This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay for Week Six of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.Lately, my husband and I have been watching Downton Abbey together for our Friday night pizza dates. Since Victor has been at conferences more weekends than not this semester, and I don’t want to watch it alone, we are now weeks behind everyone else on two continents.
For the two months the show was airing, I tuned out students chatting about the Granthams’ doings before class, stayed out of the Facebook stream on nights Downton aired, and assiduously avoided clicking on articles with tantalizing titles in the Times. I want to savor the experience without being distracted by plot developments yet to come.
St. Ignatius is of a similar mind in his Exercises. Read only the mystery which is assigned for the day; don’t race on ahead, he advises, so you won’t be distracted from the scene before you. (SE 127) I so definitely get it.
Or maybe not, since the first thing I did last week was click on every tab to see which Scripture contemplations were assigned. Great, two Gospel passages I’d written about lately. I grew excited at the thought of re-engaging with these scenes in this retreat. “And look at the rest of the texts. This is going to be a great week of prayer!”
All week long, I was like a sports fan with a great cable package, a comfortable sofa, and a remote, my thoughts flicking through a thousand channels before I even began to pray. “There is so much here, I want to spend hours, no, days, on these texts.” Flick. “Hey, I wonder if I approach that text from this perspective, it might shed some light on [insert current burning life issue here].” Flick. “Right, right. Let’s get back to today’s game, but maybe I should just jot down that thought?” It was seriously rough prayer.
By Friday, my recitation of Psalm 51 at Lauds with the Augustinians was laced with honest desperation: “Rescue me, God my helper, and my tongue will ring out your goodness!” That evening I went for a walk with God and asked for some coaching, though truly it was entirely obvious what the solution was: “Step away from the remote.”
I had let my desire to know what lay ahead and subsequent anxiety about getting it all done (and done well) to drive my prayer. I was reminded of Teilhard de Chardin’s advice to his niece, to trust in God’s slow work, to “give Our Lord the benefit of believing that his hand is leading you, and accept the anxiety of feeling yourself in suspense and incomplete.”
The Gospel accounts of Jesus’ ministry brim over with possibilities. One text, or five, I would never exhaust their depths in this lifetime. What was required was not a frantic rush, but trust that each day God would unfold what I needed. A bit of suspense is not a bad thing in a prayer adventure.