As you already know, I am offering a Lenten spiritual retreat in this space, based upon the Ignition Spiritual Exercises (informally condensed) and my experience of them. I hope this next week of exercises will be helpful to you in the ways you’ve mentioned the first 2 weeks have been. You have reassured me that you’re simply taking what’s useful, and leaving the rest rather than thinking my experience of the exercises should be, or should have been yours! Thank you for letting me know that. There’s a lot coming-up over the next couple weeks of Lent, so we’ll move from Phase One of the Exercises, to Phase Two during this week. Formally, there are four phases, that move us through prayerful preparation, transition, consideration, to completion. Phase Two focuses on the life of Jesus, from birth, to ministry, to death, and finally to his resurrection. What’s left in Phase One covers our acknowledgement and struggle with sin, certainly appropriate for Lent, but my sharing will be brief and move quickly to Phase Two. As always, your thoughts, impressions, questions are greatly appreciated!
And just some reminders if needed:
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.
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, review and share it with another. So let’s continue with the next 7 days –
2 Samuel 11: 1-26 The sins of David
“So David sent messengers to get her, and she came to him, and he lay with her. . . When [she] heard that her husband was dead, she made lamentation for him.”
As I read this account of sin – David’s sin – it was from the perspective of Bathsheba, a woman who paid dearly for her beauty. David’s sin is horrifically clear – his must be a fall down and groveling repentance. For Bathsheba, a woman of her time considered more a broodmare than a human being, it seemed her “sin” is simply being a woman.
I wrote, “In this story I am Bathsheba . . . her shame and suffering as a woman raped, her life shattered – everything taken from her, even the child she bore from this. Am I supposed to think that somehow she deserved what happened to her, or, as is commonly believed, that she caused this man to sin because of her innately sinful sex?!!” Needless to say, further study and discussion ensued. As a woman, these exercises with regard to sin and the struggle with it needed to be heard differently than the way it was offered in the book I was using. I supplemented these exercises with a return to the writings of Roberta Bondi, theologian and professor emeritus at the Candler School of Theology. Again, must have books: Memories of God and In Ordinary Time – Healing the Wounds of the Heart. Bondi best helped me to understand that the nature of my sin as a woman, is deeply rooted in a lack of trust. What’s required is not a fall down from sinful pride, but a necessary fall up from shame and fear that resulted in things like perfectionism, defensiveness, anger, over-achieving, protectiveness, withdrawal – such that I “do unto others as I do unto myself.” Things like judging harshly, holding unrealistic expectations of myself and others, etc. This is not to say that this is every woman’s experience. And it can certainly be the experience of men who are regarded as “less than” in a society that values whiteness above all, and rigid stereotypical characteristics of gender. Additionally, Bondi helped me recognize and accept my worth, as God sees and knows it. And thus more deeply trust the love and longing of God for me, as I was experiencing in these exercises.
Prayerfully, how do these words in 2 Samuel speak to you? . . . What are your thoughts about sin, and your experience of it? . . .
1 John 1:5 – 2:6 Confession, and divine absolution – more than forgiveness.
“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
As I read this passage I wrote, “Yep, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us.’ I’m reminded of the Gottman method for confessing, and taking mutual responsibility following a fight – ‘The Aftermath of a Regrettable Incident’; and fighting fair, engaging in conflict well and taking responsibility for hurtful behavior in conflict. I’m never just an innocent victim. And even on a community level – even the sins of the whole world! I’m never just a victim.” After awhile, a recent “regrettable incident” with a work colleague came to mind. We had addressed the issue but I hadn’t fully accepted my part in the problem, and I had no sense of how to do better the next time we might disagree. It was confession time. Taking it to Jesus in prayer, I asked him “to show me the way through this, that I may walk in the light and we may have fellowship with one another.” A passage in scripture came to mind, John 8:1-11, and the way Jesus responds to the woman’s sin of adultery. Jesus, gentleman that he was, did not look upon her as she stood there in humiliation and disgrace – rather he spoke with her, privately once the crowd left, simply saying “Neither do I condemn you. Go your way, and from now on do not sin again.” And so I calmly wrote down what happened, and it became clear what I had done, and how to do differently the next time, and with others. I believe this is what’s ment by “having the light of life.” This was more than just forgiveness – I was also eager and equipped to do better.
And so – once again, what’s your experience? How do these words in 1 John, and maybe John 8 speak to you? . . .
Psalm 103:1-22 A sinner loved by God.
“Bless the Lord my soul . . . who forgives all your iniquity . . . who redeems your life.”
Following the focus on sin, acknowledging and confessing it, asking for and receiving forgiveness, striving to do better, there was this Psalm, blessing and thanking God for God’s goodness to us, to me. I wrote as it just poured out, “Praise the Lord oh my soul ~ all my inmost being praise God’s Holy Name. Because I remember all God’s kindness in forgiving all my offenses, and helping me be better and do better, as I see now. And so I can be forgiving, healing, redemptive even through love and compassion – like Jesus; I am and can be trustworthy and true, just, committed and compassionate, gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love; not defensive and continually looking for faults in myself and others, not holding a grudge; not retaliatory or vengeful. I can be unconditionally loving, accepting, merciful, and protective. I can be like the people I most admire and respect, even already am some. Love, honor and obey God.” There’s noting more to say about this, so I’ll close with this from the Taize Monastery (click on video for an even deeper experience).
