Saturday, December 31, 2011

Phase Two, Week Three, Exercise Two: Baby Jesus is Revealed to the World

This exercise should be experienced between January 4 and January 7.

Pray with Matthew 2:1-15. Recall that Matthew is a Jewish Christian writing to a Jewish Christian community. The magi, wise men, come to visit the Christ child. They symbolize Gentiles who have been entering Matthew's community.

Use your imagination to enter the scene. With whom do you identify? Through whose eyes do you see the scene? In a way, we all are strangers to Christ? We can all know him better. In other ways, he is never a stranger to us. Our hearts recognize him as our best friend.

As a stranger and as a friend, how do we see Jesus? When do we recognize him? Are there voices like Herod's inside of us that would like to do away with what Christ reveals to us? Do we have our own inner Joseph and Mary who nurture Christ's revelation inside of us?

The colloquy may continue with Joseph and Mary as we learn of the devotion and care of the two who nurtured the child Jesus.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Phase Two, Week Three, Exercise One: Baby Jesus Is Revealed to the World

This exercise should be experienced between January 1 and January 4.

Ask God for the grace that I might have an interior knowledge of Jesus' love for all people especially the poor and of the devotion that Mary had for Jesus.

Pray with Luke 2:15-38. Note the devotion of the poor shepherds. Note verse 19 that Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart. If you are so moved, allow yourself to contemplate Mary as the most devout disciple.

Note that Mary and Joseph offer a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons out of their poverty.

In your colloquy, converse with Mary, Joseph, the shepherds, or whomever else your heart is drawn to. How is Jesus revealed to you? Can you see the baby's face? What other details do you want to share in your colloquy?

Monday, December 26, 2011

Phase Two, Week Two, Exercise Two: Matthew's Account of the Birth of Jesus

This exercise is to be experienced between December 28 and December 31

Ask for the same grace that you asked for when you prayed with Luke's account of the birth of Jesus. If the consolation moves you, add another grace: ask for the gift to imagine the love that Jesus, Mary and Joseph have for each other.

Pray with Matthew 1:18-25. Use your imagination to enter into the scene. Consider the following only if it is helpful: pray to feel the feelings that Joseph has when he finds out that Mary is pregnant. How do those feelings change when the angel appears to him in a dream? Enter into a colloquy with Joseph or Mary. Have we ever found ourselves in a difficult situation that was beyond our control? How did the Holy Spirit helps us out? Can we understand Joseph's situation a little better now?

Have there been dreams that have given us life? If we are parents, how have our children expanded our dreams?

Pray with the passage again. Attempt to take note of all of the details. What is the expression on the face of Joseph when he first holds God's son? What is the expression on the face of Mary?

What gives us insight or peace?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

A Child my Choice

Fr. Skehan uses the following poem by Robert Southwell, S.J. in his version of phase two of the Exercises in Daily Life (63). It is a beautiful second phase poem.

A Child my Choice

Let folly praise that fancy loves, I praise and love that child,
Whose heart no thought, whose tongue no word, whose hand no deed defiled.
I praise him most, I love him best, all praise and love is his;
While him I love, in him I live, and cannot live amiss.

Love's sweetest mark, laud's highest theme, man's most desired light,
To love him life, to leave him death, to live in him delight.
He mine by gift, I his by debt, thus each to other due.
First friend he was, best friend he is, all times will try him true.

Though young, yet wise, though small, yet strong; though man,yet
God he is;
As wise he knows, as strong he can, as God he loves to bless.
His knowledge rules, his strength defends, his love doth cherish all;
His birth our joy, his life our light, his death our end of thrall.

Alas! He weeps, he sighs, he pants, yet do his angels sing;
Out of tears, his sighs and throbs, doth bud a joyful spring.
Almighty Babe, whose tender arms can force all foes to fly,
Correct my faults, protect my life, direct me when I die.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Phase Two, Week Two For Non-Christians: the Gift of Incarnation and Life

For most of the second, third and fourth phases of this retreat, my focus will be on the prayer experience of Christians. I am not discriminating against non-Christians. I am just being realistic about my own training. I pray that non-Christians themselves can learn to adapt the Spiritual Exercises to their own spirituality. Nonetheless,when I sense inter-religious possibilities, I will explore them.

As Christians ponder the birth of Jesus as the birth of the son of God, non-Christians may want to ponder the birth of a great prophet and teacher. There is another possibility: it may profit all people to contemplate the reality of incarnation. As a Christian, I believe that the second person of the Trinity became incarnate in the person of Jesus. There are Christians whose Christology may use language a little different from my own. I respect that, but let's contemplate the reality of incarnation. We are all incarnate. We have bodies. As a Christian, I believe that the holiness of my incarnate condition is tied in an integral way to the incarnation of Jesus, but incarnation is a reality I share with non-Christians.

If you are not a Christian, it may be profitable to take some time to contemplate what it means that the holy is found in the material. The holy is found in the tender skin and fragility of a baby. It may help to use Ignatius' method of finding God in all things--what Howard Gray describes as attentiveness leading to reverence which leads to devotion. Allow yourself to be attentive to the birth of any child: let the scene become itself. Do not force an identity on the scene. A mother laboring. A child is born. The child lies there. What do you see? What do you hear? When you touch the child, what do you feel? What do you smell? There's nothing like the smell of a baby.

Next, accept and esteem what you are noticing and feeling. Find the good of holding that baby. Accept the experience.

You are then moved to devotion--the way that God is working in the birth of that child.

