children on swings

In his Christmas message to the Curia, Pope Francis worried about those who suffer from “la malattia della faccia funerea”—the malady of the funeral face. Symptoms include brusqueness, arrogance, and a “sterile pessimism.” His suggested remedy? A dose of prayerful humor in the form of St. Thomas More’s plea for good digestion and calm life: “Grant me, O Lord, a sense of good humor. Allow me the grace to be able to take a joke and to discover in life a bit of joy…”

I am reminded of Margaret Guenther’s exploration of the relationship between prayer and play in her grace-filled book on spiritual direction, Holy Listening. In it she quotes the anonymous 14th-century author of The Cloud of Unknowing mocking the stiff and overpious: “Sometimes their eyes look like the eyes of wounded sheep near death…Far better a modest countenance, a calm, composed bearing, and a merry candor.” Six centuries later Pope Francis echoes that advice to the funeral-faced: “An apostle must make an effort to be courteous, serene, enthusiastic and joyful, a person who transmits joy everywhere he goes. A heart filled with God is a happy heart which radiates an infectious joy.”

Guenther suggests a touch of playfulness in prayer grounds us and reminds us that God is in the everyday as much as in the spiritual heights. I love the impish way Thomas More’s prayer begins, with a request to the Lord for good digestion, and, oh, by the way, some food to digest would not go amiss. It reminds me of the way my college-aged sons banter with me in the kitchen, certain enough of my love for them, and theirs for me, to playfully tease me. In his Exercises, St. Ignatius encourages us to speak to Jesus as one friend to another. Do I love God enough to banter with him, as my sons do with me? Or perhaps I should ask if I’m certain enough of God’s love for me that I would risk bantering with God in my prayer?

There is a joyful persistence in play as well that I might do well to bring into my prayer. Children at play can be hard to budge (Ask any parent of a three-year-old!), not because they know longer is “better,” but because they are caught up in the joy of the work at hand, be it messy or even risky.

When I was young, we lived behind the convent and parish school. I loved to walk over after school on a crisp fall day and swing on the swings. I can still remember the delight when I figured out how to pump and could go higher and higher without anyone pushing me. It felt like flying. And there was the heady risk of it all. Would I bounce out of the swing? Would I go so high I would fly over the top bar? Could I stop without ruining the tops of my shoes? There is a wild joy to this sort of play.

Am I willing, I wonder, to abandon myself to such wild joy in prayer, to live with such a wild love of God that it infects those I meet? Pope Francis suggests I might pray for the grace.

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January 14, 2015

two men having a conversation

Philip Shano, SJ, reflects on the similarities between a personal trainer and a spiritual director.

We are sometimes half asleep, almost in a slumber—whether with our physical or spiritual exercise. I find that Christian helps wake me up, at least when I am at Goodlife. Part of the gift of a spiritual director is that he or she can wake me up spiritually. Just the fact that I’m meeting with her will make me more attentive to what is happening in my interior life. I might speak of a movement in my interior life to my director and he asks a subtle question that causes me to look at my situation in a new way.

If you’ve resolved this year to find a spiritual director, Becky Eldredge offers some advice.

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January 13, 2015

Baptism of Christ art

The readings for the celebration of the Baptism of the Lord concern receptivity to God’s gifts. Isaiah’s words invite the thirsty to “come to the water” and promise those who listen that they “shall delight in rich fare.” (Isaiah 55:1—2)

Isaiah reminds us that God is a God who is constantly offering us good gifts. The “rich fare” of God is not only the plenty of nourishing food that a good community provides for all, but also the deeper food of love that God endlessly offers. Yet we might ask ourselves: Are we receptive to the love that God is constantly pouring out?

Sometimes I can be tempted to pay attention to what is missing in my own life instead of appreciating God’s bounty. Yet love is a plentiful offering. Jesus is receptive of God’s love in allowing himself to be baptized by John, although John says he is not worthy to untie Jesus’ sandals (Mark 1:7—11). Jesus shows us that before we can undertake our own ministries of care, we need to allow the sun of God’s loving rays to shine upon us so that we can reflect back some of that light to others.

