Grace and the Middle Voice of Spirituality

Grace and the Middle Voice of Spirituality

 

As a little cradle Catholic boy, I think the first prayer I learned was “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy guests, which we are about to receive, Amen.”  I thought I used to hear that around our farmhouse table.  I always wondered, for a long time, “When are the guests coming?”  We did not have any guests yet, but we were about to receive them.  They never seemed to come.  We called this saying Grace.  Those who know me know that I am very hard of hearing.  I began to wear hearing aids in my early 40’s.  I don’t think God disparaged my prayer of blessing the way I understood such a “simple” prayer.  Actually, the words are “Bless us oh Lord, and these thy gifts, which we are about to receive, Amen.”  Either way, the prayers we do, whether “simple” “verbal” payers in the Mass or at your worship service, or even deep contemplative prayer, should never be disparaged.  God receives us where we are, and loves us as sinners as he gazes upon us as a mother gazes upon her nursing child at her breast, or as an eagle takes its babies under its wings.

Whether we are “saying” grace before we eat or are receiving the “gift” of the Eucharist, we are all in God’s grip of grace.  Grace has a lot to do with Spirituality of any type, whether one is Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, Hindu, etc.  Even Atheists have to face Grace, although they may deny it or call their spirituality “mindfulness.”  Still, grace is involved.  My intention for linking the two, grace and the middle voice of spirituality, comes from my studies of Ignatian Spirituality during the Fall Semester of 2018 as I study for a certificate in Spiritual Direction via Spring Hill College.  One of the statements that got my juices flowing is from the book, Candlelight, by Susan K. Phillips.[1] Dr. Phillips states:

Linguistically, we have lost the middle voice that lies between the active and passive voices.  In using the active voice, one speaks of initiating an action.  In the passive, one receives the action that another initiates.  … In the middle voice, the person actively participates in the results of an action that another initiates.[2]

 

In Spirituality in the terms of the English language, one thinks of contemplation as “active” contemplation where we mentally think thoughts about God, Scripture, etc. actively in our minds.  We think this contemplation can slip into what is called “passive” contemplation whereby we are supernaturally given thoughts to think by God, or perhaps given no thoughts at all and slip off into a thoughtless state of unknowing, or a state of union with the Divine Presence.  What if we thought of spirituality and contemplation in terms of the middle voice, which we do not possess in the English language?  This spirituality would be a participation in a gift that God has already given to us, a gift of Grace.  Referring to Abraham Lincoln’s first inaugural address at the looming of the Civil War where Lincoln urged Americans to heed the “better angels of our nature,” Phillips states:

 

It is, rather, siding with the “better angels” of a person’s nature, his or her middle-voice willingness to participate in God’s grace.[3]

 

I think back to the creation story, where God made mankind in His image and likeness, placing in mankind a Divine essence, a spirit in man that was the action of God, that gave mankind a receptor, a sixth sense, or a taste for God.  This image came from God and is set to autopilot back to God upon our death.  It is in fact, eternity set in our being.  It is an act of God’s grace with which we should long to participate, in a middle-voice way, the action that another, God in us, in whom we live and breathe and have our being, initiated.

Another book we have read in our studies, Moving in the Spirit, by Richard J. Houser, S.J.,[4] refers to this grace and essence of God within us from an Eastern point of view:

The Western or Pelagian model is clearly at odds with Scripture, misunderstanding the origin of our inner desires and movements toward good.  In this model all inner experiences moving toward the desire to love and serve God and others are seen to flow from ourselves apart from the grace of God within us.[5]

 

Below is a wonderful illustration that pictures what Hauser is speaking of:

 

Scriptural Model: Self in God:

Houser Divine Union cropped[6]

God initiates: Self Responds

Grace and the middle voice of our participation in the gift of the Spirit that God has initiated are absolutely critical to beginning to understand Ignatian Spirituality.  Let us keep the illustration above in mind as we proceed.

Hauser states:

Those of us living with this Western understanding of the self and God will never appreciate the all-pervasiveness of the presence of grace in our life. … they do not acknowledge that the initiative toward the good comes from the presence of grace.[7]

 

Ignatius was a product of the period in which he lived.  The Western Church as a whole may have understood grace in a proper manner but errored in some parts of the Church concerning Pelagianism.[8]  An attempt, at the Council of Trent, in the general period of Ignatius’ lifetime, tried to solve the problem of Pelagianism, or semi-Pelagianism.[9]  Ignatius himself speaks of the grace that is crucial in Ignatian Spirituality:

 

When one is in desolation, … He can resist with the help of God, which always remains, though he may not clearly perceive it.  For though God has taken form him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation.[10]

 

Even from the very start of Ignatius’ Exercises, it is very clear that the crucial understanding is that it is God who first calls us and it is God’s grace that first initiates the acts of God in us, in which we participate.  The human Spiritual Director is to keep his or her “teaching” short and allow God’s grace to work directly with the directee.

