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    How to Think about Tiger Woods

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    Always look for the good in people, said Ignatius Loyola.  He said “be more eager to put a good interpretation on a neighbor’s statement than to condemn it.”  Needless to say, this isn’t always my instinctive response to what others say and do.  So I take to heart this advice from Anthony Bloom, an Orthodox theologian and bishop:

    Unless we look at a person and see the beauty there is in this person, we can contribute nothing to him. One does not help a person by discerning what is wrong, what is ugly, what is distorted. Christ looked at everyone he met, at the prostitute, at the thief, and saw the beauty hidden there. Perhaps it was distorted, perhaps damaged, but it was beauty none the less, and what he did was to call out this beauty.

    In France one speaks of ‘la ville d’Ys’, the city of Ys, which, because of the simpleness of the surrounding world, disappeared in the depth of a lake. Only people with a pure heart can see this city through the waters of the lake and hear the sound of its bells. This is what we must learn to do with regard to others. But to do so we must first have a purity of heart, a purity of intention, an openness which is not always there – certainly not in me – so that we can listen, can look, and can see the beauty which is hidden.

    Every one of us is in the image of God, and every one of us is like a damaged icon. But if we were given an icon damaged by time, damaged by circumstances, or desecrated by human hatred, we would treat it with reverence, with tenderness, with broken-heartedness. We would not pay attention primarily to the fact that it is damaged, but to the tragedy of its being damaged. We would concentrate on what is left of its beauty, and not on what is lost of its beauty. And this is what we must learn to do with regard to each person as an individual, but also – and this is not always as easy – with regard to groups of people, whether it be a parish or a denomination, or a nation. We must learn to look, and look until we have seen the underlying beauty of this group of people. Only then can we even begin to do something to call out all the beauty that is there. Listen to other people, and whenever you discern something which sounds true, which is a revelation of harmony and beauty, emphasize it and help it to flower. Strengthen it and encourage it to live.

    Shared Silence

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    I am on retreat with some 40 Boston College students. For five days, we are keeping silence together and attending to the mystery of God.

    During a meeting with other guides, an older Jesuit remarked that those who shared the long retreat–30 days in silence–emerge as lifelong friends, even without having spoken to each other.

    I believe I understand why. Contemplating the mystery of God in silence is like gazing together at the transfigured Jesus. Sharing such a gaze–beholding God’s mystery together–changes you. It is a conversion, a conversation (Latin “turning together”), a shared glimpse at the truth “deep down things,” as Hopkins put it.

    What a beautiful metaphor for what lovers do. I have often quoted Antoine de Saint-Exupéry: “Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” I wonder whether the problem today is precisely that some lovers have lost the sense that there is anything else to look at besides each other, and that when they become bored they move on.

    The promise of love is like the promise of a shared pilgrimage: that of moving together toward God, and therefore toward the source of love. Only with such a hopeful promise can couples weather the inevitable storms of the pilgrimage. And only with such a promise can one sustain hope, sustain desire, sustain joy–even during periods when one is unhappy. On the other hand, when one is happy one can appreciate it but not get too caught up in it; what matters is not the weather but the progress of the pilgrimage.

    AMDG

    Madre de Dios

    Ignatius Loyola had a profound devotion to Mary. He loved her with the love of a soldier and leader of men. His connection to the Mother of God was was deep and fierce–a matter of life and death.

    This piece by Barry Lopez describes a relationship with Mary that resembles the one I imagine Ignatius had with her. It’s one of the most powerful essays I’ve read lately. Please be sure to read to the very end.

    H/T to Joe Durepos

    Jesus with Us

    Finding God in All Things - text overlaid on heart
    In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius encourages us to pray with our imaginations. He suggests we enter into the nativity scene in our mind’s eye, seeing the rough timbers of the stalls, smelling the animals and the hay; listening to the soft murmurs of conversation between Mary and Joseph in the stable. He knew that using our imaginations was a powerful way to find an intimacy with God.

    In recent weeks, I may have come up with a new twist on this Ignatian tradition: Jesus, Mary, and Joseph are in our front yard.