How do we practice receptivity? Here are some concrete practices that may be helpful. All involve some degree of surrender to God’s action over our own.

1. Rest in silence. Silencing our own interior voices in prayer allows God’s voice within to rise to the surface. Or there may be an even deeper experience of relationship beyond words, an underlying unity of self, God, and others.

2. Be attentive to everyday acts of love. All around us, people act in loving and generous ways. Perhaps my spouse tries to connect by sharing about his day: am I open to listening attentively? Or I may see two students who greet and warmly embrace one another—even if I do not know them, witnessing their mutual care is a gift.

3. Let go and surrender to loving here and now. Often, we want to give and to receive love in ways of our own choosing, but if we are open to change, we make room for love to flow. Perhaps today my teenager doesn’t want to engage in small talk, but meanwhile I can practice kindness to a stranger in need.

4. Give away love without expectation of return. Paradoxically, the more we give away ourselves, the more room there is for God to enter in. St. Clare described the soul as a mirror that reflects divine love. St. Catherine wrote of it as like an empty jug that must stay near the fountain of love. Both images remind us that it’s in emptiness that we find fullness, and in letting go that we can both receive and give.

Image by Davezelenka under Creative Commons license.

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January 12, 2015

please - boy in prayer

Most of us don’t think about the word please much in our daily interactions with colleagues, family, or friends. But Randy Roche, SJ, took some time to reflect on the effect that please can have in our relationships with each other and with God. He concludes:

In prayer, we certainly are pleasing to God when our attitude, in asking or conveying our desires, includes appreciation for God’s absolute freedom to love us in the manner that God chooses. We do not like to receive implicit demands from anyone, as it appears to us as demeaning. We are far more responsive to others when our freedom is properly valued. God loves us completely, but we are incapable of receiving what we really need if we let ourselves imagine that God is somehow obligated to respond as we desire. Trust is based on our belief that God loves us and will do what is best for us, just as we expect others whom we trust to act out of love in whatever they say or do in answer to our appeals.

In relationships, “please” epitomizes one of our most beautiful characteristics.

Read the full article at the Ignatian Volunteer Corps site.

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January 9, 2015

This brief video illustrates the prayer “Fall in Love,” attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe, SJ.

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

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January 8, 2015

When I hear the word saint, the first image that comes to my mind is not some Carmelite nun kneeling in a darkened chapel fingering her rosary beads. Now, I am sure many Carmelite nuns are saints, but they are not the first things I think of.

child crying

The first image that comes to my mind is a young mother in the parking lot at the mall, trying to get three children—all under five—into their car seats. It reminds me of someone trying to put an octopus to bed. The woman gets the first child buckled in his seat when the second one starts to scream, “Cookie! Cookie!” The woman digs into a grocery bag, rips open a box of cookies, and shoves one at the kid. Then she lifts him into his car seat. That’s when the first kid starts screaming that he wants a cookie, too. She fishes around for a cookie for him. Meanwhile the baby, who is still in the stroller, starts fussing, so, after giving a cookie to the first child, the woman turns her attention to the third. That’s when the second child starts hitting the first one with the cookie box, and the first one starts to cry. Even when the woman has succeeded, by some miracle, in getting all three children into their car seats, she is not finished yet. She still has to put the shopping bags in the car, collapse the stroller, lift it into the back, and get herself into the car, too. And when she gets home, she has got to reverse the whole process. Now that is sanctity!

It is also tremendous patience—and patience is yet another gift of the Holy Spirit. The word patience is derived from the Latin verb passio, meaning “to bear or endure.” Patient people are those who can bear trials and pains with calmness and equanimity. They are able to put up with delays, wait for the right moment, and bide their time.

