In many discussions of Ignatian indifference by Jesuit colleagues, the paradigmatic stories revolve around leaving behind jobs, projects, and relationships for the sake of mission. But I struggle to make sense of indifference in that way, since I live the life of a layperson where my intimate relationships are long-term. I’ve been married for 25 years, am the mom of two, and my closest friendships span many years. If life is not that of a soldier “on the road,” and instead our closest relationships are an extension of “home,” then what might indifference look like?

Mary and the Child Jesus

Mary can be a model of indifference in the context of long-term relationship. She exhibits two virtues needed for the freedom of continued intimacy over time: fidelity and flexibility as a response to change. When we are flexible, we have the freedom to let go of particular moments or phases of relationships while still continuing in the faithfulness that love requires.

When the angel first asks Mary if she will bear God’s son, she responds with faith, although she also feels confusion. Mary has no idea of what this life that she has promised to God will entail, yet her promise does not require knowing in advance so much as adapting to the pushes and pulls of changing relationships. As Jesus grows older, and Mary witnesses his growth, ministry, and finally his death and Resurrection, Mary remains faithful. But along with this fidelity is an ability to let go of different times in her relationship to her son. For example, when she and Joseph leave Jerusalem only to find Jesus has stayed behind in the Temple, they must learn anew to love a dramatically changed Jesus. Mary’s faithfulness is not limited to her family relationships; she is also a central presence to the disciples both in sorrow at the foot of the Cross and in the joys of Pentecost.

This fidelity and faithfulness can also be qualities that we can cultivate in long-term relationships. Moms know well that being a parent is a life filled with family fun and laughter and also putting up with the temper tantrums of toddlers or the sulking of teenagers. My husband and I find ourselves in periods of both mutual delight and boredom, while adapting over the years to the changes of being newlyweds, parents, or now, almost-empty nesters. My best friend and I relate differently now that she is married, but there are new possibilities for how we relate now married woman to married woman. Here the interior freedom to live out a life of love is found in flexibility within the context of a deeper, long-term fidelity.

Then there is heartbreak. Mary’s heart is pierced when her son suffers and dies. Loss is a part of life. Family members can die, friendships can be broken, or we can suffer betrayals. Here, too, Mary is a model. Mary loses Jesus not once, but twice, in his death and then again when he ascends into heaven, leaving her behind. Still, Mary remains faithful to God and does not abandon her faith. Instead, these piercings open her heart to greater compassion and faithfulness to others. Mary stands by us just as she stood faithfully at the foot of the Cross. Fidelity, flexibility, and faith are all parts of Marian indifference.

{ 1 comment }

December 4, 2014

Arts & Faith: Advent - Exploring sacred art during a season of hopeEach week of Advent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Advent.

The video and prayer for the Second Week of Advent, Cycle B, is based on Mark 1:1–8.

“The voice of one crying out in the wilderness:
“‘Prepare the way of the Lord,
make his paths straight.’”

—Mark 1:3

Preparation

As we begin this time of quiet prayer, I invite you to find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight and your legs planted on the ground. Allow yourself to notice your breathing as you breathe normally. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Take a few moments and close your eyes, preparing yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this prayer. As you sit with your eyes closed, use these or similar words: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am.” When you are ready, open your eyes and pray.

The Man Attracting a Crowd

Imagine you are walking along a tree-lined path in your favorite park. It’s a beautiful day with the sun shining in a clear blue sky. You are smiling as you feel the sun on your face and listen to the birds singing. But your heart is heavy. You need to make a decision, and you are unsure what to do. You begin praying. Dear God, please be with me this day. I’m not sure what I need to do. It feels so difficult. Help me see your will in my life.

As you walk, you notice a large crowd of people. They are standing, sitting, and some have even climbed up the trees and are hanging from the limbs. As you approach, you strain to see what they are looking at. You try to see over the shoulders of those standing, but it’s hard. Finally, you notice a clear spot to see what’s happening. You have to stand on your toes, but you see an unusual man standing at the center of the scene. He is surrounded by the crowd, who are all facing him, listening to what he is saying. Something is drawing you to him. You gently move through the crowd who lets you pass. You find yourself standing at the edge of the circle in front of the man. He has a strange look about him. His clothes are torn and dirty. Why are so many people listening to him? You wonder.

As you stand there, you hear his voice, but the words are unclear to you. You try to listen harder, but you still cannot make out what he says. Then, as if he knew you were straining to hear him, his eyes look directly into yours. His eyes are dark and mysterious. There is something in his eyes that speaks to you more than the words he’s saying. You feel so safe in his gaze. A deep feeling of peace comes over you. He continues to look at you as you hear him say, “You are looking for the path to follow. Jesus has shown you the way. Follow him. Listen to his voice deep inside you. He walks the path with you.” His eyes continue to look at you. You feel the tears running down your cheeks. Thank you. Thank you, you say in a soft whisper. You move through the crowd, your heart lighter. Now you see the path before you.

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.

