dr. Gerald May as appropriate.  I am specifically selecting one concept, extant in both books, concerning our addiction to war.  Refusal to submit to Satan’s political ploy, to fall down and worship Satan, cost Jesus His life, as we will see as we go along.  Because of our addictions to “oil, war, and empire; the church’s addiction to its own absolute exceptionalism;” (Breathing Underwater, p. xxii), among other addictions, Jesus had to die.  Because He died trying to breathe under water, Jesus is able to save us from our own addictions, all of them.

When we cannot breathe, and are under water for a long time, we must eventually surrender, or give up our life.  As Ignatian students we are aware we should give up everything to live only in God’s love and grace. Step three of the twelve steps in Breathing Underwater is about our decision to give up to turn our will and lives over to the care of God as we understand God (p.17).  We have not been taught this surrender by our nationalistic political systems, nor have our institutional religious systems as a whole taught us this surrender, but Jesus teaches us (Matt. 5: 39) (p. 19).  Bye, bye ego.  Addiction to the ego and to power must go (p. 21).  The devil wants to make us a great “deal”.  The art of Satan’s deal is to give us instantly the power without pain and without self-surrender (p. 21).  This was Satan’s third temptation which most institutional religions have accepted even to this day.  It is a myth, a myth of redemptive violence that we can personally save ourselves by violent means.  For thousands of years this myth has never worked.  Rohr calls it the “myth of heroic sacrifice” (p. 21).  It is the American “way”, and the way of most every nation.  We have learned well and are addicted to this myth of self and violence and our society, our nation, (p. 22) and in too many ways our churches are co-dependents to help us believe in this myth and be self-glorified as martyrs of the church (p.23).  True believers, we are giving up our body to supposed chastity, poverty, and obedience to look good, to fool many people, and to puff up the self (p.24).

To give up this puffed up, narcissistic self, as individuals, politicians, nations, and institutions including business and religious institutions is to realize we are sinners, yet loved sinners surrendered to the lover (God the Higher Power) who loves us (p. 24, 27).  As the Holy Spirit helps us, we are infected by the Spirit of Jesus (p.25).  Rohr says the Holy Spirit “sneaks in through the ducts and the air vents (p. 25).  In some ways we would rather just have someone tell us what to do, to manage our sins for us in the confessional booth or church sermons than surrender our will and accept God’s radical grace freely.  This grace is given to us by a higher power we understand to be God, as much as we understand Him, who loves us without expecting to be paid back.  He loves us because He is love (p. 27).  Only grace given in love can cure addictions.

Both Rohr and May speak of nonviolence and trust in a higher power for our salvation.  Jesus spoke Truth to Power when He refused Satan’s third temptation to fall down and worship Satan and did not accept the “deal” to be given earthly kingdoms before it was time.  As a result, Jesus had to suffer and die to save us, who are addicted, and complicit with this warmongering society.

Referencing May’s book, Dr. May echoes rule 98 of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises when he states “detachment does just the opposite.  It seems liberation of desire, an enhancement of passion, the freedom to love with all one’s being, and the willingness to bear the pain such love can bring.” (Addiction and Grace, p.15).  This can be freedom from political slavery too, and freedom to love even our enemy, one of Jesus’ primary commandments (Matt. 5: 43, 44).  The Spiritual Exercises, rule 98, promotes the willingness to bear all wrongs.  It is this suffering love that brings detachment and personal freedom as it is greased by the wheels of grace.

See:

(098)

Eternal Lord of All Things

Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life (http://spex.ignatianspirituality.com/SpiritualExercises/Puhl#marker-p101)

True freedom is the freedom to love one another, including our enemy.  If we maintain our addictions to war and killing this is what May describes as a security addiction (p.31).  May states, “we can and should trust in God for our ultimate security” and he speaks of relaxing our grip about lessor sources of security.

It is Jesus, who is our ultimate source of security.  Rohr states “only people who have suffered in some way can save another” (p. 123).  Jesus died and suffered on the Cross.  He did not die of blood loss.  In excruciating pain, His feet nailed to the cross, and His hands too, Jesus couldn’t breathe unless He pushed up on His pierced feet, and said, “I thirst.”  He was given the fourth cup via the hyssop branch which should have been given at the Passover meal, and He surrendered just for you, and just for me, to save us from our addictions to sin.  His lungs had filed up with water and blood.  He could not breathe.  He had to die; He could not breathe, but now He saves us, we who think we can breathe, but are underwater with all our addictions.