I hope this helps! May the God we all worship through our acts of prayer and meditation enlighten all of us to respect the beauty, truth, and goodness of human life! May we all respect children and labor to deliver them from warfare, terrorism, famine, injustice, exploitation, and all evils that currently oppress children!

Peace! Namaste! Shalom! As-Salamu Alaykum!

Monday, December 19, 2011

Phase Two, Week Two, Exercise One: Luke's Account of the Birth of Jesus

Merry Christmas! This exercise should be experienced between December 25 and December 28.

As always, find a very quiet place to pray.

Ask God the Father-Mother for "a more intimate knowledge of Jesus who became one of us; a more personal experience of his love for me so that I may love Him more tenderly; and a closer union with Jesus in His mission of bringing salvation to people" (Skehan, 57).

Now prayerfully read Luke 2:1-20. Imagine the Christ child laying in the manger--a symbol of his poverty. If Jesus were to be born today, where would he be born?

Use your imagination to enter into the scene. What resonates with you?

Pray with your imagination one or two more times.

Now enter into a colloquy (conversation) with whomever your heart tells you to converse: perhaps you want to ask Mary what she felt when she first saw her son. Perhaps you want to express words of gratitude to Jesus for becoming one of us. You can converse with any saint or any person of the Trinity you feel drawn to. If the triple colloquy works, then use it.

If you are not Christian and you do not feel like praying with this text, then ponder the literary elements: why is Jesus depicted as laying in a manger? Does it symbolize his solidarity with the poor? I do not want to dictate to non-Christians how to pray or ponder the text so I will leave the rest open.

Peace and joy to you as you contemplate this mystery!

Friday, December 9, 2011

Prayer In Daily Life Phase Two, Week One, Exercise Two: Contemplating The Child Jesus In Mary's Womb

This Exercise should be experienced between December 21 and December 24. It isn't technically in the Spiritual Exercises, but I find it helpful. I hope you do too.

If you are a mother, it may help to recall your own pregnancies during this exercise.

Ask God for the grace to have an intimate knowledge of Jesus as an unborn child so that you may love Him more tenderly. Also ask for a more personal experience of Jesus. Finally, ask for insight into what it means that Mary carried the Messiah in her womb and that, through this mystery, she is able to love all people on the earth as if they were her own children.

Imagine Mary pregnant with Jesus. She is six months along. Jesus is living in the amniotic sack in his mother's womb. He can hear sounds from the outside world. Mary's body is nurturing him. All of the nutrition that his body receives comes from the food that Mary eats and the drink that Mary drinks.

The two are bonded in a sacred union. At times, Mary and Jesus feel together.

The Mothers and Fathers of the Eastern Church taught that Mary was the greatest theologian because she taught Jesus what it meant to be a human being totally in love with God. That process began while Jesus was in her womb. Imagine what Mary felt when Jesus moved in her womb. What tender words did Mary use to comfort her child when she felt him move? How did she gently touch her side so that she could communicate with him? Imagine you are Mary. Apply your senses. What do you feel and see? What words do you want to use to communicate with Jesus in the womb?

Consider the tenderness that Mary feels for Jesus. If your tradition encourages you to do so (and the Catholic and Orthodox traditions do), imagine the tenderness that Mary learned holding Jesus in her womb. She has that tenderness for you right now.

At this point, I would like to introduce a method of prayer that Ignatius called the triple colloquy. I want to introduce it at this point because it involves Mary.

A colloquy is a conversation. It isn't a method of prayer in which a person just recites words. In the colloquy you pray to God or to a saint and then you listen with your heart and imagination. In the triple colloquy, you begin by talking with Mary. You ask Mary to ask Jesus for the specific specific grace that you seek. Then you converse with Mary. You may want to ask her what it was like to feel Jesus inside her. You may then want to ask her if she might show you the joy she felt carrying Jesus. Then after the colloquy with Mary, you converse with Jesus. Ask him to speak with the Father/Mother for the specific grace you seek: to have an intimate knowledge of Jesus as an unborn child so that you may love Him more tenderly. Also ask for a more personal experience of Jesus. Finally, ask for insight into what it means that Mary carried the Messiah in her womb and that, through this mystery, she is able to love all people on the earth as if they were her own children.

The third colloquy is with the Father/Mother. Ask for the same grace we mentioned above and then sit back and listen. You may be given a specific image in your imagination. There may be a sense of freedom around a particular idea. Follow the thoughts and feelings that lead you to be more charitable and/or that give you insights into the love God has for humanity.

Close with an Our Father, a Hail Mary, or another prayer that gives you peace.
Write down your reflections in your journal.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Phase Two, Week One, Exercise One: The Annunciation

This exercise should be experienced between December 18 and 21.

We are now entering into phase 2 of the retreat during which we will contemplate the life of Jesus. As I mentioned earlier, if non-Christians feel moved to do so, you can contemplate the life of Jesus as a great spiritual teacher. Obviously, Christians will contemplate the life of Jesus, the Messiah and God-man.

First, ask God for the grace to feel Mary's courage and joy as she trusts God's invitation to bear God's son.

Read Luke 1:26-38.

Read the passage again using your imagination to enter into the scene. For this prayer period, I will leave the direction open and let the Holy Spirit give you the pointers.

Note moments of insight (consolation) in your prayer journal.

Close with your own prayer.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Phase One, Week Six, Exercise One: A Sinner Loved By God

This exercise should be experienced between December 11 and 14.

Last week we concluded our contemplation of the reality of personal and collective sin and disorder. This week we will devote one exercise to the wonder and healing of the forgiving love that God gives and that God is.