The one who explains to another the method and order of meditating or contemplating should narrate accurately the facts of contemplation or meditation.  Let him adhere to the points, and add only a short or summary explanation.  The reason for this is that when one in meditating takes the solid foundation of facts, and goes over it and reflects on it for himself, he may find something that makes them a little clearer or better understood.  This may arise either from his own reasoning, or from the grace of God enlightening his mind.[11]

This may remind us of one of God’s first intentions for mankind, spoken of us in the Garden of Eden, that we are to be dressers and keepers of the earth, which by extension would include each other.  We are like a tree, planted in the garden, planted by the water.

 

7“But I will bless those

who put their trust in me.

8 They are like trees growing near a stream

and sending out roots to the water.

They are not afraid when hot weather comes,

because their leaves stay green;

they have no worries when there is no rain;

they keep on bearing fruit.[12]

 

We are to bear the fruit first nourished by the water of God’s image and Spirit, given us by God, not of our own doing, it is by grace.  We are created by God’s grace, we are sustained by His grace, and we are renewed by His grace, bear fruit by His grace, and are saved by His grace for good works.  We take of God’s grace, of his sustenance, and give back the fruits of His grace.

 

In the season of fruition, there may be the experience of enhanced night vision.  Suffering may render the world dark, and certain forms of suffering include losing the sense of God’s presence.  …  We are to bear fruit by loving our neighbor, setting the captive free, giving food to the hungry, sheltering the homeless, loosing bonds of injustice, clothing the naked.  By doing so, we will be light in the darkness, well-watered gardens, and pilgrims guided by the Lord.[13]

 

As we consider our years, what we have done, and what we have failed to do, we think back to the Sabbath, also initiated by God in the Garden, when God rested.  Are we not called to rest with God too, to rest our egos as he works by grace in us?

 

28 “Come to me, all of you who are tired from carrying heavy loads, and I will give you rest. 29Take my yoke and put it on you, and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in spirit; and you will find rest. 30For the yoke I will give you is easy, and the load I will put on you is light.”[14]

 

Are we not called to give up our ego, to reject the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, to be a tree of life, to bear fruit for our fellow humans, for God, and all the angels and saints?  We are pilgrims on this earth.  We are just passing through. We are aliens to earthly kingdoms and citizens of a Kingdom to come.  This Kingdom lives in us, a Kingdom for and in which we participate by bearing fruit, by grace, the middle voice of spirituality.

So… Why should we be concerned about this matter?  See:

 

3I thank my God for you every time I think of you; 4and every time I pray for you all, I pray with joy 5because of the way in which you have helped me in the work of the gospel from the very first day until now. 6And so I am sure that God, who began this good work in you, will carry it on until it is finished on the Day of Christ Jesus.[15]

 

Try doing a computer search of an online Bible, using the words, “Christ in you,” and you will soon find that any spirituality we may claim to possess was because God began the work in which we participate.  In other words, I may serve my friend, or I may have been served by my friend, but I also take service in a middle-voice way as I share actively in the service that another, God, first initiated.  He placed His Image in us, and continues to sustain this image.

Even a little Catholic boy or girl can receive and participate in this grace.

 

John Cooper

[1] Candlelight: illuminating spiritual direction, by Susan Phillips, Morehouse Publishing, 2008, ISBN 978-0-8I92-2297-8 (pbk.)

[2] Ibid, p. 168

[3] Ibid, p. 169

[4] Moving in the Spirit, Becoming Contemplative in Action, by Richard J. Hauser, S.J., Paulist Press, 1986, ISBN 0-8091-2790-3 (pbk.)

[5] Ibid, p. 26

[6] Ibid, p. 27

[7] Ibid, pp. 26,27

[8] https://www.britannica.com/topic/Pelagianism

[9] http://pauliscatholic.com/2009/07/canons-of-the-council-of-trent/

[10] The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a New Translation Based on Studies in the Language of the Autograph, Ludovico Puhl, S.J., Loyola Press, 1951, ISBN 978-0-8294-0065-6. P. 143, – 320. 7. (emphasis mine)

[11] Ibid, p. 1, 1. 2. (emphasis mine)

[12] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/JER.17.GNBDK

[13] Candlelight, p. 172

[14] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/MAT.11.GNBDK

[15] https://www.bible.com/bible/431/PHP.1.GNBDK

Moods

Moods

            A few years ago one of my nieces lost her little boy, Cole, to brain cancer.  It was a terrible time for all seeing little Cole suffer.  He was only 5 or 6 years old but he put up his bravest fight, and the best attitude he could, only to lose in the end as we all will one day.  At his funeral his mother, right before they closed his little casket, somewhat impulsively rescued one of Cole’s little teddy bears from the little casket to save in for her memory.  I can’t imagine the desolations and moods she was feeling.