John Cooper

 

 

Social Desolation

Social Desolation: The Occupation of the American Mind

            I have been in a funk lately, actually from the day I knew Donald Trump would be the President of the United States; I have been in a funk.  My funk at times seems to be only worsening.  I don’t think I am the only one who is in a funk.  Our nation is in a funk too.  I believe the constant stream of lies, the minimization of the poor, the lack of care for refugees, and our constant state of war is subconsciously taking its toll on the American psyche, creating anxiety in the soul of America.

The occupation of the American mind by the disordinate affections of consumerism, material riches, pride, militarism, and the cult of the self has created the anxiety of mind that refuses to recognize God’s presence in everything, every human being, and God’s presence even in our enemies whom we, if we are Christians, subconsciously know we are supposed to love.

Recently, in my morning meditations, I read:

“The seed sown on rocky ground
is the one who hears the word and receives it at once with joy.
But he has no root and lasts only for a time.
When some tribulation or persecution comes because of the word,
he immediately falls away.
The seed sown among thorns is the one who hears the word,
but then worldly anxiety and the lure of riches choke the word
and it bears no fruit.” (Matt. 13:20-22)

            Anxiety… This is me.  This is us.  This is the United States.

I have most of my adult life tried to be apolitical, leaving the political systems up to God, who is supposed to order the powers over these systems, but I have never been as anxious about the state of affairs in the world as I am now.  I know I should not be anxious, but the lies, filth and profanity spewing out of the mouths of some in leadership just have gotten me down.  Since first writing about these matters, it seems every day matters only seem to get worse.  North Korean missiles fly through the air, and tough retaliatory words concerning the fire and fury of nuclear warfare fly back through the airwaves.  There are a few leaders in the world who seem to be level headed, like Angel Merkel of Germany, Justin Trudeau of Canada, and Pope Francis, but at least two other world leaders who have their fingers on nuclear codes, just do not look like Jesus to me.  Nor, would it seem they understand or practice the ethics of Jesus as recorded in Matthew 5 from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount.

I expressed my frustrations and my sin of anxiety with my Spiritual Director recently, and his suggestion was that in place of being less involved, (apolitical) perhaps I should be more involved.  I believe it is time for America, and the world, for that matter, to return to God, and recognize God in others, not continuing the endless quest to solve the world’s problems with the Myth of Redemptive Violence, which can also be violence of the heart, violence of the mouth, or violence of the eyes, in addition to the violence of perpetual warfare and killing, as my own nation, and many other nations seem to support.

In my Ignatian studies, I came across the following text I will quote from “finding God in all things” by William A. Barry, S.J. which, of course, would ask us to find God within our political systems, within our enemies, and I suppose I will have to admit, Donald Trump and Kim Jong-un too.  I quote:

“This social desolations shows itself in a feeling of futility before what seem to be intractable problems of our complex world.  Those who find themselves in such a state, a gnawing sense of futility, about the world in general and about the particular institutions, to which they belong, need to be freed by the Lord just as much as the addict or habitual sinner needs to be freed by the Lord.  The gnawing feeling saps life and vitality from them and keeps them from the freedom of the sons and daughters of God.

When they do let the Lord of life free them, what s the result?  They feel astonished at the enormity of God’s love for them in this sinful world.  They know that in spite of all the horror, the Lord has not abandoned his people.  In spite of the stupidity and evil, in spite of institutional injustice, the human spirit is not crushed and defeated.  The powers of darkness have not prevailed.  As a result they feel themselves empowered to try to do their part in the social injustices in which they have participated.”  (pp. 63 & 64)

Therefore, I too am trying to take action, to do my part, to do something that may help to bring myself back to how God views Donald Trump, Kim Jon-un and others, how God views our enemies, and how God views me, as beloved sinners.  I believe we need to seek the common ground of recognizing the Image of God in all mankind.  Having a conscious is the indication we are humans, and that God’s Image is in us.  Seeing God in all mankind is a step to relieving our anxieties and reaching out for our human potential.