We will be contemplating that surprising and joyful parable of the Prodigal Father (usually called the Prodigal Son). I am borrowing the title "Prodigal Father" from a Jesuit friend of mine named Henry Haske. Henry has a knack for reminding us just how bountiful God's love is. In using the title "Prodigal Father" he is reminding us that our heavenly Father gives without ceasing.

If you find that you have a desire for more prayer this week, then consider praying with Isaiah 40:1-11 (the first reading for the Second Sunday of Advent).

The second exercise this week I will title The Call of the Eternal Coach/Teacher/Leader. I will give more details about this in a few days.

The grace of Exercise One that I seek: Paraphrasing the words of Fr. Skehan, I ask for the gift of experiencing myself as a loved sinner and to purify my mind so well that I may experience a growing desire for conversion, a new insight into the tactics of God's enemy, and a renewed enthusiasm to follow God.

In the parable of the Prodigal Father, the younger son demands his share of
his inheritance. He squanders his share and ends up feeding pigs which symbolizes apostasy--that he has totally rejected his Jewish faith. At the time, the Jewish refusal to eat or deal with pigs was not just a dietary law. It was an important religious boundary. It helps to remember that just 200 years earlier, Jewish martyrs were willing to be killed rather than eat the pig's flesh that the Seleucid Hellenists (the Greeks from Syria) tried to force them to eat. Jesus' audience would have remembered the sacrifices of these Jewish heroes and would have been disgusted by the son's sleeping with prostitutes and rejection of the Torah.

It is in this context that the Father's actions reveal that God's love is unconditional. In the words of Fr. Skehan, "how can we doubt the reality of God's love for the sinner, the God who looks to the horizon day and night longing for the sight of his beloved son returning home?" (44)

Now, use your imagination to enter into Luke 15: 11-32. Can you feel the Father's joy when he sees his son returning? Can you feel the acceptance and joyful surrender when you feel the Father embrace you?

Prayer In Daily Life, Phase 1, Week 6, Exercise 2: The call of the Eternal Coach/Teacher/Leader for Christians.

This exercise can be entered into in three ways. Chose the one most relevant for you. It should be experienced between December 14 and 17.

1. Call of the Eternal Coach. Ask God for the grace that you might respond to his call with generosity.

Recall a good coach who coached one of your sports teams. Recall how he brought out the best in you—athletically and personally. How did he foster teamwork and mutual respect among the people on your team? How successful was he? Why was your team so successful?
Would you allow yourself to be coached by this coach again? Why? Do you feel a sense of devotion to this coach? Has it lasted until the present moment?

Now imagine that coach coaching. What is he doing? How does your heart feel about what he is doing? Now imagine Jesus, the eternal coach. How has he nurtured you? What do you want from him? What has he done to attract people to join his team? What are his greatest successes?
Savoring the devotion you feel toward your temporal coach, ask God for the grace to feel even more devotion to follow Jesus, your eternal coach.

Close with an Our Father or other appropriate prayer.

2. Call of the eternal teacher. Ask God for the grace that you might respond to his call with generosity.

Recall a teacher who made a difference in your life. What qualities did he/she have? What knowledge did the teacher give to you? What skills did you learn? Did the teacher help your thinking to become more critical and more clear? Do you have a desire to learn from him again?

Now consider Jesus. Consider his way of being and teaching. What is it about him that attracts you? What qualities does he have? What spiritual and emotional skills can he teach you? Does his message of unconditional love and justice inspire you? As you felt a desire to learn from the temporal teacher, how much more do you want to learn from Jesus, the eternal teacher? What specific words does he use as he calls you to join in his movement?

Now, in your own words, express whatever feelings of devotion you feel toward Jesus. Are you grateful that he has called you to join his movement, knowing that with Jesus victory is assured? Close with an Our Father or other appropriate prayer.

3. Call of the eternal leader. Ask God for the grace that you might respond to his call with generosity.

Consider a temporal leader who inspires you. Reflect on how he or she takes a stand for freedom and justice. Is he or she charismatic? Does she have a good sense of humor? Is she a good orator? Recall some of the temporal leader's moving speeches. How did you feel listening to those speeches?

Now consider Jesus, the eternal leader. What is it about Jesus' way of being and leading that attracts you? Consider how devoted you are to following the temporal leader. How much stronger should your devotion be to following Jesus, the perfect leader?

Ask the Lord for the grace to be completely devoted to following him. Ask him for the grace to draw insight and inspiration as we contemplate the mysteries of his life. Close with an Our Father or other appropriate prayer.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Phase One, Week Five, Exercise Two: Contemplating Sin and Disorder In the World

This exercise is to take place between December 7 and 10.

Why are we spending two weeks on sin and disorder? First, from a Christian perspective, it gives us an appreciation for our need for Christ. Second, from a global perspective, it gives us an appreciation for our need for healthy spirituality (for theists it gives us an appreciation for our need for God). Third, it is also a universal character of religion and spirituality that as human beings we struggle against non-charity and injustice in many aspects of our lives. This exercise helps to ground us in reality.

Ask God for the grace to be aware of how you might be complicit in some form of sin or disorder.

It may seem strange, but we will be praying with the internet. Use a search engine like google or yahoo and search using five to six of the following phrases. Find a specific case that details a form of sin or disorder. You may also want to try searching or

*violence against women
*violence against children
*violence against Christians
*violence against Muslims
*violence against Jews
*violence against Buddhists
*oppression of women
*oppression in the Americas
*oppression in Africa
*oppression in Asia
*oppression in Europe
*violence against gays and lesbians
*Matthew Shepard

Now, conduct two to three other searches that you think concern hatred and/or injustice. You may want to enter the specific names of the people involved.