In our lives we all live with streams of consolations and desolations like the birth of one’s child or the death of a loved one.  We also die our own little bitty deaths each day, offset by good moods and attitudes.  I transferred my business to someone else about a year and a half ago and this person has decided to move out of a smaller building my office has been in for over 40 years.  I am still a consultant, but my office will now be in another building. I am feeling a bit driven.  I quote Margaret Silf, “Did we say yes because we felt we really, deep down, wanted to do it, or did we go along with it to please someone else or to avoid conflict, but against our deeper inclinations?” … “If we are feeling driven, then the prompting that gives rise to it is not from God, but from the force fields of our own (or other people’s) kingdoms.” [1]

It is human that we face challenges and turmoil.  “We all know that we are subject to moods.”[2]  There are “good” moods and “bad” moods, “consolations” and “desolations.” It is likely that feelings of turmoil are “not of God but has to do with our own kingdoms.”[3]  Chapter 7, Tracking our Moods, of Inner Compass speaks to evaluating our moods in Examen prayer.  Desolations and Consolations, Examen Prayer and discernment in relationship to The Spiritual Exercises have been the focus of our classwork.  I will speak primarily to this chapter, yet keeping in mind some of Silf’s foundational thoughts in other chapters of Inner Compass.

How can we know which are consolations and which are desolations?  Silf recommends centering ourselves in stillness, (p. 79) reviewing our moods in prayer.  Turmoil, fear, and apprehension are indicators of desolations that draw us away from God.  Periods of peace, insight, and stillness of heart are indicators of consolations.  We Examen our moods daily, making a “review of consciousness” (p. 81) our prayer priority.  Silf lists indicators of consolation and desolation (pp. 84-85).  Moods that are inward driven, or downward driven, or selfish, are likely to be desolations and lead us away from God.  Visions and moods for greater good, uplifting and joyful thoughts, are likely indicators our moods are motivated in consolation to draw us closer to God.

However, we might just be tired and need a good night’s sleep.  We can’t be happy all the time.  “Consolation is not the same as happiness.”[4]  I spoke with a woman today whose mother had 7 children and a Doctorate degree, teaching at Loyola University.  She was also a Spiritual Director.  She discovered she had cancer and joyfully faced her death.  In her latter stages, when she would wake up, she would smile and be happy until she discovered she was still alive.  She was looking forward to death, but this is an exception…  Or is it?

We can choose how we react to pain (p. 89).  We can focus outward and Godward.  “When this begins to happen, we may experience a real breakthrough, leading to the discovery that God is actually drawing us closer to him through the very event that appears (at the Where level of ourselves) to be so destructive.”[5]  It is possible to joyfully face death, to have our bags packed and believe all is well, but it is not guaranteed that this is what is going to happen.  An indicator that we might die well may be how we die daily.  “Every day of our lives will bring its own share of little dyings, and in the sense we are called to rebirth every time we react by turning toward God instead of in upon ourselves.  To be born again is truly a continuous process.”[6]  Maybe we should consider how we face our daily dying, how we address all the little losses, how we age and if our moods are turning inward upon ourselves.  Even in daily death we can garner up a smile, opening our arms to the God of our consolations.  Maybe memories of all our past consolations and good moods where we felt we were in the arms of the God of unconditional love are stored up for the times of desolations.

If I were a mother or father who had lost a little boy to cancer, If I had clinged to his little teddy bear pulled from the casket, maybe I would know more about these things.  If I were God, and lost even one of my beloved children to eternal death, maybe I would know His moods and feelings.  If I were my little bitty great-niece looking down from heaven, maybe I could be glad and rejoice in the trials I have had, even death.  Maybe Cole, my great-nephew, could tell me more about facing death each day, which I need to know, and how it is to live in heaven.  An inner compass points us in the stillness of our hearts, centered in and pointed in prayer, to God who loves us to and awaits us. The compass is the Spirit in us, (p. 102) who knows how to connect us and lead us to the Divine Mystery, three-in-one.

John Cooper

[1] Inner Compass, by Margaret Silf, Loyola Press, 1999, ISBN 0-8294-1366-9, p. 86.

[2] Ibid. p. 79

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid. p. 86.

[5] Ibid. p. 89.

[6] Ibid.

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

Deception and Discernment in Christian Living

(An Essay regarding The Screwtape Letters,[1] by C.S. Lewis and St. Ignatius’ Rules of Discernment[2])

            A key to discernment in the life of a Christian per The Screwtape Letters, is understanding humility and pride… “All virtues are less formidable to us [Satan and demons speaking] once the man is aware that he has them, but this is specially true of humility” (Letter 14, p. 81).  Satan wants us to take false pride in our humility whereas God wants us to accept our areas of giftedness and give the glory to God alone, using our giftedness in service for His greater glory.  Turning away from self to God’s desires, letter 14 continues, “The Enemy [God] wants him, in the end, to be so free of any bias in his own favour that he can rejoice in his own talents…” and “to recognise all creatures (even himself) as glorious and excellent things” (Letter 14, p. 84).