    For my husband’s October birthday, our children found a large, retro nativity set in an antique store. It’s the outdoor kind that plugs in and lights up from inside each figure. He was delighted and in mid-December set it in place in the front yard, putting a timer on the lights and tucking it under a tree near our front door.

    Two blizzards and a few smaller snowstorms later, the Holy Family is still with us. Snow that first piled up around their feet was knee-high by the next storm. With each successive blizzard, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph became more permanent fixtures in our front yard. Snow was up to their waists, then shoulders. Baby Jesus is no longer visible.

    There is something quite comforting about it. From inside our house, the only thing we can see is Mary’s head. Jesus is still at the center, glowing from somewhere deep in the snow between them, giving off a light in the darkest time of the year.

    It’s the way Jesus is always in our lives. We can’t see him but we can feel his presence. He’s there through every storm we witness. He is with us in the joys of the holiday gatherings, and in the everyday tensions of family dynamics, no matter how flawless we wanted Christmas to be, no matter how much we wanted to look like a perfect family. Jesus doesn’t come to us in a Hallmark Moment. He enters our real lives with us. Jesus is in our pain and our deepest longings; in the delight of being with those we love and the sadness of grieving those who are gone.

    We’re back to Ordinary Time in the Church, but at our house, Jesus, Mary, and Joseph remain on duty every night in the front yard. Someday next spring, we may be able to dig them out, but I’m in no hurry. I like having Jesus out there, reminding me in a very real way of his constant love for us, on even the darkest and coldest nights.

    Bodies, Beauty, and the Grace of the First Week

    Sticking with the theme of new year’s resolutions, I’ve been thinking about a common one: getting fit.

    It struck me yesterday, while watching a Boston College women’s basketball game with my two girls, 10 and 7.  Lots of talent on the floor, on both sides of the ball; it was fun to watch, especially with my ten year-old, who was watching with her own basketball team.

    It’s kind of a truism that sports are good for kids–for girls, it helps their body image and has lots of other benefits.  What struck me yesterday was something that I’ve intuited for a while: namely, that part of what makes sports help with body image is that participation in them can re-shape the imagination of what constitutes beauty.  For so many girls, what constitutes beauty is Barbie-like perfection, and the results are unhealthy.  My wife Sue, who is a counselor, has dealt with many girls over the years who cut themselves, or who have eating disorders, because their bodies will never match that image.  Sports helps kids re-imagine what a beautiful body does: this tall one gets rebounds, this short quick one is great for ball-handling, and so on.

    Now, full disclosure: I coached rowing for many years during graduate school, and those who’ve read my book The Ignatian Workout know that I use that experience to understand what Ignatius was doing in the Spiritual Exercises.  I understand the grace of the first week to be about coming to know the real me, the me that God sees–not the “me” that is poorly imagined when I absorb the wrong messages from my culture.  I consider Hans Christian Andersen’s story  “The Ugly Duckling” to be a good metaphor: if the world tells you that you should be a duck, then you’ll hate yourself for being a swan.

    I see some of my students–usually women, but men too– thinking that they’ve got to do everything possible to be a duck.  My job as a parent and a teacher is to help kids understand the kind of swans God has made them to be.  One good argument for regular church attendance and regular prayer is that these are practices that help re-train the imagination away from those who want us to be ducks.  Much of our days are spent in duck-land; liturgy, I think, is about entering a world of swans.  It reminds us that the ambient messages in our culture are often designed to make us hate ourselves, so we’ll go out and purchase the products that will make us more duck-like.

    There is a story about St. Nonnus and St. Pelagia which hints at this idea of re-imagining oneself.  Bishop Nonnus was traveling with other clergy and saw a beautiful prostitute.  The others looked away, but Nonnus gazed at her, lovingly.  No one had ever looked at her that way; she later sought him, found him, and converted to Christianity, later becoming known as Saint Pelagia.  Being looked at with love transforms us, makes us see ourselves differently: this is what we seek in the first week of the Exercises.  We are not perfect, but when God looks at us with love we want to love God back.

