brain and senses

In the Igniting Our Values Jesuit pilgrimage for Lent, Jack Bentz, SJ, reflects on Our Lady of Aranzazu and writes:

St. Ignatius was a truster. Even though he became the champion of finding God in his own experience, he was able to trust the devotional life of his culture and expand it, deepen it. If there was a holy hermit in his neighborhood he would visit her, if there was a miraculous statue of the Virgin Mary appearing in a thorn bush he would pray before it. Who was he to judge that grace was not happening? For Ignatius, God was able to speak in a thousand languages and he wanted to hear God whenever and wherever other people had heard Him.

We talk often of finding God in all things, but when was the last time you focused your search on where others are finding God to learn from their experiences? How does considering where others experience God’s grace help you in your own spiritual journey?

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February 27, 2015

desert

Why are we afraid of desert time? Why are we afraid and sometimes resistant to prayer time, to the quiet alone time with God?

Experienced teachers on prayer, like Fr. Ron Rolheiser, suggest that the desert “is the place where one does battle with Satan.” (Our Deepest Longing, pg. 53) Within our solitude we face our demons head on, and we are confronted by all of our baggage and dark spots. We resist going into the silence and quiet because we do not like what we see there.

Desert time is vital to a mature relationship with God. If we are committed men and women of faith, then God is going to bring us to the desert at some point to look deeply at ourselves and see all of us the way God sees us. This means we will have to confront the dark spots of our lives and the things we do our best to hide from God and from the rest of the world.

Jesus was no different. He was “led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil.” (Luke 4:1–2). Jesus faced Satan and “then the devil left him, and suddenly angels came and waited on him.” (Matthew 4:11) We face Satan and our own temptations in our desert time, just as Jesus did. And just as Jesus was not alone in his desert battle, we are not alone either.

As we continue on our Lenten journey, let us be led by the Spirit to have the courage to head into the desert as Jesus did. We pray that during these weeks of Lent, God will strengthen us in our weakness the way Jesus was strengthened. As St. Paul reminds us, “My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Corinthians 12:9)

Jesus’ time in the desert prepared him to begin his public ministry. When we leave our desert time and confront our demons with God’s help, we are stronger. It is in the desert time—our time of prayer, solitude, and aloneness with God—that God readies us for our next steps.

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February 26, 2015

The Lie at the Heart of Human Sinfulness

The lie at the heart of human sinfulness is that we can gain control of our existence by some action of our own and that God does not want us to have this power. God creating human beings in God’s own likeness is described in the first creation account in Genesis. But instead of accepting the friendship with God that was offered, human beings chose to enter into rivalry with God. The consequences of that disastrous choice plague our world still.

Do I harbor any distrust of God over control and power in my life? Can I pray the New Testament prayer “I believe; help my unbelief”?

—William A. Barry, SJ, in Lenten Meditations:
Growing in Friendship with God

Friendship with Jesus has been central to my faith since my conversion. Perhaps because I was not raised Catholic, I haven’t had some of the same struggles with the idea of Jesus’ humanity described by those raised with more emphasis on God’s kingship. Intimacy with God has always been central to me.

However, I have a different kind of struggle, which is to surrender control to God in those areas of my life that are out of my control. In my life as a mom, teacher, wife, administrator, and household manager, I am a good at organization and balance. However, I find myself challenged when faced with events outside of my control. For example, in the aftermath of a broken friendship where my friend refused to re-engage, I found myself acting in ways that were demanding and impatient in the course of seeking reconciliation. Sometimes we have to accept loss, however difficult. Others’ responses are never in our own control.

Central to friendship with God, as with any friendship, is mutual trust. As I said recently to a companion, “I trust in God; it’s other people that can be hard to trust!” Yet trusting in God is also a matter of trusting that despite my own and others’ human limits and sin, I am gently being invited to cooperate with the God who wants to “make all things new” (Rev. 21:5). I’m learning that I have not only to offer God my own creativity and responsibility, but to make that offer freely, without trying to control God or anyone else. Not easy!

How do we do it? The old adage says, “Let go and let God.” We can offer ourselves freely to God and to others and then let go of the outcomes. For example, in service work, I cannot know whether the person whom I am serving will benefit. But I can trust that God will somehow weave my actions into a larger, meaningful pattern. Slowly I am discovering that Jesus’ story and mine are intertwined, like threads in those old friendship bracelets that we used to weave back in college. The threads of both joy and suffering are like bright threads that contribute to the pattern of our stories with God.

Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian SpiritualityThis is part two of a seven-part series. Join us each Wednesday for Growing in Friendship with God This Lent.

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February 25, 2015

This post is based on Week Two of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

writing in diary

When I was in second grade, I kept a diary. It had a shiny purple cover, a tiny lock and key, and lined pages where I diligently listed what I did each day. This diary became the first of many I would later fill, and I would gradually add worn and well-loved journals (and a few empty ones) to my bookshelves. This collection of journals contains both the mundane, ordinary happenings of daily life as well as my deepest wonderings.

Because this second week of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure focuses on the Examen, I find myself wanting to review my filled diaries and journals. The Examen invites us into a similar process as journaling does—to look back over the raw material of our everyday lives, to reflect on God’s presence in it, and to choose to cooperate with God through our concrete, lived experience. As we make this a daily practice, we begin to see patterns, threads, and our role in the larger story that we are co-authoring with God.

When I was a senior at Boston College, I took a theology course called Praying Our Stories, which explored God’s presence in the everyday experiences and circumstances of our lives. Our capstone project for the class was to write a spiritual autobiography, our own story of faith. An avid journaler at the time, I turned to my entries to guide my story and was suddenly disappointed by their mundaneness, wishing I had a more interesting or action-packed story to share with my class.

This week, during my reflections, I have remembered how often I still fall into this thinking—that God is only found in extraordinary moments of dramatic transcendence. But I have also found renewed consolation. The Examen reminds me that God meets us just where we are: around the table, in the line at the grocery store, in our relationships, while walking to the bus stop, in the silence of the morning or evening, and throughout all our “coming and going” (Psalm 121).

May we be attentive to the Creative Writer who is the author of our stories and who is with us in all things.

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February 24, 2015

Arts & Faith: Lent logo

Each week of Lent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Lent. The video and prayer for the Second Week of Lent, Cycle B, are based on Mark 9:2–10.

“Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain apart, by themselves. And he was transfigured before them.”

—Mark 9:2

Preparation

The union in openness of body and mind and heart that is prayer begins with attention to each.

First your body: Sit upright, legs crossed or not, feet on the floor or not, lower back pressed against the chair. Or not. Breathe.

Now the mind: As you are able, let these words spill through the mind and down your spine into the earth. Let your thoughts puff away with each breath. As new ones come—knotted as they are with joy or pain—hold them like wounded birds. Set them aside to heal. Breathe.

And the heart: Vulnerability means able to be wounded. Of course there is resistance. Notice it. With your breath and with energy, pull back the vines and push open your heartgate. Breathe.

Tilt your chin up to the heavens and, with eyes open or closed, look back at the One who looks at you with great affection.

Breathe.

Postures of Prayer

Strange as it might seem to say, in the Transfiguration nothing changed for Jesus. In that moment of revelation he lived the same unity with the Father and the Spirit as he always had. What changed was that, for a moment, Peter and James and John could see him as he was and always is.

Their hands tell the story of their reactions. As you pray these next minutes, let your hands imitate theirs. Let their postures be your prayer.

With Peter lean forward, close your eyes and turn your face. Reach out toward your friend, toward the light.

  • How do you feel in this position of submission, of pleading?
  • What is the light like on your hands, your cheek, your back? Does it penetrate your closed eyes?
  • How does Jesus react to your outstretched hands? Does he grasp them? Lift you up?

With John cross your hands over your chest, tilt your chin and look away.

  • How do you feel in such a posture?
  • Are you holding something close with gentle affection? What are you holding? What comes to your memory?
  • Or are your hands guarding your heart? Do you feel vulnerable?
  • How does Jesus react to your hands, your stance? Does he come closer? Do you want him to?

With James raise your arms, open your palms, arch your back, and lift your eyes.

  • How does it feel for your body to be so opened before the Lord?
  • What stirs, what emerges from within as the light falls through your fingers, onto your face?
  • Were you ready for this revelation? Is there anything you want to say?

There are many ways to say yes. There are many ways to accept what is offered. In Jesus’ Transfiguration we are given a glimpse of what will happen to us when we approach, as closely as we can, the constant consent, the steady yes, that Jesus and the Father give to one another.

Consent. It is consent that is requested of us. And this cannot be coerced.

  • How do you feel that the Lord refuses to coerce you?
  • What is it like to be invited into this unity?
  • Is there anything you want to say to the Lord?

Speak with the Lord now about what has happened. Speak with him as one friend speaks to another.

Concluding Prayer

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video Arts & Faith: Second Sunday of Lent.