How goes it with your soul? Sinner and saints that we are . . .
Christian Insight Meditation (CIM): Toward a deeper sensitivity and gentle responsiveness toward my body.
“Be still and know . . .”
This meditation was a lovely way to hold the rich experiences of Phase One and begin to transition into Phase Two, the life and ministry of Jesus.
Inviting the Holy Spirit to be with and guide you, set your timer for 20 minutes, then:
Reclining comfortably and well supported, gently close your eyes and recall the head to toe body scan from the previous week. Move your attention slowly from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, noticing where you are most aware of sensations in those parts your body, and also were you experience little or no sensations. Choose just one small area where you have little or no sensation and focus on it, allowing yourself to become aware of any sensation there – for example your left knee. Just noticing – there’s nothing you need to do, you’re not making things happen – just noticing without judgement or analysis, breathing normally and gently. If after a couple of breaths there seems to be no sensation there, move on to another part of your body where you do notice some sensation, no matter how faint – what is the sensation there? Then move your attention back to the area that seemed void of sensation. Stay focused there until you feel something, no matter how faint. Once you notice it, stay with it and notice what the sensation is – itching, burning, tightness, numbness, soreness, comfort, warmth, etc.. Notice also any feelings of emotion – relaxation, calm, relief, irritation, impatience, kindness, etc. After 10 seconds or so gently move your attention to other parts of your body in the same way. Just allowing, and noticing ~
At the end of the practice, bring your attention back into the room, and gently open your eyes. Reflect on what you felt, and on the emotions you became aware of, ranging from anger and impatience, to contentment and benevolence perhaps. Come into a sitting position, and gently seal your meditation with the sign of the cross, or a prayerful bow to God. Practicing this meditation once a week would increase your sense of well-being, and calm, mindful engagement with yourself and others beyond what you can even imagine!
Luke 1: 26-38 Annunciation and bold acceptance.
“Then Mary said, Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Now I was in Phase Two, beginning with the incarnation and birth of Jesus. God coming onto the world with us – God made flesh, Emmanuel. I thought of the song “Mary did you Know?” as I began these exercises and I wrote, “She knew ~ Miryam of Nazareth, Holy Mary – a woman of strength and wisdom, even young as she was – a woman of deep and bold faith. Heck yes!! She knew – and without knowing all the details, and how things would unfold, she courageously said “Yes!” She is a woman, like I am, and like the women I have known, know now, especially the women at Mt. Level Missionary Baptist Church. These too are women of a deep and living faith, bold to pray, to sing, to praise and worship God and make a loud shout with psalms! I am so glad to be one among them. And about the Immaculate Conception – I go with what I’ve heard it called recently, Conception of the Self. A woman favored by God, knowing who and whose she is. What a situation to be in for Mary. Turned the whole world, her puny world upside down and inside out. And she knew it. And I’m grateful, because I need to know Mary, that you were a woman fully human like me, so I can believe I can become like you – full of grace, like your son Jesus – our God. Not by my own doing, but certainly by my consent, as it was with you. And in accord through intimate relationship with the Holy Spirit – again like you, God’s own mother.” While it was important to see things from the perspective of the Triune God as well, I really needed to stay close to Mary. And so I supplemented, especially with this book by Ann Johnson, Miryam of Nazareth – Woman of Strength and Wisdom. This is a book of devotionals, recently edited and re-released, that tells the story of Mary beginning with her early Jewish predecessors, in the form of Mary’s prayer, The Magnificat. There was much more from Mary, as I went along with her in the life of her son Jesus.
Questions? What resonates for you in this passage from Luke? . . .
Luke 1: 39-56 Magnificat of Friendship.
“And why has this happened to me, that the mother of my Lord comes to me? . . . blessed is she who believed . . .”
I wrote, “My soul flowers in the light of your love, my God – You have revealed the hollowness of achievements and have opened in my heart a space filled with simple, loving moments.” For this – all of these! dear, dear friends, I give you praise and thanks. The tenderness of your hand rests on us as we journey in your way. You have come – my home is filled with good things, new life, and happy people. Are those in the Grove Park Inn as satisfied? You have come according to the promise of Eden . . . that we – I – may seek the wisdom of new life together, and with You, as long as we walk on the earth. Amen, Amen!”
How about you, what’s your experience with friends – perhaps as described in Luke’s Gospel here?
Psalm 70 Review, revisit, reflect with God’s help.
“O God, come to my assistance. Lord make haste to help me! . . . I am poor and needy; hasten to help me, O God!”
Again, prayerfully 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. What are some things you might like to talk with Jesus about? Perhaps with others? . . .
Know that you are in my heart, with prayer from here.
Until next week,
Photo by Peter Žagar on Unsplash