{ 0 comments }

December 3, 2014

December 3 is the feast of St. Francis Xavier. St. Francis was one of the first Jesuits and a close friend of St. Ignatius Loyola. The New England and New York Provinces of Jesuits put together this map of places important to the life of this missionary saint.

{ 0 comments }

December 2, 2014

candle

The words of the Psalmist in Psalm 62 echo with reminders of the comfort and strength that come from God: “In God alone is my soul at rest. God alone is my rock. My hope is in God.” These words speak to the depths of my heart and give me clarity on where I find respite to my restlessness, tiredness, worries, and busyness.

I know these words speak truth and hold wisdom for me from the evidence in my past. I know God is where I find respite. I know God is where my spirit can find rest. I know God is where I can find hope and strength.

Yet, so often, I do not heed the Psalm’s words of wisdom nor my own learned wisdom from experience. I do the very thing the First Principle and Foundation warns against with the gifts of my life.

All the things in this world are gifts from God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God. (David L. Fleming, SJ, translation)

Often without me realizing it at first, something else besides God becomes the center of my life and the place or person within which I seek to find rest, strength, and hope. More often, something or someone else gets the center of my attention—an issue that I am dealing with, my responsibilities as a parent, the unending task list on my desk—and my time with God gets pushed to the wayside.

The gifts of my life, the people I love, the job I am honored to do, the responsibilities I am trusted with, end up taking precedence over my relationship with God. This is never intentional but slowly erodes my prayer life. The signs of displacing God as my center are obvious. They appear in the phrases I hear myself saying, “Why do I feel so tired? So cranky? So frazzled? So stressed? So overwhelmed?”

These questions are signs that I need to take my spiritual pulse. I need to assess my prayer life and take a serious look at what or who has become the center of my life. Is it God? Or is it one of the many gifts of my life?

The First Principle and Foundation suggests all of the gifts of my life help me to know God, but they are not to become gods in my life. As Psalm 62 reminds me, it is not through the gifts of my life that my soul is at rest, but through the giver of the gifts, God.

God alone is my rock. My hope is in God. For me to know this and live this, God needs to remain my center. The only way I know how to bring God back to my center is by intentionally showing up every day in prayer to be with God. It is through God alone that, despite all that is going on in my life, my soul can be at rest.

{ 3 comments }

December 1, 2014

As Advent gets underway, here are a few resources to help you enter the season.

Arts and Faith: Advent

Arts & Faith: Advent invites you to explore sacred art inspired by the Sunday Scripture readings. Enjoy the weekly video commentary and related Ignatian contemplations.

Vinita Wright offers an online retreat with the theme, “Simply Advent.” Join her Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays at Days of Deepening Friendship.

If you’re looking for an Advent calendar, check out this online version that directs you to a different reflection each day during the season. A Spanish Advent calendar is also available.

Pray-as-You-Go and Sacred Space are collaborating to bring you a retreat called, “All the Generations.”

May your Advent be blessed.

{ 0 comments }

November 28, 2014

Week of Gratitude

Americans celebrate Thanksgiving today. Take a few moments before the feast to contemplate the true gifts we’re celebrating this day. Be inspired by some of the words shared during the Week of Gratitude, hosted by Paul Brian Campbell, SJ, at his blog, People for Others.

For the old, creaky wood floors and the chipped paint; for the plaster falling from the ceiling and the hissing radiators; for the neighbors who never smile and the ones that always do; for the many flights of stairs and the warm light from thrift-store lamps …I’m grateful for an apartment that feels like home.

Kerry Weber

I’m grateful for less, however little of less I’ve achieved. After years of contemplative prayer, I can’t tell if I’ve made any “progress.” I notice, however, that I’m saying a bit less these days, especially when I’m tempted to impress someone with a witty remark, light teasing, or something else that might be seen as impressive. I hold my tongue and almost immediately I realize that my remark would have just complicated the situation, leading to more chatter and useless agitation that the world really doesn’t need.

Richard Cole

I continue to find new things along the Ignatian path. This year it was the writing of St. Peter Faber. He wrote, “Everywhere there is good to be done, everywhere there is something to be planted and harvested. For we are indebted to all men in every condition and in every place.”

Jim Manney

{ 0 comments }

November 27, 2014

This close to Thanksgiving, the word “pilgrim” has one meaning for Americans. But we’re all pilgrims in life, as St. Ignatius knew. In this video, Fr. John Murphy, SJ, articulates our pilgrim goal: “The goal is happiness. The goal is knowledge of Jesus. The goal is knowledge of the self.”

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video Pilgrims.

{ 0 comments }

November 26, 2014

Arts & Faith: Advent - Exploring sacred art during a season of hopeEach week of Advent, we’ll provide an Ignatian prayer for you, inspired by a video from Arts & Faith: Advent.

The video and prayer for the First Week of Advent, Cycle B, is based on Mark 13:33–37.

“Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn.”

—Mark 13:35

Preparation

As we begin this time of quiet prayer, I invite you to find a comfortable place to sit with your back straight and your legs planted on the ground. Allow yourself to notice your breathing as you breathe normally. Breathe in. Breathe out.