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February 23, 2015

woman reflected in mirror

At The Jesuit Post, Keith Maczkiewicz, SJ, writes about “Critique and Authenticity: When the Ideal Obscures the Good.” He relates a story of a time when authenticity won out over his internal critique and concludes:

The truth is that assuming a posture of critique and insisting on the ideal (whatever that is) means I often miss out on the opportunities to encounter the authentic. Too often I’m dismissing what is for what’s hoped for or what I think is best. To strive for excellence is not a bad thing in and of itself, of course, but when it becomes a central focus or driving force at the expense of encounter, it’s a clarion call for change.

I want to insist on the ideal—my own sense of what is right or correct—but authenticity is more important. Only in authenticity can real relationship be found and formed.

As many of us work to deepen our relationship with God this Lent, it’s useful to consider the role of authenticity in that goal. God cannot be anything but authentic—what about us?

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February 20, 2015

Paul Brian Campbell, SJ, suggests that Lent is a time to do life laundry. In other words, we can use the season to unburden ourselves of the things we accumulate that weigh us down.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video Time to Do Life Laundry.

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February 19, 2015

Lenten Meditations: Friendship with God

I maintain that God—out of the abundance of divine relational life, not any need for us—desires humans into existence for the sake of friendship. This thesis may sound strange, because it runs counter to much teaching about God. To be honest, I questioned it myself when I first began to think it through. But over the years, as my own relationship with God has deepened and I have listened to people talk about how God relates to them, I have become convinced that the best analogy for the relationship God wants with us is friendship.

As I begin my Lenten journey, I pray to understand what it means for my life that God wants to be friends with me.

—William A. Barry, SJ, in Lenten Meditations:
Growing in Friendship with God

The idea that God wants to be friends with me seems absurd! Why in the world would God, the Creator of the universe, the Giver of all things, want to be in relationship with me? What can I possibly offer God in the realm of friendship?

There are many types of friendships in my life:

  • the friends who can sit with me and hold everything going on in my life
  • the friends who can sit in silence with me as we savor our time together
  • the ones who laugh loudly with me and celebrate the abundance of life
  • the ones who are present during the tough times
  • the ones that are part of my day-to-day life and support me in motherhood

All of these friends offer a piece of themselves to me, and by their doing so I experience what it’s like to be loved by another. I, too, offer various types of friendships to men and women in my life. In being there as a friend, I am helping them experience what it’s like to be loved by another.

God offers a relationship that encompasses all of these different types of friendships. In a sense, God is the totality of all of my human friends in one. God sits with me in silence, rejoices with me, laughs with me, celebrates with me, supports me in tough times, and walks with me in my day-to-day life. All of these ways that God is present deepen my understanding of God’s love for me.

What can I offer to God, though? I offer my presence to God. I offer my response to the totality of God’s love. I offer my love to God as I laugh, celebrate, cry, and share the depths of my heart with God. I offer my gifts and talents to God. In this mutual giving to each other and receiving from each other, we develop a deep friendship with each other.

Subscribe to dotMagis, the blog of Ignatian SpiritualityThis is part one of a seven-part series. Join us each Wednesday for Growing in Friendship with God This Lent.

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February 18, 2015

This post is by Elizabeth Eiland Figueroa, as she begins An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

An Ignatian Prayer Adventure

In NBC’s hit comedy The Office, boss Michael Scott asked himself the Machiavellian question, “Would I rather be feared or loved?” With the absurd and dry humor that characterized the show, Michael Scott answered his own question, with a deadpan stare into the camera: “Easy, both. I want people to be afraid of how much they love me.”

Many of us might experience love and fear jumbled up together. Surely, our most graced moments involve allowing ourselves to be vulnerable, opening up, or letting go. We gaze at a child; we feel unimaginable love and also awareness of his or her smallness. We begin something new; we are filled with gratitude and also apprehension. Thankfully for us, God does not agree with Office-frontman Michael Scott; for God, love and fear are not mixed. We are invited into love alone.

This first week of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure has me thinking about fear and love. I think of love, of course, because the Spiritual Exercises begin with reflections on God’s unconditional love for each of us (shadows and all), and fear because, for me, it most often is the barrier to claiming this belovedness.

As Lent begins, I notice my own fears in prayer: a subtle difficulty in believing God could desire my friendship, a fleeting thought that doubts this core identity and purpose, a hesitation to surrender to what may arise. I notice a fearfulness even more persistent, too—that if I allow myself to trust God fully, God might ask something of me I am not willing to give. This particular fear stands directly in opposition to spiritual freedom, for this clutching does not allow much space for God. Fear tells us that if we lessen our grip, chaos will ensue; of course, it is precisely the gripping that can lead to restless discontent, desolation, and poor discernment.