Read the 7 or 8 articles that you find. Choose one of them and use your imagination to enter into the scene. What character are you drawn to? Why? Ask God why you are drawn to that character. What do you feel about the situation?

Ask God for help or meditate in the method appropriate for your tradition. Tell God what you feel. Ask God for an interior knowledge of the insight He wants to give you. Are you to play a role, any role, in the healing of the world?

Close with an Our Father or prayer in your tradition.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Phase One, Week 5, Exercise One: An Islamic Meditation on Sin and Disorder

This exercise should be experienced between December 4 and December 7.

We continue our contemplation of sin and disorder with the Quran's story of the life of Yousuf (Joseph). Like the story of Joseph in the Hebrew Bible, this story is very long. Reading it once and contemplating the questions below may constitute your entire prayer period. If you have the time, prayerfully read it twice.

Ask God for the grace to have complete understanding of your own sinfulness and disorder. Also ask for the grace to be free of all that prevents you from living in freedom, charity and justice.

Pay attention to the character/characters with which you identify. Why do you identify with that character/characters? Does it remind you of a situation from your own life?

Note the dysfunction in the family: Jacob's favoritism, the brother's envy (which is a form of mimetic desire), and the scapegoating--how the brothers bond over their expulsion of Yousuf. Note also that God works through the sinful situation to bring about something good. Do any of these dynamics remind you of your own family? Ask
God for healing.

From Quran Sura 12, translated by by Rashad Khalifa, Ph.D.

Sura 12, Joseph (Yousuf)

[12:0] In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful

[12:1] A. L. R. These (letters) are proofs of this profound scripture.


[12:2] We have revealed it an Arabic Quran, that you may understand.


[12:3] We narrate to you the most accurate history through the revelation of this Quran. Before this, you were totally unaware.

[12:4] Recall that Joseph said to his father, "O my father, I saw eleven planets, and the sun, and the moon; I saw them prostrating before me."

[12:5] He said, "My son, do not tell your brothers about your dream, lest they plot and scheme against you. Surely, the devil is man's worst enemy.

[12:6] "Your Lord has thus blessed you, and has given you good news through your dream. He has perfected His blessings upon you and upon the family of Jacob, as He did for your ancestors Abraham and Isaac before that. Your Lord is Omniscient, Most Wise."

[12:7] In Joseph and his brothers there are lessons for the seekers.

[12:8] They said, "Joseph and his brother are favored by our father, and we are in the majority. Indeed, our father is far astray.

Joseph's Fate Already Decided by God*
[12:9] "Let us kill Joseph, or banish him, that you may get some attention from your father. Afterwards, you can be righteous people."


[12:10] One of them said, "Do not kill Joseph; let us throw him into the abyss of the well. Perhaps some caravan can pick him up, if this is what you decide to do."

2:11] They said, "Our father, why do you not trust us with Joseph? We will take good care of him.

[12:12] "Send him with us tomorrow to run and play. We will protect him."

[12:13] He said, "I worry lest you go away with him, then the wolf may devour him while you are not watching him."

[12:14] They said, "Indeed, if the wolf devours him, with so many of us around, then we are really losers."

Believers are Blessed with God's Assurances
[12:15] When they went away with him, and unanimously decided to throw him into the abyss of the well, we inspired him: "Some day, you will tell them about all this, while they have no idea."

[12:16] They came back to their father in the evening, weeping.

[12:17] They said, "Our father, we went racing with each other, leaving Joseph with our equipment, and the wolf devoured him. You will never believe us, even if we were telling the truth."

[12:18] They produced his shirt with fake blood on it. He said, "Indeed, you have conspired with each other to commit a certain scheme. All I can do is resort to a quiet patience. May GOD help me in the face of your conspiracy."

Joseph is Taken to Egypt
[12:19] A caravan passed by, and soon sent their waterer. He let down his bucket, then said, "How lucky! There is a boy here!" They took him along as merchandise, and GOD was fully aware of what they did.

[12:20] They sold him for a cheap price— a few Dirhams—for they did not have any need for him.

[12:21] The one who bought him in Egypt said to his wife, "Take good care of him. Maybe he can help us, or maybe we can adopt him." We thus established Joseph on earth, and we taught him the interpretation of dreams. GOD's command is always done, but most people do not know.

[12:22] When he reached maturity, we endowed him with wisdom and knowledge. We thus reward the righteous.

God Protects the Believers From Sin
[12:23] The lady of the house where he lived tried to seduce him. She closed the doors and said, "I am all yours." He said, "May GOD protect me. He is my Lord, who gave me a good home.* The transgressors never succeed.


[12:24] She almost succumbed to him, and he almost succumbed to her, if it were not that he saw a proof from his Lord. We thus diverted evil and sin away from him, for he was one of our devoted servants.

[12:25] The two of them raced towards the door, and, in the process, she tore his garment from the back. They found her husband at the door. She said, "What should be the punishment for one who wanted to molest your wife, except imprisonment or a painful punishment?"

[12:26] He said, "She is the one who tried to seduce me." A witness from her family suggested: "If his garment is torn from the front, then she is telling the truth and he is a liar.

[12:27] "And if his garment is torn from the back, then she lied, and he is telling the truth."

[12:28] When her husband saw that his garment was torn from the back, he said, "This is a woman's scheme. Indeed, your scheming is formidable.

[12:29] "Joseph, disregard this incident. As for you (my wife), you should seek forgiveness for your sin. You have committed an error."