Social Desolation is a worthy term to describe what is happening to us, but I am going to try to recognize God’s presence in our political systems, in our nation, and in the people in positions of power, but I also want to speak to them, and tell them that they just do not look very godly to me, and that I think they are wrong, very wrong, and so am I wrong who is complicit with them in by paying my taxes, at least half of which go to support the evils of our society, such as warfare.

On a better note, in the quest for finding God in all things, it is encouraging to see the protest movements against racism and to see all those who care about their fellow human being in attempting to rescue and serve those affected by hurricane Harvey.  Therefore, as William Barry, whom I quoted said, “The powers of darkness have not prevailed,” although, these powers seem to be doing everything possible to occupy, meaning inhabit, the American Mind.  Let us actively resist this attempted Social and personal Desolation with all our being as we cry out to God for His help.

John Cooper

Tuscaloosa, AL

 

 

 

 

 

WHY?

WHY?

 

This past season of Lent, I felt led to observe Lent for the first time in 49 years.  I have not observed Lent since I was last a Catholic and I believe the last time I observed Lent was in 1967, 49 years ago.  In about 1968, I left the Catholic Church in response to a conversion experience that included observation of the Sabbath on Saturday, the 7th day of the week, and my developing beliefs in the Christ-centered ethics of peace and nonviolence, which were not at that time generally supported in Roman Catholicism, although there were a few cells of peace and nonviolence in Catholicism in the presence of Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day and the Catholic Worker movement and the Jesuit Pacifist, Daniel Berrigan who just died this past week at the age of 94, a few days shy of 95 years old.  Also in France was at that time Pax Christi, which was not established in the United States until the 1970’s.

I don’t know why, exactly, that I felt I should observe Lent this year, and I surprised even myself in that I received an inner urge to return to the Catholic Church of my youth.  Why?  I don’t know why, but here are some ways and thoughts I would like to share.  I would view these as possible influences that led to the calling I received and I also leave all possibilities in the future open.  I list some possible reasons below; but I do not feel reason is the defining factor here, so I will change the term and answer to Why, concerning responses and possibilities, not reasons.

Possibly it was Pope Francis who has spoken to my heart and my way of belief and thinking since he first became Pope.  I love the man and his leadership.

Possibly it had something to do with long term relationships I have with Catholic friends like Fran Viselli, Nancy Green, and others.

Possibly it had something to do with the late life crisis of bankruptcy I have gone through and my research into St. Ignatius decision making.

Possibly it had something to do with Sr. Madeleine Gregg and her agreeing to become my Spiritual Director in leading me and a small group in taking the St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises, 19th Annotation.

Possibly it had to do with a call from Christ the King, (The call of Christ the King is a section of the Exercises.), to write a book, “My Ignatius Journey”, about the exercises.

Possibly, even though it has been over a year since I took the Spiritual Exercises, it was a yearning for a deeper, different, and more mystical Spirituality which some find in the Catholic Church.

Possibly it was my concern for the refugee crisis and that the Interfaith Prayer service, “Just One”, which I wrote, was not accepted in Tuscaloosa and that my heart aches for something to be done regarding this matter on a grander scale.

Possibly it was all the transitions happening in my life and in the lives of others I know.

Possibly it had to do with a sermon Ben Tallmadge gave at Grace Church regarding the philosophy of Grace Church. I know this matter is not about doctrine, or about my not loving everyone, because I still do, but my philosophy of this Church stuff is more amenable to the Social Gospel ideals the Catholic Church “Just” seems to me much better at.

Possibly my work was just done at Grace Church, where I have attended for 10 years.  I think I am just too radical to do much good there.  I am not guaranteed 10 more years… The Magis, I began to understand and inwardly feel in the St. Igntian Spiritual Exercises urge me to do “more.”

Possibly my voice for peace and nonviolence will be heard in the Catholic community.  After all, at least Catholics pray for peace nearly every week in the Mass.

However, I think the real answer to the question “Why” is this………

I do not know why!