Patient people are more flexible with time than impatient people. Impatient people exist in only one time frame—their own. They are comfortable with only one schedule—theirs. They want things done when they want things done. And they expect the rest of the world to adapt to their schedule. If they want their child to be potty trained by twenty-four months and he is not by twenty-six, they get angry. If they have to stand in line at the store while an elderly lady ahead of them carries on a brief conversation with the cashier, they get upset because that lady is disrupting their schedule.

Patient people, on the other hand, can flow back and forth between different time frames. They know, for example, that potty training a child may necessitate entering a time frame other than their own. Waiting in line for a few extra moments while an elderly lady chats with a cashier invites patient people to momentarily set aside their own schedule. They enter with compassion the schedule of another, someone who is lonely and who may have more time than she knows what to do with.

Recently I did some creative imaging and took a walk with Patience. When I asked her, “What can I do to become more like you?” she thought for a moment, smiled warmly, and said, “Plant an acorn. . . .Befriend a turtle. . . . Teach a child.”

How patient am I? Am I able to step out of my own time frame and enter with compassion the time frame of someone else?

God of infinite patience, let me walk with you today.

—Excerpted from Gracious Goodness by Melannie Svoboda, SND

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January 7, 2015

lightning bolt

Sometimes it takes a bolt of lightning to release our creativity and kick-start the emergence of a new way of thinking or doing or being. Scientists say that it may have been like that when life first began to evolve on this planet, that violent charges from the electric storms raging above the crashing seas were the triggers for chemical change in the “primordial soup” where the elements of life were awaiting conception.

Certainly I have noticed this pattern in my own life. When times have been stable, and, though I might not have admitted it, there was plenty of time and opportunity to do something creative, I in fact became sluggish and stagnant, like a puddle of that primordial soup. Nothing flowed, and the days kept on coming and going with no movement forward. But when life fell apart and I had to adjust to new patterns, a new place, new people, and I was feeling stressed and pressured and didn’t know how I was ever going to come to grips with things, then, for no obvious reason, I also seemed to become more creative. Ideas began to flow again, and somehow I found the time to explore and express them. The bolt of lightning had kick-started a new phase of inner growth.

In the bigger human story, history shows that it is often in times of crisis that humanity discovers itself. War, though it is an indictment of our failure to be decent and mature human beings, can also bring out the best in us, as we care for one another and work together in new ways to deal with the situations that war causes. Disaster often calls forth new depths of resourcefulness and altruism that we never knew we had. Evolution moved forward most rapidly when conditions on the earth were hostile, such as during the Ice Ages, when human beings had to invent new ways of surviving. We learn more from our failures than from our successes. Every failure is a potential learning point. It is said with some truth that we are often at our best when life deals us its worst.

It doesn’t have to be anything as terrifying as a bolt of lightning. Sometimes just a small change in our situations can bring about a new growth spurt. Perhaps a change of scene, a journey, a visit with a friend, or even a book or a movie that excited new passion in us—all these can start a new pattern going in our minds and hearts and souls.

—Excerpted from The Other Side of Chaos by Margaret Silf

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January 6, 2015

Examen Prayer for the YearAs we ushered in the new year last week, Vinita Hampton Wright invited readers of her blog, Days of Deepening Friendship, to pray an Examen for 2014. She starts the three-part series by suggesting we become aware of God’s presence, and “One way of doing this is to ask the Holy Spirit to help you review 2014 with a holy perspective—with wisdom, grace, and faith.”

Take some time this first full week of 2015 to review the past and look to the year ahead.
Examen Prayer for 2014
Examen of 2014 Continued
Examen of 2014 Completed

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January 5, 2015

St. Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre offers a video that walks one through the Examen. Though the Examen can be prayed in the morning or the evening, this version is geared for bedtime prayer.

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video End of Day Examen.

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January 2, 2015

fireworks

Happy New Year! Before we jump into the new year of dotMagis posts, let’s take some time today to look back at the year ended. Enjoy some of the most popular posts from 2014.

Did you have a favorite post this year? What do you want to see on dotMagis in the year 2015?

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January 1, 2015