[12:30] Some women in the city gossiped: "The governor's wife is trying to seduce her servant. She is deeply in love with him. We see that she has gone astray."

[12:31] When she heard of their gossip, she invited them, prepared for them a comfortable place, and gave each of them a knife. She then said to him, "Enter their room." When they saw him, they so admired him, that they cut their hands.* They said, "Glory be to GOD, this is not a human being; this is an honorable angel.


[12:32] She said, "This is the one you blamed me for falling in love with. I did indeed try to seduce him, and he refused. Unless he does what I command him to do, he will surely go to prison, and will be debased."

[12:33] He said, "My Lord, the prison is better than giving in to them. Unless You divert their scheming from me, I may desire them and behave like the ignorant ones."

[12:34] His Lord answered his prayer and diverted their scheming from him. He is the Hearer, the Omniscient.

[12:35] Later, they saw to it, despite the clear proofs, that they should imprison him for awhile.

[12:36] Two young men were in the prison with him. One of them said, "I saw (in my dream) that I was making wine," and the other said, "I saw myself carrying bread on my head, from which the birds were eating. Inform us of the interpretation of these dreams. We see that you are righteous."

[12:37] He said, "If any food is provided to you, I can inform you about it before you receive it. This is some of the knowledge bestowed upon me by my Lord. I have forsaken the religion of people who do not believe in GOD, and with regard to the Hereafter, they are really disbelievers.

[12:38] "And I followed instead the religion of my ancestors, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. We never set up any idols beside GOD. Such is the blessing from GOD upon us and upon the people, but most people are unappreciative.

[12:39] "O my prison mates, are several gods better, or GOD alone, the One, the Supreme?

[12:40] "You do not worship beside Him except innovations that you have made up, you and your parents. GOD has never authorized such idols. All ruling belongs to GOD, and He has ruled that you shall not worship except Him. This is the perfect religion, but most people do not know.

[12:41] "O my prison mates, one of you will be the wine butler for his lord, while the other will be crucified— the birds will eat from his head. This settles the matter about which you have inquired."

[12:42] He then said to the one to be saved "Remember me at your lord."* Thus, the devil caused him to forget his Lord, and, consequently, he remained in prison a few more years


The King's Dream
[12:43] The king said, "I saw seven fat cows being devoured by seven skinny cows, and seven green spikes (of wheat), and others shriveled. O my elders, advise me regarding my dream, if you know how to interpret the dreams."

[12:44] They said, "Nonsense dreams. When it comes to the interpretation of dreams, we are not knowledgeable."

[12:45] The one who was saved (from the prison) said, now that he finally remembered, "I can tell you its interpretation, so send me (to Joseph)."

Joseph Interprets the King's Dream
[12:46] "Joseph my friend, inform us about seven fat cows being devoured by seven skinny cows, and seven green spikes, and others shriveled. I wish to go back with some information for the people."

[12:47] He said, "What you cultivate during the next seven years, when the time of harvest comes, leave the grains in their spikes, except for what you eat.

[12:48] "After that, seven years of drought will come, which will consume most of what you stored for them.

[12:49] "After that, a year will come that brings relief for the people, and they will, once again, press juice."

[12:50] The king said, "Bring him to me." When the messenger came to him, he said, "Go back to your lord and ask him to investigate the women who cut their hands. My Lord is fully aware of their schemes."

[12:51] (The king) said (to the women), "What do you know about the incident when you tried to seduce Joseph?" They said, "GOD forbid; we did not know of anything evil committed by him." The wife of the governor said, "Now the truth has prevailed. I am the one who tried to seduce him, and he was the truthful one.

[12:52] "I hope that he will realize that I never betrayed him in his absence, for GOD does not bless the schemes of the betrayers.

[12:53] "I do not claim innocence for myself. The self is an advocate of vice, except for those who have attained mercy from my Lord. My Lord is Forgiver, Most Merciful."

Joseph Attains Prominence
[12:54] The king said, "Bring him to me, so I can hire him to work for me." When he talked with him, he said, "Today, you have a prominent position with us."

[12:55] He said, "Make me the treasurer, for I am experienced in this area and knowledgeable."

[12:56] We thus established Joseph on earth, ruling as he wished. We shower our mercy upon whomever we will, and we never fail to recompense the righteous.

[12:57] Additionally, the reward in the Hereafter is even better for those who believe and lead a righteous life.

[12:58] Joseph's brothers came; when they entered, he recognized them, while they did not recognize him.

[12:59] After he provided them with their provisions, he said, "Next time, bring with you your half-brother. Do you not see that I give full measure, and treat you generously?

[12:60] "If you fail to bring him to me, you will get no share from me; you will not even come close."

[12:61] They said, "We will negotiate with his father about him. We will surely do this."

[12:62] He then instructed his assistants: "Put their goods back in their bags. When they find them upon their return to their family, they may come back sooner."

[12:63] When they returned to their father, they said, "Our father, we can no longer get any provisions, unless you send our brother with us. We will take good care of him."

[12:64] He said, "Shall I trust you with him, as I trusted you with his brother before that? GOD is the best Protector, and, of all the merciful ones, He is the Most Merciful."

[12:65] When they opened their bags, they found their goods returned to them. They said, "Our father, what more can we ask for? Here are our goods returned to us. We can thus provide for our family, protect our brother, and receive one more camel-load. This is certainly a profitable deal."

[12:66] He said, "I will not send him with you, unless you give me a solemn pledge before GOD that you will bring him back, unless you are utterly overwhelmed." When they gave him their solemn pledge, he said, "GOD is witnessing everything we say."