Possibly, faith walking in the dark where it sees the best will bump upon the reason, then we will all know ……..

‘WHY’

 

John Cooper

Peaceful Thoughts

Peaceful Thoughts

As a matter partially of time and chance this past week, I stopped by Panera Bread at a time of the day I would not normally be there because I was on my home to pick up a check out of my home office. I noticed as I sat down a Muslim man in the back of the restaurant. I have had several conversations with this man and his friend, Sammy, also a Muslim, when I used to go by Starbucks on the way to work early in the morning. (Since we were given a Keurig coffee machine, my Starbucks visits are virtually nil.) I noticed him sitting in the back of the restaurant in what appeared to be deep thought or meditation, so I did not greet him. After several minutes he came by me on the way apparently back from getting a drink refill and he asked my, knowing my beliefs in Peace and Nonviolence, this question:

“Have you had any Peaceful thoughts lately?”

“Yes, I have,” I said, and invited him to sit down with me at my table. I got out my small Samsung tablet and opened my You Version Bible App up to the place already in the memory, which I reflected on just the day before. I quote it below from Philippians 4:

1 And so, my most beloved and most desired brothers, my joy and my crown: stand firm in this way, in the Lord, most beloved.
2 I ask Euodia, and I beg Syntyche, to have the same understanding in the Lord.
3 And I also ask you, as my genuine companion, to assist those women who have labored with me in the Gospel, with Clement and the rest of my assistants, whose names are in the Book of Life.
4 Rejoice in the Lord always. Again, I say, rejoice.
5 Let your modesty be known to all men. The Lord is near.
6 Be anxious about nothing. But in all things, with prayer and supplication, with acts of thanksgiving, let your petitions be made known to God.
7 And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.
8 Concerning the rest, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is chaste, whatever is just, whatever is holy, whatever is worthy to be loved, whatever is of good repute, if there is any virtue, if there is any praiseworthy discipline: meditate on these.
9 All the things that you have learned and accepted and heard and seen in me, do these. And so shall the God of peace be with you.
10 Now I rejoice in the Lord exceedingly, because finally, after some time, your feelings for me have flourished again, just as you formerly felt. For you had been preoccupied.
11 I am not saying this as if out of need. For I have learned that, in whatever state I am, it is sufficient.
12 I know how to be humbled, and I know how to abound. I am prepared for anything, anywhere: either to be full or to be hungry, either to have abundance or to endure scarcity.
13 Everything is possible in him who has strengthened me. (Emphasis is mine.)
The Muslim man studiously and respectfully silently read the text for several minutes in deep thought as I silently watched. After a while he looked up to me and said, “It is very Islamic, isn’t it?” “Yes, it is,” I agreed, and we started another long and mutually respectful and, by the way, Peaceful, conversation.

I told him about the Inter-Faith city wide Prayer Service I had attempted to activate a couple of months ago for the sake of the Refugees, both Christian and Muslim refugees and pointed him to my blog site, http://www.jcooperforpeace.org where I posted the Prayer Service. I told him my idea had already been shared with another of my Muslim friends, Mirza Beg, who was to forward it to the local Mosque, or Islamic Center as they call in here in Tuscaloosa. I asked him to talk it up and perhaps just a few of us could have a smaller event than the city wide event I had envisioned. Even though the Mayor of Tuscaloosa had agreed to help in any way he could, I could not garner support from the Christian churches I had contacted whom I was asking to host the event.

We continued our conversation and the Muslim man told me he had been looking into the Spirituality of the Native American Indians. One of the American Indian wise sayings, he said, is: “If God created you a crow, you do not have to become an Eagle.” I told him I liked that and many Indian Spiritual sayings and I had recently been through an 8 or 9 month St. Ignatian Spiritual Exercise Retreat. I told him of the many ways I personally think God can reveal himself to us humans, and concerning the Indians we were talking about, that God can reveal himself and to Indians as one walks in silence through the forest, even without a word written or spoken, God can do this, as one walks in Peace. I mentioned that to me, God has revealed himself sometimes as a Father, sometimes as a Son, and sometimes as the Holy Spirit, but still, I believe there is only one God. I shared my idea that one could take all the knowledge of the American Indians, and the Jewish religion, the Christian religion, and the Islamic religion, and all the knowledge of the Atheist religion, and put them all in a bucket, stir them all up and dump them into the ocean, and it would not be a drop in the ocean compared to the vast knowledge of an infinite God. He understood, and I mentioned again the Scripture we had just read, although I did not quote it again at that time. Here is a principle part of it below.

