During this time I am offering a Lenten spiritual retreat in this space, based upon the Ignition Spiritual Exercises and my experience of them that I hope will be helpful to you. And so here’s week 2! If you have already completed the exercises, my hope is that in re-visiting them in this very informal way you can experience them again more deeply. That’s my experience in preparing the blog entries – I’m kind of amazed!
Hoping too, that you don’t think my experience of the exercises should be, or should have been your experience. That’s the grace offered through them I think, awareness of our unique experience and relationship with God.
Your thoughts, impressions, questions are greatly appreciated!
And just some reminders:
Time allowed for the Exercises: 30 days, 30 minutes a day through Easter Vigil (Sat., 4/16).
Freedom to follow God’s prompting: this is simply an anecdotal spiritual framework for getting closer to Jesus, and trusting the ways you’re prompted to do so. And about the questions – answer what’s useful and leave the rest.
Have a notebook and pen handy! AND your Bible: Read the entire passage, not just what I’ve highlighted. Notice any words or phrases that standout for you. Write down what you experience each day, share it with Jesus. Additionally, it would be helpful to have a trusted “soul friend” to check-in with as you work your way through the exercises – someone like your pastor or priest, deacon, a spiritual director, or a small study group, etc.
So let’s continue with the next 7 days –
Matt 19: 16-22 The rich young man.
“Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
As I read this passage, I was very much aware of all the good deeds I’d done, and painfully aware of the thing that was holding me back from truly knowing, loving, and serving God happily. Things I should say – because this is what I wrote, “I’m sitting here, like a child, in a heap of everything I need and want, with nothing but heaviness. How do I go on? I’ve lost the drive and nervous energy to work. Deep down that feels really good. And at the same time, a big part of me is afraid – how do I let go these things and take care of myself, much less take care of others?! It’s like I can see it, taking form in my work now, living the life I’m given now. But I’m old, and getting older. How so now Abba? This is the source of this heaviness, and dread. . .” Jesus is clear here – let it all go, and come follow him.” So I sat there, grieving like the rich young man in the passage. All the things I had were gifts of God – for the purpose of knowing, loving and serving God with happiness and ease – but they were the very things I got happiness from, and that gave me a sense of security, and temporary ease at least. As the author of the book I was using states, “But insofar as any created things hinder our progress toward our goal, we ought to let them go.” (Place Me With Your Son 3rd Ed., By James W. Skehan, S.J.) Awhile later, after some silence, I wrote what I read from the “Foundation” of these exercises: “Our only desire and our one choice should be that option which better leads us to the goal for which God created us.” Which is this: everlasting happiness with God in heaven – and even now at times, on earth as it is in heaven. Hmm – yes, Amen.” How do these words through Matthew, and from the Foundation of these exercises speak to you? Is there a particular word, or sentence that seems to jump out to you? What feelings, thoughts, memories do you notice if any? And what are you experiencing in your body? Is there anything you’d like to say to Jesus in response? . . .
Psalm 105: 1-45 God’s faithfulness to Israel (God’s people).
“. . . seek God’s presence continually. Remember the wonderful works God has done. . .”
As I slowly read this psalm and the account of all God had done for the Israelites, I began to remember my own life and all God had done. I wrote this: “brought me out of Nebraska, awakened! following a car accident my senior year that changed everything I thought myself to be. To university, I was eager to go big and know more, singing, and rejecting the faith of my childhood. A first marriage and seven years of loneliness, asking who am I?!, where am I, and why am I here?! Moving further and further east, divorce and deeper awareness, return to the church, and faith renewed; a second marriage out of Rochester, with a son and more of me to North Carolina. Busily pursuing the American Dream, and breast cancer at 42, a 2nd Awakening – remission and recovery; a laundry room conversion into the Love of God, like a child as the woman I was. Seminary, Israel – divorce. My call was not his. Another 10 challenging years to become who I am, reclaim fully all the dimensions of my life. A new covenant relationship with God, myself, and others – into full bloom now at 68. Grandmother, ordained minister and licensed counselor, successful business woman, friend, homeowner, . . . Home. Yes, oh yes – after times in chains God did lead me through the parched dessert, home to the Promised Land – to God. Here I am Lord, unspeakably grateful.” Amen again. I’ll mention briefly too, I had a very vivid dream that night, about myself and my large extended family together in a resort we’d been to before. While this place had been lovely and fun, in my dream it had become shabby, and individual families huddled together not sharing, and taking all they could for themselves. It was troubling, I paid attention to it, and brought it into prayer. I’ll just say, it highlighted an area of my life that needed my attention, and some changes. That said, welcome dreams if you don’t already, that may come to you with the Exercises. And so – once again, what’s your experience? How do these words in Psalm 105 speak to you, especially now at this point in the Exercises, and perhaps at this point in your life? . . .