    So, to return to getting fit: I think fitness is good when it is the way we love God back, when we exercise our bodies to care for that important dimension of who God has created us to be.  I love Eric Liddell’s line from Chariots of Fire: “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  If God has given us bodies for motion, we ought to move them.  Conversely, and importantly: if God has given us different gifts, gifts that make fitness difficult or impossible, then our joy is to be found not in critiquing ourselves for not being Jackie Joyner-Kersee.  Perhaps our inner swan looks more like Stephen Hawking.  In any case, the grace of the first week is about the realism of discerning who God has created me to be.

    A Jesuit Off-Broadway

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    A Jesuit Off-Broadway is Fr. Jim Martin’s account of his involvement with a theater troupe putting on the play “The Last Days of Judas Iscariot.”  The play has a compelling premise; at the behest of St. Monica, Judas is plucked out of hell and put on trial for his act of betrayal.  Fr. Martin was asked to help the playwright and actors understand the theological and historical issues.  The book is a fascinating look at how actors really work.

    Here’s a video about the book.

    Weekend Reading

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    Jim Martin, SJ, on finding God in hard times.

    What Nathan O’Halloran, SJ, learned in 2009.

    Jake Martin, SJ, on Crazy Heart.

    Joe Koczera, SJ, on Alfred Delp’s idea of happiness.

    The Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian Work

    Maureen Waldron of Creighton University thinks that Jesuits should make special efforts to expand the ministry of the Spiritual Exercises to include the lay people who work in Jesuit/Ignatian ministries. “Freely offering them the Exercises, will support partners in ministry in exploring more deeply the roots of Ignatian spirituality and help them have a clearer understanding of the spirit and mission of these shared ministries,” she writes.

    Read the whole thing.

    Waldron, who blogs here at dotMagis, describes the impressive efforts she and her colleagues at Creighton have made to adapt the Exercises for a wide lay audience. These efforts include Creighton’s Online Retreat, which has also been published as a book, Retreat in the Real World.

    Resolutions?

    I’m not one to make new year’s resolutions, but because my calendar now says 2010 I can’t help but think a little about them.

    I just finished a review of Christopher Jamison’s fine book Finding Happiness, which is perfect for those of a resolution frame of mind. Written by a Benedictine abbot (of Worth Abbey, in Sussex), the book looks at the development of the philosophy of happiness in the West, from the Greeks into the monastic period of the Church, focusing on the Eight Thoughts (acedia, gluttony, lust, greed, anger, sadness, vanity, and pride) which get in the way of happiness. Remove the eight thoughts, he suggested, following the 4th century monk John Cassian, and you remove what makes you unhappy.

    As a historical note, when Ignatius wrote the Spiritual Exercises he was using a tradition that was already long established in monastic history, so what Jamison has to say about happiness is very much in the same vein as what Ignatius was aiming for. The idea is common in the Church Fathers and Mothers, Aquinas and the scholastics, and Ignatius: remove sin so that God’s grace may work in your life. That’s happiness. (Not necessarily pleasure–they all followed Aristotle on this point, that pleasure is passing but happiness is a way of being at work in the world. Pleasure is fine, but it comes and goes.)

    So if you’re looking for a new year’s resolution, how about three suggestions?

    1. Read Jamison’s book.

    2. Introduce some daily devotion/prayer that helps you discern more clearly what the good work in the world God is calling you to.

    3. Identify one of the eight thoughts that keep you from living more fully in God’s grace. Pray and work to remove that thought.

    Best Ignatian Songs: Jesus Ahatonhia

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    “Jesus ahatonhia,” our last Christmas song of the season, is probably the first Christmas carol written in North America. The title means “Jesus, he is born” in the language of the Huron/Wendat native people of Canada. The Jesuit martyr St. Jean de Brébeuf wrote the song in that language. It is a good example of the way the early Jesuit missionaries adapted the ideas and imagery of native people to express Christian concepts. Here is a literal translation from Wendat into English.

    It’s also a beautiful song. It has become known as “The Huron Carol,” and has been sung by numerous artists in both French and English. Here is sung by the Canadian artist Heather Dale. The first verse is in Wendat, the second is French, the third is English.

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