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Posted by on Jun 11, 2018

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

Entering God’s Presence – Examen First Point

Our thankfulness can take many forms, but it is rooted in God’s love for us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and what that means for us. From the earliest times we enter the divine presence in song and dance.

Let them praise His name with dancing and make music to Him with tambourine and harp.
For the LORD takes pleasure in His people; – Psalm 149: 3-4

 

Responding fully to God’s grace is far from intellectual. It requires a joyful choreography of mind, body, and spirit. What is it like to be fully alive, to be an integrated human being, to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord? These young dancers give us a glimpse of what this feels and looks like. We see the person fully alive. A little too “young” for you? Remember, just sitting in your chair and moving with music evokes all of those wonderful physical and emotional movement of the dancers in your own body and soul. This is the basis of culture, society, and dance therapy.

Okay. So how about something more traditional?

Entering God’s presence is not a “head trip.” It is a leap into the profoundly unknown and unknowable. Come, enter the dance!

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Posted by on Oct 16, 2013

Self-Donation is not Self-Mutilation: The Spiritual Practice of Attention to Others

Self-Donation is not Self-Mutilation: The Spiritual Practice of Attention to Others

 

good-friends by George Hodan - public domain

Self-donation and attention to others

Self-donation is the spiritual practice of attention to others. It does not refer to any sort of self-mutilation or injury but rather to the self-control and self-knowledge that allows one person to be attentive to another person.

Attention to others can be extremely difficult. Giving up time for others can feel stressful. There are two things that strike me about these two possibilities. In my own experience I am often in the presence of another person and cannot give him or her my full attention for even 5 minutes! Secondly, my stress is often due to my creating a stressful lifestyle. If I procrastinate with doing stressful but important tasks, then I am jumpy. I have clever avoidance behaviors when faced with things at work such as updating the database (which I dislike) or writing Thank You notes (which are absolutely necessary and can quickly become a huge mountain). I have to do an Examen (an important Ignatian spiritual practice for me) every day in order to commit to a schedule for the day. I decide what time I need to go to bed that night. I set up what I want or need to accomplish that day. I work my way back to where I am in the day. I decide if I will exercise. If I do not do this I get into really negative schedules. I have a background which makes me anxious, so I have to avoid avoiding!

“Avoid avoiding” and “focus” as spiritual practices?

What has this got to do with being attentive to others? When I allow myself to avoid things I do not like or to procrastinate, I am more anxious or depressed. When I feel that way I cannot be at peace. When I feel this way I do not focus on people. I am restless. If I keep referring myself to God or Jesus (in the Examen, for example) knowing that with God’s help I am keeping my commitment, I feel pleased with life and myself.  I get the things done in a day that I need to do. I do both uncomfortable and fun tasks. I get enough sleep. I do the Tai Chi, stretching or core strengthening I need that day. I eat the right things — even the Kale and Collard Greens I need for my liver and to keep my blood sugar down for my “prevent diabetes” regime. I read a few pages from each book I want to finish. I also have time now to go to an older friend’s apartment and give her a massage that she needs. I don’t feel deprived and we enjoy the time together. I hone my acupressure skills and she feels better.

A second thing I have learned is that I often do not really attend to others even when I have the time. I have a habit of letting my mind jump around, trying to think of something clever or even attention-getting to say. I also feel the need to fix another’s situation. But, the more mature part of me just wants to affirm others. I do not have to impress them. Maybe a natural sacrifice would be to listen and support others, not have an opinion? I think others often just want someone to really listen.

Discernment in everyday experiences

Authentic self-donation or self-giving does not have to harm me. I can discern if I would enjoy it. I also can tell if I am over-scheduled and creating anxiety for myself. I can ask God in prayer to show me what he dreams for me. He may want me to buy a greeting card for someone and send it off or maybe he prefers I just draw a squiggle on a piece of paper and say I love you and I am praying for you and mail that.  I feel called to give people quality attention when I am with them. For me that is a key spiritual practice.

It also can be a contemplative experience in the Ignatian sense of the term. I have discovered lately that when I am in some conversations, part of my mind can have a simultaneous conversation with God. I have said to God in abbreviated ways things such as: “Should I say ….. to her?” and I get an answer. I receive very brief images from God or feelings related to the person. Those words, images or feelings are easy to interpret and help me attend to the other and not to focus on me. I feel very loved by God when I am willing to be there for the other. It is about surrender to being loving. It is a gift to the other and a gift to me.