Awareness Meditation 2. Experiencing more of ourselves, from head to toe.
Today’s exercise was to prayerfully notice, allow, and attune to more of myself in order to “drain off” nervous energy, one of the biggest obstacles to prayer and discernment. I welcomed the opportunity to relax and allow my body and my senses to inform my consciousness instead of just being in my head. I’m not sure how else to say this, and you probably already know what I’m talking about, so here’s an easy body scan meditation that may be helpful if you don’t already have one:
Set a timer for 20 minutes, then:
- Recline comfortably, and close your eyes (but don’t go to sleep!). To start, simply be aware of your head and neck, supported and cradled comfortably. Slowly shift your attention to where your shoulders make contact with whatever you’re lying on. Take a few moments to notice the sensations there. Then slowly and gently shift your attention and notice where your back makes contact with the surface you’re on, then your buttocks, and the backs of your legs – what are the sensations there? Slowly shift your attention once again, to become aware of the feel of your arms and your hands as they rest, palms up by your sides but not touching your body. Just notice, as they sink into and are supported by the surface you’re on. Again, slowly and gently shift your attention to your feet, the place where your heels make contact with the surface you’re on. What are the sensations there? And what’s it like for your toes, inside shoes or socks, or open to the movement of the air in the room? (You may even want to wiggle them a little, smiling.)
- Repeat the sequence one more time or two, all the while breathing gently, maybe noticing the breath moving in, and moving out.
- End the mediation by gently opening your eyes, and coming into an upright sitting position. Reflect on those parts of your body in which your were aware of some sensation, noting if it was barely, moderately, or strongly felt. You may be surprised to realize how insensitive parts of your body are to sensations. With regular practice, awareness and sensitivity will increase, so you become more fully alive and better able to engage in the present. This meditation is good preparation for prayer – in fact, it could be prayer itself as you open to and invite God into the meditation. Give it a go!
Colossians 1: 3-20 Enabled to share in the inheritance . . . and the Reign of Christ.
“. . . that you may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding . . . made strong with all the strength that comes from God’s glorious power.”
It was Father’s Day, a day I had struggled with over the years, and struggled with in this exercise. Eventually I wrote this: “I am giving thanks to the father, my father – who did the best he could – and to the Father of us all, who has qualified me to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light, as blood kin. Yes! Through Christ I have redemption, I have been redeemed. I belong, I am united just as I am, who I am – not by anything I have or haven’t done; do or don’t process. Just by being here. Like the Vanderbilt heirs – just by being born into it. Yes, thank you God our Father! Oh yes, with all of who I am, where I am, the woman that I am, and how I am. For this I give you PRAISE!”
How about you? Once again – How do these words through Paul speak to you? Is there a particular word, or sentence that seems to jump out to you? What feelings, thoughts, memories do you notice if any? And what are you experiencing in your body? Is there anything you’d like to say to Jesus in response? Anything he might be saying to you? Is there something you feel prompted to do? Is there something holding you back? Anything you might want some help with? . . .
Genesis 15: 1-21, 22: 1-19 God’s covenant with Abraham, and the command to sacrifice his son.
“Take your only son . . .”