[12:67] And he said, "O my sons, do not enter from one door; enter through separate doors. However, I cannot save you from anything that is predetermined by GOD. To GOD belongs all judgments. I trust in Him, and in Him shall all the trusters put their trust."

Jacob Senses Joseph
[12:68] When they went (to Joseph), they entered in accordance with their father's instructions. Although this could not change anything decreed by GOD, Jacob had a private reason for asking them to do this. For he possessed certain knowledge that we taught him, but most people do not know.

Back in Egypt
[12:69] When they entered Joseph's place, he brought his brother closer to him and said, "I am your brother; do not be saddened by their actions."

Joseph Keeps His Brother
[12:70] When he provided them with their provisions, he placed the drinking cup in his brother's bag, then an announcer announced: "The owners of this caravan are thieves."

[12:71] They said, as they came towards them, "What did you lose?"

[12:72] They said, "We lost the king's cup. Anyone who returns it will receive an extra camel-load; I personally guarantee this."

[12:73] They said, "By GOD, you know full well that we did not come here to commit evil, nor are we thieves."

[12:74] They said, "What is the punishment for the thief, if you are liars?"

[12:75] They said, "The punishment, if it is found in his bag, is that the thief belongs to you. We thus punish the guilty."

[12:76] He then started by inspecting their containers, before getting to his brother's container, and he extracted it out of his brother's container. We thus perfected the scheme for Joseph; he could not have kept his brother if he applied the king's law. But that was the will of GOD. We exalt whomever we choose to higher ranks. Above every knowledgeable one, there is one who is even more knowledgeable.

[12:77] They said, "If he stole, so did a brother of his in the past." Joseph concealed his feelings in himself, and did not give them any clue. He said (to himself), "You are really bad. GOD is fully aware of your accusations."

[12:78] They said, “O you noble one, he has a father who is elderly; would you take one of us in his place? We see that you are a kind man.��?

[12:79] He said, "GOD forbid that we should take other than the one in whose possession we found our goods. Otherwise, we would be unjust."

[12:80] When they despaired of changing his mind, they conferred together. Their eldest said, "Do you realize that your father has taken a solemn pledge from you before GOD? In the past you lost Joseph. I am not leaving this place until my father gives me permission, or until GOD judges for me; He is the best Judge.

[12:81] ?Go back to your father and tell him? Back In Palestine 'Our father, your son has committed a theft. We know for sure, because this is what we have witnessed. This was an unexpected occurrence.

[12:82] 'You may ask the community where we were, and the caravan that came back with us. We are telling the truth.'"

12:83] He said, "Indeed, you have conspired to carry out a certain scheme. Quiet patience is my only recourse. May GOD bring them all back to me. He is the Omniscient, Most Wise."

[12:84] He turned away from them, saying, "I am grieving over Joseph." His eyes turned white from grieving so much; he was truly sad.

[12:85] They said, "By GOD, you will keep on grieving over Joseph until you become ill, or until you die."

[12:86] He said, "I simply complain to GOD about my dilemma and grief, for I know from GOD what you do not know.

[12:87] "O my sons, go fetch Joseph and his brother, and never despair of GOD's grace. None despairs of GOD's grace except the disbelieving people."

Israel Goes to Egypt
[12:88] When they entered (Joseph's) quarters, they said, "O you noble one, we have suffered a lot of hardship, along with our family, and we have brought inferior goods. But we hope that you will give us full measure and be charitable to us. GOD rewards the charitable."

[12:89] He said, "Do you recall what you did to Joseph and his brother when you were ignorant?"

[12:90] They said, "You must be Joseph." He said, "I am Joseph, and here is my brother. GOD has blessed us. That is because if one leads a righteous life, and steadfastly perseveres, GOD never fails to reward the righteous."

[12:91] They said, "By GOD, GOD has truly preferred you over us. We were definitely wrong."

[12:92] He said, "There is no blame upon you today. May GOD forgive you. Of all the merciful ones, He is the Most Merciful.

[12:93] "Take this shirt of mine; when you throw it on my father's face, his vision will be restored. Bring your whole family and come back to me."


[12:94] Even before the caravan arrived, their father said, "I can sense the smell of Joseph. Will someone enlighten me?"

[12:95] They said, "By GOD, you are still in your old confusion."

[12:96] When the bearer of good news arrived, he threw (the shirt) on his face, whereupon his vision was restored. He said, "Did I not tell you that I knew from GOD what you did not know?"

[12:97] They said, "Our father, pray for our forgiveness; we were wrong indeed."

[12:98] He said, "I will implore my Lord to forgive you; He is the Forgiver, Most Merciful."

In Egypt
[12:99] When they entered Joseph's quarters, he embraced his parents, saying, "Welcome to Egypt. GOD willing, you will be safe here."

[12:100] He raised his parents upon the throne. They fell prostrate before him. He said, "O my father, this is the fulfillment of my old dream. My Lord has made it come true. He has blessed me, delivered me from the prison, and brought you from the desert, after the devil had driven a wedge between me and my brothers. My Lord is Most Kind towards whomever He wills. He is the Knower, the Most Wise."

Monday, November 21, 2011

A Note for and Blesssings for Non-Christians Experiencing Phases Two, Three and Four of Prayer In Daily Life

As we finish the first phase of the retreat, it is important to address the question of how non-Christians should approach the second, third, and fourth phases of this Ignatian Prayer In Daily Life experience. The second, third and fourth phases are structured by and oriented toward the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Some have suggested that this precludes non-Christians from experiencing them. I disagree, but I have to admit to having certain limitations. I do not know other faiths as well as I know Catholic Christianity. I also know Judaism a little better than I know Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Confucianism, and other faiths and philosophies. Most of my suggestions will thus focus on Christianity and Judaism.