Take a few moments and close your eyes, preparing yourself to listen to what God may be saying to you during this prayer. As you sit with your eyes closed, use these or similar words: “Here I am, Lord. Here I am.” When you are ready, open your eyes and pray.

Inviting in the Visitor

Imagine you are sitting in a small room in a house that is surrounded by farmland and woods. You have come here to seek the quiet and calm. The busy life of work, family, and the city have made you feel anxious and unfocused. You know you need something; you need some time to let your mind be quiet and your heart open. Quiet and open—those words sound so peaceful and desirable but unreachable. The room is simple: a bed, a desk, and a wooden chair. The walls are bare. You’ve brought books to read and a journal to write in, but you can’t seem to do anything but sit on the chair and absorb the silence, even as you feel restless.

As you sit in the silence, you hear a faint sound like a knock on the door. Your heart races, Who knows I’m here? I need to be alone, you think. The knocking becomes louder. As much as you want to stay in the room, something moves you to go to the door. The knock comes again, but it’s a soft knock. As you approach the door, you see a light streaming under it. “Hello. Can I help you?” you say without opening the door. A soft voice says, “It’s me. I’ve been looking for you.” Something deep inside you stirs, but you are confused. “Who are you? Do I know you?” you say. “Yes. But we have not talked in a long time. I’ve missed you,” he says. You open the door.

Standing there is Jesus. His eyes look at you with such tenderness. He carries a small lantern that gives off a bright, warm light. You stand there, unable to speak at first, allowing yourself to take in his presence and his light. You speak to Jesus. What do you say to him? How does Jesus respond to you? You invite Jesus into the house. You sit and tell him of the restlessness you feel. As you talk to Jesus, a wave of peace and calm washes over you like the warm light streaming from his lantern. “Rest. Be still. You opened the door. Now let me take care of you,” Jesus says. You close your eyes and let his words embrace you. Your heart is at peace, and your mind is still. When you open your eyes, Jesus is gone. Sitting beside the chair where he sat is the lantern, still emitting that bright, warm light. You smile and rest in the glow of the light.

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.

{ 2 comments }

November 25, 2014

stones

I have a little bag of pebbles. They’re so attractive that I use them as visual aids for retreats and workshops.

One day during a retreat in Ireland, I spread out the stones on a table. To my delight, one morning I find two of the participants poring over them, handling them as if they were diamonds, and marveling to one another.

When I express my surprise, they explain that they have been missionaries in Zimbabwe, and that many of these pebbles come from that part of the world. They tell me how they used to collect them from ancient riverbeds. They know every one of them by name and can tell me all about it.

Just a bag of pebbles to me. But to them, each one has a name and a story.

Just like people. We see the anonymous crowds, but they are made up of unique individuals, beloved and beautiful, each carrying a sacred story.

—Excerpted from Compass Points by Margaret Silf.

{ 0 comments }

November 24, 2014

On a recent Monday morning I climbed up the sun-drenched stairs to my office, my bag slung over my shoulder, my lunch balanced precariously on a stack of papers and books, the last notes of sung Morning Prayer dancing through my head. And then I saw it—a manila envelope peeking out of the bin by my door—and sun and song vanished with a small pop.

A manila envelope that someone has taken the effort to leave outside my door, rather than consign to the plodding pace of campus mail, is a portent of trouble, and complicated troubles at that. I left it in the bin while I bustled about putting away my papers and books and lunch. When I couldn’t put it off any longer, I grabbed it, emptied the contents onto my desk—and blinked.

manila envelope

A stack of index cards, each with a message in bright marker, tumbled out. “I love your class!” “You make chemistry interesting and fun.” “Thanks for the cookies. :)”

Thank you, each of them said, not with a dashed “thx,” but with wonderfully wrought expressions of gratitude for the routine things I do. Preparing lectures and having office hours. And a few for untangling the difficulties that hide in manila envelopes.

One of the gifts of the Examen in my life has been the way in which it makes gratitude more of a habit, opening my eyes to see the graces in my morning cup of tea or reminding me to look up at the sky and to thank God for the routine miracles of caffeine and sunrises. Yet this manila envelope of gratitude made me wonder if I’ve been avoiding peering deeply inside of the difficult moments, to remember with gratitude that God is equally present there. Do I respond with a rushed eyes-squinted-shut-thanks-for-that, or can I unhesitatingly open my eyes to what is hidden inside the events of my life, even the events that open into swirling chaos and pain, and be grateful for the specific graces inevitably entangled within them?

Last week, my youngest brother’s wife was rushed to the hospital, critically ill. That night, I sent him a short message, ending with a blessing drawn from St. Patrick’s Lorica, “May you know that Christ is with you both, under your feet, behind you and beside you.” He said in response that he had been clinging to that prayer throughout the long and terrible day, asking for the grace to look for God’s presence in the terror and grief, to be grateful for what he could see in each moment. I was, and remain, humbled by his willingness to open his eyes and look for God in the midst of such terrible times.

There have been miracles over the last two days, for which I am indescribably grateful. But I am immeasurably grateful, too, for the lessons which open my eyes to the terrible beauty of God at work.

{ 0 comments }

November 21, 2014