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Posted by on Jul 31, 2013

Becoming Radiant in the Presence of the Lord

Becoming Radiant in the Presence of the Lord

 

Sun Shining Through Clouds

The readings of the Church recently have been focused on the experience of entering into the Presence of the Lord and spending time there. One way of describing the experience of spending time with God is to use the word prayer.* An ancient definition of prayer, attributed to St. Augustine, is this: “Prayer is lifting our minds and hearts to God.” On this feast of St. Ignatius Loyola, it seems fitting to spend a few moments reflecting on ways we enter into the presence of God and the results of doing so.

Jesus taught his followers to be very direct and straightforward in their prayers, asking for what they needed with confidence and persistence. They were (and we are) to ask for the coming of God’s kingdom and that God’s will be done both in heaven and on earth. Their prayer was also to include such seemingly mundane issues as requesting their daily bread and forgiveness for having hurt others,  failing to live in loving ways, as well as the much more serious concern that they be spared from the soul-shaking temptations that sometimes afflict even good and holy people at difficult points during their lives. Jesus himself spoke familiarly and intimately with God, calling him Abba — a word that means Father in the sense of a loving parent, a “Dad,” or even the “Daddy” of a small child. The result of the conversation would not always be the reception of exactly what was requested or preferred (remember the Agony in the Garden and Jesus’ prayer there), but it was always frank and based in trusting love. Those who learn to rely on God for the “little” things (daily bread and forgiveness) become more able to rely on God for the big things (courage to make the hard decisions and accept the consequences of following the Lord).

Among those whose relationship with God we have seen as examples are Abraham, who spoke with God directly, pleading for the salvation of Sodom and Gomorrah if as few as ten good men could be found within their walls. Many years later, Moses met God and entered into the cloud with God for forty days, returning to the people with the gift of the Law that would guide their lives in holiness. When Moses returned to the people, his face was so radiant it was frightening to the people. He covered his face when among them and only lifted the veil when he again entered into the presence of God. Jesus’ friend Martha, who had spent many hours in easy friendship with him, did not hesitate to speak frankly to him, complaining at one point that she had been left to do all the work of entertaining the large group of people who accompanied him on his visit. But Martha also is known for her declaration of faith in Jesus: “I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, he who is coming into the world.” These and many others model for us the importance of speaking directly with God and of doing so on a regular basis.

Ignatius called his followers to contemplation in action, recognizing that the fundamental basis for a fruitful discipleship is the time spent in the company of the Lord. Out of the experience of friendship with God comes the gift of seeing how God would respond to those we meet in our lives today and the courage to act accordingly.

Entering into the presence of the Lord is not for the faint of heart. The great mystery of Love is not tame, nor is it particularly predictable. Love is a powerful force that can sweep away obstacles but can also be as gentle as a mountain stream bubbling through a meadow and washing the feet of children playing by its side. Yet as we enter regularly into the Presence, we are changed subtly and profoundly. Peace, joy, patience, gentleness, kindness, persistence, confidence, compassion, and zeal for justice become characteristic of ones who have spent much time with the Lord. Like Moses, if to a somewhat lesser degree, they become radiant with the joy of that relationship. And when at last they return to their Father and we remember them with love, sometimes we portray that radiance with a golden aura or halo surrounding their heads.

*Philip St. Romain offers a good presentation of Christian prayer and contemplation. See also Fr. Ron Shirley’s reflections on prayer.

Public Domain image by Robert & Mihaela Vicol

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Posted by on Aug 11, 2012

A Quote from St. Clare for her Feast Day

St. Clare of Assisi was a friend of Francis of Assisi and founder of the Poor Clares. Her advice to her sisters and other followers, as well as for us today is this:

Place your mind before the mirror of eternity! Place your soul in the brilliance of glory! Place your heart in the figure of the divine substance! And transform your whole being into the image of the Godhead Itself through contemplation!

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Posted by on Apr 20, 2012

How Can God Heal Abuse and Trauma?

How Can God Heal Abuse and Trauma?