7 And so shall the peace of God, which exceeds all understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 4:7)

I don’t think he would have agreed exactly with the Jesus Christ part of it, but then, apparently many Christians do not believe it either, not understand it, in that many Christian folk like to be guarded by weapons, guns, and “Peacemaking” six-shooters, not by the Peace of God. It appears in America that the “tougher” and more one believes in guarding oneself, the better, especially in the Political realm.

I cannot share everything now, we talked about, this is already too long, but the point I want to highlight especially at this “season” of Christmas 2015 is this:

“Have you had any Peaceful thoughts lately?”

If you have not had any, I ask, why not? Could it be the Prince of the Power of the Air is getting through to us through the Media and the Political systems of this world? Why not turn off the Media for an hour or two a day and silently reflect upon your Scriptures, either your Hebrew ones, Christian ones, Islamic ones, or, even just take a silent walk in the woods, just like the Indians and reflect on the Peace God has very clearly said he came to give us, which goes beyond understanding. This Peace is a gift of Grace and Mercy. Yes, it does sound Islamic, but it sounded to Abraham, like a gracious and merciful God, before the Jewish people, before the Christian people, and before the Muslim people. It is a Grace that has extended to all Abraham’s offspring, which by extension is all mankind.

Have you had any Peaceful thoughts lately? Accept this gift, get some of it; Let this be the year of God’s favor for you…..

Grace and Peace,

John Cooper

One Cup

One Cup

In asking for the grace to understand and appreciate the Eucharist’s as Jesus’ self-gift, my meditations today were on Matt. 26: 26-29.  This is where Jesus instituted the symbols that are elements of this observance.

“Take, eat, this is my body”. ..….

“Drink of it, all of you.”…..

Jesus stated “this is the blood of the covenant”.

I thought of ways people are remembered after they die, tombstones, pictures, stories, buildings, etc., but none of these things last like the living symbols and an ordinance or Sacrament Jesus gave us by which to remember Him.  I thought back to Psalm 22, which has been on my mind this week.  The Psalm which starts “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?”, this Psalm was on Jesus’ mind too as he died on the cross.  Some think, and I have heard Fr. Joseph Tetlow say, that Jesus recited the whole Psalm on the cross.

 

The final verses of this Psalm are (v. 30-31).

“Posterity shall serve Him;
men shall tell of the Lord to the coming generation,

and proclaim His deliverance to a people yet unborn,

that He has wrought it.”

I do not think these symbols, the Eucharist; this Sacrament should be closed to anyone.  It should be shared with all who want and need Spirituality, and want to hear of this living story.  The Eucharist is exactly how Christians have told Jesus’ story as a living memorial for thousands of years to the coming generations.  Also I think there should be one cup, and we all drink out of it.  I am about tired of those little plastic Protestant types of cups 🙂 🙂      Oh, and for me, make that “real wine” 🙂 🙂

 

In addition to the above, which was a part of my St. Ignatius, 19th Annotation, Exercises today, I think these thoughts fit into the theme of Peace…  I understand that Islam is a religion of Peace, that it is really bad if a Muslim does not show hospitality to a stranger or a friend.  One of my Muslim friends, a Sunni, (one of those Pharisee types,) in fact, came with me to eat at a Hooligan’s , a Mediterranean restaurant here in Tuscaloosa, and brought his own tea, and cups, in a little kit with a thermos to keep it hot, and we drank together, and ate together.  He even attempted to evangelize me to the Muslim way.  I appreciated that he cared for me…    If it were up to me, which mostly it isn’t, but it used to be, and I were serving the Eucharist, I would offer the bread and the wine to him, but warn him first, if you take out of this One Cup, unworthily, you might die…  I think he would respect my beliefs, as I respected his, and we would continue to be friends, not enemies…

 

Love & Peace,

 

John Cooper