Even though my knowledge is limited, I sense certain possibilities here. The second phase of the classical Exercises invites the retreatant to contemplate the life of Jesus up to his entrance into Jerusalem and preparations for the last supper. A non-Christian could approach this by contemplating the life of Jesus as a great spiritual teacher, not as the son of God. There are other possibilities: members of the Jewish community could choose to contemplate the life of Moses or one of the prophets. Jews could also contemplate the history of the Jewish community and its relationship with God: The call of Abraham, the patriarchs, Moses, the conquest of the Holy Land, the kingdom, exile, the return from exile, suffering through the Hellenistic rule and oppression, the Roman Occupation, the early Rabbis, the writing of the Talmud and Mishnah, diaspora, life within Christendom, pogroms, the medieval scholars (Maimonides), modernity, the Holocaust, the formation of the state of Israel, Jewish involvement in modern and post-modern social justice activities (Heschel), modern and post-modern Jewish scholarship, and Jewish involvement in inter-religious dialogue.

Jews could participate in the third phase of the Exercises which contemplates the passion and death of Jesus by focusing on their struggle with God during the Shoah and the resilience of their faith after the Shoah. Jews could also contemplate the absurdity of Christians punishing Jews for the material of the Christian third phase of the Exercises. That is, Jews could enter into the third phase of the Exercises by contemplating the suffering foisted upon them by Christians who, caught up in the evil of the scapegoat mechanism, misinterpreted the events of the passion and death. They would not be deifying themselves. They might focus on praying to God who allowed them to suffer, but who also somehow mysteriously preserved them as a Jewish community in the face of an attempt to obliterate them. As a Christian, I cannot even suggest what such a prayer would be; however, I am struck by the radical commitment to justice that the Jewish community has lived after the Shoah. How would one find God in that? I am sure my Jewish brothers and sisters are capable of doing so. I may humbly suggest that, since this takes place in an Ignatian context, it might be helpful to use Howard Gray’s study of the Jesuit Constitutions: Howard explains that Ignatius taught others to find God by encouraging them to be attentive, reverent, and devout. That method transcends all religious boundaries and is helpful to all faiths.

The current inquiry about our retreat reminds me of a moment on an Ignatian retreat that I coordinated at Georgetown University. After one of the contemplations of the passion, as the retreatants dined, I played the soundtrack to Schindler’s List. The retreatants, all Christians of various denominations, wrote that it was a profound experience. It thus seems to me, that during this Prayer In Daily Life, it would be fruitful for Christians to contemplate the horror of the Shoah and Christian complicity in it.

How shall Jews enter into the fourth phase? At the end of the fourth phase, we contemplate to attain the love of God. All traditions can enter into that activity. The first parts of the fourth phase contemplate the resurrection of Jesus. I am not sure if Jews would want to participate in the early exercises of the fourth phase. In all humility and with all respect, I sense that there are certain Jewish prayer experiences that parallel the contemplation of the fourth phase: first, Jews might want to meditate on the promise of the Messiah. What are the qualities of the Messiah? What role will Israel play in healing the world when the Messiah comes? Consider the Jewish community’s ability to forgive after the Shoah, an event in which a huge chunk of the globe sat by and watched many of them be tortured to death. How has God raised them above resentment and acrimony? What aspects of the Jewish tradition focus on the radical mystery of God’s redeeming a sinful and stubborn humanity? For Christians the resurrection is the center of our faith. What is the center of the Jewish faith? Contemplate the joy of that center. For Christians the resurrection glorifies all that is human. What aspects of the Jewish faith glorify our humanity?

The goal of this retreat in daily life is not to create a syncretistic hodge podge of various religions. One of the goals of this retreat is to encourage all of the people of the Lake Erie region, and as many people around the globe who are interested in this experience, to pray for each other and to share the profound experience of the Ignatian Exercises. Although it is not a requirement for membership in the Lake Erie Olympic Movement, this retreat will give many of us the initial energy to begin our Olympic Movement. It is also an attempt for each of us to realize just how similar we are. We may belong to different faiths, but our hearts and minds are very similar, if not the same. Finally, this experience is also very American. As Americans we love the tapestry of culture that nurtures us.

Finally, however each faith tradition approaches the Exercises, there is another Ignatian method that can be utilized by all--Ignatian Contemplation--and there are two second phase exercises that non-Christians can adapt--the three kinds of people and the three kinds of humility. In Ignatian Contemplation, we use our imagination to actively enter into a scene from a religious text. Whether one is Christian or not, this method can enliven any scriptural contemplation. As for the three kinds of people and the three kinds of humility, both are exercises that encourage us to ask God for the gift of radical spiritual freedom. All of the great traditions have methods that encourage us to strive for and ask for the gift of radical spiritual freedom.

I hope that this helps. I am grateful for all people and for all traditions. Each of the traditions has taught me something significant. I pray that God may bless all with a spirit of freedom and generosity at all times.

Namaste! Shalom! Al-Salamu Alaikum! Peace!

Phase One, Week 4, Exercise 2: The History of Sin and Disorder

This exercise should be experienced between November 30 and December 3.

In the first exercise of this week, we reflected on the nature of sin and disorder. Sin disrupts my relationship with myself, God, others and the ecology. In this exercise, we will consider how disorder was present at the origin of human culture and how the dynamic of sin and disorder is mimetically passed down from generation to generation.