A door can still open ...

As we reflect on the Resurrection of Christ we cannot help but wonder how it changed anything.  Christians believe that the triumph of life over death and light over darkness was more than just an isolated event in history.  The Resurrection is understood as a cosmic event in which the entire space-time reality was shot through with God’s presence. The world remained a mix of “wheat and weeds,” but after the Resurrection the indwelling Spirit of God works within that reality to bring about unprecedented healing, growth and holiness.

Abuse and trauma are never acceptable.  I experienced abuse for many years — verbal, physical and sexual.  It hurts and bends the person.  The damage is deep and reaches into all  the dimensions of one’s life.  Psycho-therapeutic experiences are normally necessary for someone to heal from the pain, anger and fear that come from abuse.  Telling the stories of abuse are a key part of healing. Practicing to work with life in new ways in order to avoid negative patterns is also helpful.  Using affirmations to counter self-hatred is important.  Setting boundaries and being firm about values helps the person to feel less vulnerable.

But there is a point when talking it out and new ways of living and communicating fall short of healing.  There is a well of pain that often does not go away.  Underneath all the hard work there is still a raw person who does not feel safe.  It is very hard to trust anyone.

I learned to not-trust any adults.  I also learned not to trust myself because I could not overcome my fear in order to fight back. I learned to criticize everything I thought, said and did.  I betrayed myself over and over out of fear.  What to do?  I knew there was a God out there but was not sure He would be interested in me.  This is a normal reaction from someone who has been regarded as unimportant and worthy of abuse.

If the traumatized person can pray at all, a door can open to safety that starts as the tiniest crack.  Within the mix of inner voices and emotions there is one voice which reaches into the sticky pain and feels or sounds safe.  The traumatized person is uniquely blessed to be able to discern the difference between his own inner voices and the voice of God.  This is because the abused person called out to herself over and over during the horrible times and discovered that at the time she had no power over the abuser.  The personal thoughts and voice of the abused one were complicit with the abuser. The abused person also knows the voice of the culture and the Devil because both of them bring inner chaos, depression and self-abuse.

If such a person can pray, even pray to be able to pray, there will begin the tiniest feeling of longing for love.  This is a miracle, because traumatized people usually do not want to feel anything.  Seeking love and finding authentic love from others and God can heal wounds.   It is a long process, but with the support of a therapist and a spiritual director the person traumatized by abuse can take a chance on attachment.  Abused persons on Ignatian retreats or practicing Ignatian contemplation have experienced amazing experiences of God loving them.  The voice of God within them is telling them that they are his beloved, that they are special.  People who have been abused often do not want to hear that voice because it will open up a floodgate of sadness.  But, after the crying, the voice does not disappear.  They are not talking to themselves.

Contemplative prayer experiences are real.  When Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is within you,” he meant it.  Taking a chance on God doing something with the pain is worthwhile.  There are forms of injury only he can heal.

 Image by Paolo Neo, public domain

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Posted by on Dec 19, 2011

The Blessing of Presence

The Blessing of Presence

 

There is a Hindu concept that speaks of Non-action within Action. I believe Non-action refers to being rooted in the silent trust and understanding of Who I Am prior to any doing.

Non-Action within Action is being present to the wellness within; the Constant Harmony within the Constant Change. So when I take a step, there is a leaning into the leg that lands on the ground to provide a slight moment of rest as the other leg lifts off the ground.

Action by itself can be egocentric, chaotic, stress-filled, taxing and overwhelming. In the Breema Bodywork I practice there is a Principle of Harmony called

Single Moment, Single Activity.

Practicing this principle allows me to be present to the simple activity of my body in this moment, even if there are multiple tasks being done. Connected to this moment, my busy mind connects to my body to create a body-mind connection where I am more grounded and available to the natural feelings of life, such as acceptance and gratitude. This is, for me, the contemplative spirit within activism. The practice is to nurture and embody a contemplative silence inherently connected to the power of all things, from which we speak and act and reflect.

For those who are concerned about being overly taxed by the commitment of involvement, perhaps we can support each other in the solidarity that comes from sharing silence, and the opening of our hearts to the wisdom that unites us in service to life and love.

Image courtesy of NASA – In the public domain.

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