This Lent, may we seek the grace of spiritual freedom. May we adopt a posture of Ignatian indifference—open, receptive, and free to love and serve as God desires. May we open ourselves to a God who draws us into friendship, nudges us towards deeper trust, and invites us to receive our belovedness with open hands.

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February 17, 2015

Arts & Faith: Lent logo

Each week of Lent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Lent. The video and prayer for the First Week of Lent, Cycle B, are based on Mark 1:12–15.

“And a voice came from heaven, ‘You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.’

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

—Mark 1:11–13

Preparation

The union in openness of body and mind and heart that is prayer begins with attention to each.

First your body: Sit upright, legs crossed or not, feet on the floor or not, lower back pressed against the chair. Or not. Breathe.

Now the mind: As you are able, let these words spill through the mind and down your spine into the earth. Let your thoughts puff away with each breath. As new ones come—knotted as they are with joy or pain—hold them like wounded birds. Set them aside to heal. Breathe.

And the heart: Vulnerability means able to be wounded. Of course there is resistance. Notice it. With your breath, and with energy, pull back the vines and push open your heartgate. Breathe.

Tilt your chin up to the heavens and, with eyes open or closed, look back at the One who looks at you with great affection.

Breathe.

Temptation and the Two Standards

It is not possible to imagine, in the Ignatian way, without first noticing. So notice, first, what it is like to look on the gold tiles, the royal desert in which the Enemy confronts the Friend.

  • What do you notice as you look at the mosaic? The rounded white edges of the bread? The dialogue of open hands? The trio of accompanying angels?
  • What do you notice? Where are you drawn and to whom?
  • What feelings begin to tunnel their way to the surface of your attention?

While noticing, let yourself remember that this confrontation comes only after the baptism of Jesus. For him, being tempted only happens after he has been told incontrovertibly of his belovedness, which he has been submerged in and accepted. Notice whether it is into the desert of acceptance that the Spirit drives you.

  • When is the last time you felt yourself named “beloved”?
  • Was it easy to assent to? Did you hold a part of yourself in reserve?
  • Do you want to be named the beloved?
  • Can you speak to the Lord about what you want?

The story the mosaic tells is a simple one. But despite its simplicity, asking how our lives tell this story too is an uncomfortable thing, because it means noticing how we are tempted.

St. Ignatius asks us, in the famous Two Standards meditation of the Spiritual Exercises, to imagine our friend Jesus and the Enemy of Our Human Nature instructing their followers how to behave in this world. The Enemy, says Ignatius, says to all the same thing he says to Jesus: we ought to move from the desire for riches (of any kind) to honor to pride, thus sealing off a person from openness to God.

  • What is the bread, the riches, you are offered that leads you into feeling honored by what you possess?
  • Do you say yes to them? What does that yes lead to?
  • Can you notice any honors given you that lead you to self-celebration and self-reliance?
  • What happens when you turn inward rather than outward in praise of the Giver of good gifts?
  • What does it feel like to be proud of being honored and having much? What does it do to you?
  • Do you notice any resistance, any uncomfortability with such sensations? Can you follow this resistance back into the life of vulnerability and dependence?

Our friend Jesus, says Ignatius, teaches us to resist as he did, moving instead from poverty to acceptance of humiliations and so into humility and dependence on God—all originating from having been immersed in an endless love.

Humility means self-acceptance. Self-acceptance means acceptance of dependence.

  • What is it like to say no to bread and riches, to assurance of success, to the smoother path to victory?
  • What is it like to resist? When and where in your life have you done so?
  • What is it like to feel the grace of being poor rather than rich?
  • What is it like to try to accept and celebrate your dependence?
  • How does the hard gift of humility feel?
  • Do you want it? What do you want?

Lastly remember the accompanying angels.

  • Who are the angels in your life that minister to you in your temptations?
  • To whom do you go when you need to be cared for and held close? Before whom can you be unpolished or disassembled?

Speak with our great Friend about what you have noticed and imagined. Speak as one friend speaks to another.

Concluding Prayer

Glory be to the Father,
and to the Son,
and to the Holy Spirit.
As it was in the beginning,
is now, and ever shall be,
world without end.
Amen.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video Arts & Faith: First Sunday of Lent.

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February 16, 2015