Ignatius wants us to see God in all things and recognize Him in all decisions and desires.  Ignatius understands the wiles of the enemy, Satan.  Satan is likely to use reverse logic on us, just as Screwtape advises Wormwood.  Rules of Discernment I, (Note 314. 1.) states, “In the case of those who go from one moral sin to another, the enemy is ordinarily accustomed to propose [tempt] apparent pleasures.”  Satan rewards for our sins.  On the other hand, Ignatius advises that if we are in a good spirit, Satan reverses his logical method on us and “Then it is the characteristic of the evil spirit to harass with anxiety, to afflict with sadness, to raise obstacles” etc. (note 315 2.).  Forgetting the self is a key to discernment.  Attention must turn outward, away from “self” and ego for proper discernment.  Both Screwtape Letters and The Spiritual Exercises advise that we have an enemy (n. 314.1).  The enemy’s desire in the Screwtape Letters to alter our awareness of the self.

One of the temptations of our enemy can be false consolations which counterfeit God’s true consolations.  Temptations can be matters of the mind, or of our imaginations, just as well as physical feelings.  Pleasure may come from actual infidelity or from imaginary infidelity.  Deep and lasting love is justified by decisions of chastity, poverty, and obedience, whether married or not married.  In the contemplative spiritual life, spiritual chastity, spiritual poverty, and spiritual obedience bring depth, width, and height to the practice of discernment in Christian living.  Our enemy would like it otherwise because he does not like such transcendental relationships (Letter 18, p. 108) lived in lasting humility, filled with love.  Life in the practice of discernment is not only about transcendent theories of love, or worship.  This life involves a type of dying, of giving up everything to live only in the love and grace of God.  Everything is brought to light in Examenation for discernment.

C.S. Lewis speaks of “ownership.” “The sense of ownership in general is always to be encouraged” says Screwtape (Letter 21, p. 125).  Mankind is to think he “owns” his body, to do with as he or she pleases.  Ownership and attachment are to be valued for everything – “my” house, “my” wife, “my” country, etc. until we are completely addicted to possessions (Letter 21, p. 126).  Pride and clinging to ownership without consideration of how “things” are to be used to praise, reverence, and worship our Lord is a way of deception.  God already “owns” everything and desires us to be “stewards” of all things given to us for His greater glory. Demanding that things are “ours” brings destruction to all, just as Satan wants.

One area I find C.S. Lewis himself may not have properly discerned is the ethics of war.  Does he to think that the death of humans in battle guarantees their place in heaven?  Screwtape says, “Or do you not realize that the patient’s death, at this moment, is precisely what we want to avoid?” (Letter 28, p. 165).  What about the Christian German soldiers, and Jews, killed and cooked to ashes in German prison camp ovens?  Are they going directly to heaven?  Are German prison camp guards sending these Jews directly to heaven?  Is Screwtape mad at Hitler too?  Perhaps C.S. Lewis has been triple tricked by the enemy in this one area.  In Letter 29 Screwtape asks, “Are we to aim at cowardice – or at courage, with subsequent pride – or at hatred of the Germans?” (Letter 29, P. 171,).  Screwtape is confused.  “There is here a cruel dilemma before us.  If we promote justice and charity among men, we should be playing directly into the Enemy’s hands; but if we guide them to the opposite behaviour, this sooner or later produces … a war or a revolution, and the undisguisable issue of cowardice or courage awakes thousands of men from moral stupor” (Letter 29, p. 173, 174).  The Myth of Redemptive Violence continues.

How are Christians to practice discernment?  When presented choices about loving or killing, following Jesus to the cross, or not following Him, dying daily to the self or feeding the self, what are we to do?  What are we to do with the choices between two or more good things?  Proper discernment is crucial.  It is crucial not to be deceived by the ploys of Satan as are imagined in The Screwtape Letters and spoken of in The Spiritual Exercises where Ignatius warns us about the trickery and false consolations of Satan.

For a Christian in the practice of discernment, there are always choices.  The first choice may be between humility and pride.  Another choice may be between love and hate, or war and peace.  Always discerning, always choosing, hopefully always in view of what is best to love, reverence, and praise our Lord, for His greater glory!

John Cooper

[1] Ltd. Annotations copyright, 2013, by Paul McCusker, ISBN 978-0-06-202317-9

[2] From The Spiritual Exercises, by Ludovico J. Puhl, S.J. ISBN-10 0-8294-0065-6

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