I wrote: “What?!! Not this! God’s blest, and made a huge life giving promise to Abraham, and then a few chapters later God tells him to sacrifice his son, the beloved gift God gave to him and Sarah. And now God wants the gift of this child back?! It’s abhorrent to me that you would be a god like that, take back the very things you give us, especially a precious child, to test us . . . makes no sense if you’re a loving and merciful god.” These passages were difficult to be sure! I filled up 7 pages in my notebook, maybe you did or will too. I’ll share with you the kernel of my experience with this exercise, and what for me was the take away eventually. In a nutshell, it was necessary for me to read the whole book of Genesis again, slowly, with the help of Opening Israel’s Scriptures a must have book by Duke Divinity School Professor Ellen Davis. I needed to better understand God’s movement with Abraham at this point in Genesis, which has been popularly interpreted as God’s demand for Abraham’s blind and unquestioning obedience, and ours too. So this definitely got to my long abiding difficulty to say to God “Your will be done” and mean it. In fact, it got to the whole issue of blood sacrifice, and God the Father’s will that Jesus his son die on the cross. If the point of these Ignatian Exercises was to allow God to “place me with his son” as the book I was using said, I had some prayerful learning and discerning to do. Fast forward – what I came to learn was that all along, God wasn’t testing Abraham’s blind unquestioning obedience, but his total and absolute trust in God. Certainly obedience is part of that, evidence of Abraham’s faith and trust. And more, it’s assurance that he was able to effectively carry the promise and blessing of God, that endures for us today. Abraham’s faith and trust in God matures, as he goes through the trials of life, and his relationship with God is tested, and deepens no matter what happens, or what may be required of him. Not to minimize this epic story by personalizing it too much – but like with Abraham – what God needs to know, and me too, is that no matter what happens, with open eyed obedience I will totally and absolutely trust God. And then so blessed, be blessing. That requires my knowing and being in intimate relationship with God – with Jesus. And there will be tests of the sturdiness and depth of our relationship and my trust, that actually deepens and purifies that trust. No cheap grace, this was a big deal revelation to me ~
How are these passages in Genesis speaking to you? . . .
1 Samuel 3: 1-21 Calling.
“And Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
At the time, CoVID was still keeping most of us at home and in a kind of holding pattern. I was responding to a call to change the focus of my work, and wanted more clarity on that. It was one of the reasons I was doing the the Ignatian Exercises. I also wanted some encouragement to trust the call. So this passage resonated with me. I wrote: “Samuel, a boy, was child-like, open, generous in his response to God’s call. Instructed to engage the Lord in conversation he did and continued to do so, reporting what he heard. And he did so truly, and completely, holding nothing back. So – to speak for, write for the Lord, work for the Lord, we too hold nothing back. May none of God’s word fall to the ground. Your servant is listening – through Jesus let it be so with me. Amen. Amen.”
What’s going on in your life? Is there a call to make some changes – would you like to? If so, what’s holding you back? Is there something you feel prompted to do, stop doing, or let go of? Is there a prayer you want to pray, a song you want to sing? . . .
Psalm 70:1 Review, revisit, reflect with God’s help.
“O God, come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me!”
As I looked back over the previous days, the call was clear to trust God, let go earthly and natural attachments, and truly hold fast to God, and to the things of God. And I felt movement in this – action – in honest and open examen and discernment, listening and assessing practical and important things I had to do. Sorting it out with my spiritual director, and Mark (my retreat director). I lost the drive and nervous energy to work the way I had been, and that felt really good. In fact, there was new energy welling up, and more openness. I felt myself on solid ground, with increasing clarity, calm, and confidence; trusting God with simplicity and sincerity, way more childlike – not having to know and control everything.
Needless to say, I offered one big prayer of thanks and praise to God. (And it’s still progress, not perfection.)
Looking back over the previous days, what has been especially meaningful to you? It may be helpful as well to return to what’s been difficult, or perhaps unproductive. Have you noticed how God may be drawing you in the ways of Jesus? What are some of the ways of Jesus that you might like to talk with him about? Have you noticed any ways the evil spirit may be interfering, or attempting to undermine your experience of God these past 6 days? These could be good things to talk about with your “soul friend”. And feel free to let me know how it’s going.
Know that you are in my heart, with prayer from here.
Until next week,
Photo by Daniel Öberg on Unsplash