Through the years, the notion of original sin has been understood in primitive, pseudo-biological terms and, as a result, it has been rejected by some people. At the same time, it cannot be denied that human beings seem to continually be drawn back into social dynamics that discriminate against others. In some cases, these social dynamics lead to overt violence against others. Why is this?

The cultural anthropologist Rene Girard has provided a theory that helps to answer this question. According to Girard, one of the most resilient human characteristics is the tendency to copy others. As toddlers, we learn language by copying the adults in our families. We continue to learn by copying throughout our lives. The problem is that we copy more than language.

In his book Violence Unveiled, Gil Bailie, one of Girard's students, tells a story all parents know. He asks us to imagine a nursery. In the middle of the room lies a toy. One child enters the room. He touches the toy in the middle of the room, but he shows no real interest in it. He then goes to one side of the room and plays with another toy. A second child enters the room. He walks to the center of the room and begins to play with the toy that the first child rejected. What happens next? Most people can tell you: the first child copies the desires of the second chid and, as a result, wants to play with the toy the second is playing with. As he reaches for the toy, a conflict develops. If the adults in the room do not intervene, the conflict will become physical.

This copying of others Girard calls mimesis. Everyone does it--from teenagers copying each others' clothing to adults copying the actions and desires of others when they see people flocking to a store on Black Friday. What then does this have to do with the origin of culture, sin, and the on-going dynamic of culture?

It helps if we take a stroll down the lane of human evolution to the beginning of human culture. Imagine, if you will, two nearly human beings. Let's call them Ug and Oog. They live in close proximity of each other and in close proximity of several other nearly human beings. Ug has been wandering around the countryside in search of food when he finds an animal tooth. The object interests him so he picks it up. Oog has been watching Ug from a distance and, influenced by his mimetic tendencies, wants to know what Ug is fascinated by. As he approaches Ug, Ug is looking at the animal tooth. Oog copies Ug's gesture, but to do so, Oog needs to hold the tooth. He reaches for the tooth. Ug pulls the tooth away from Oog. Oog imitates Ug, attempting to take the tooth from Ug. Ug responds by pushing Oog away. Oog copies the gesture. Ug responds by hitting Oog. Oog copies Ug and hits him back. Now the scene becomes a prehistoric version of the three stooges, what Girard and Bailie call mimetic violence.

Other nearly human beings who happen upon Ug and Oog's fight get drawn in. At this point, there is no justice system to intervene and stop the violence. There is no developed language to communicate a desire to end the violence. There is just mimetic (copying) activity. We see such behavior when modern and post-modern human beings place themselves in the primitive state of drunkenness in a bar. One drunken man punches someone on the other side of the bar then someone far removed from the original punch breaks a chair over someone's back. Ug and Oog's neighbors behave in the same way. They just mindlessly copy Ug and Oog's violence. They fight with whoever is near them. They may even pick up stones and throw them at each other.

The brawl continues until someone is injured and grunts a startling accusatory gesture at the individual who has harmed him. This accusation is so loud that it is copied by the others. Now a whole crowd is growling at and pointing at one individual. The anger spills over and the mob kills the individual. At once, there is a hush. The crowd is amazed at what it has done: at first each member notices noone is hitting him or throwing rocks at him. Second, each member is shocked by the presence of the corpse. Third, each member is amazed that he was part of some kind of collective act. Before the collective murder, there was chaos. After the collective murder, there is order. In this way, primitive social solidarity was born.

This group remembers the order that came after the group murder. When chaos again appears, they decide to use the collective act that gave them peace: they ritualize human sacrifice. Nearly all of the great human civilizations have engaged in human sacrifice in some form. Their creation myths mirror this: frequently the ancient creation myths (except the Hebrew myths and a few others) report that the world is created from the body of a murdered god.

Many societies left behind the ritual of human sacrifice, but retained the dynamic of collective discrimination: those who did not abide by the rules of the societies were cast out of the society. This is another form of scapegoating. Modern society claimed that it had evolved out of religion only to fall prey to the worst forms of collective violence ever--the Nazi Holocaust and the killing fields and death camps of communism.

Even today in the United States of America, there is scapegoating--of gays and lesbians, immigrants, Muslims, the homeless, people with mental illnesses, people who are religiously and culturally different. In a milder and yet still insidious way, people scapegoat those who belong to a different political party than they do.

Ask yourself: Have I ever scapegoated? That is, have I ever engaged in social bonding at the expense of another? What led me to do so? Was I afraid of being scapegoated myself? Was I unaware of the scapegoat mechanism that was at work in the group?

Do I scapegoat people who belong to a different political party than I do? Do I demonize them? Why?

Now, in prayer consider the story from the Gospel of John about Jesus and the woman caught in the act of adultery (of course, we should wonder about the man who was caught with her). If you feel so moved, use your imagination to enter the scene. Which character are you drawn to? How do you feel about the social bond that the Pharisees have at the expense of the woman?

Jesus went to the Mount of Olives.* a
But early in the morning he arrived again in the temple area, and all the people started coming to him, and he sat down and taught them.
Then the scribes and the Pharisees brought a woman who had been caught in adultery and made her stand in the middle.
They said to him, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the very act of committing adultery.
Now in the law, Moses commanded us to stone such women.* So what do you say?”b
They said this to test him, so that they could have some charge to bring against him. Jesus bent down and began to write on the ground with his finger.*
* But when they continued asking him, he straightened up and said to them,c “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
Again he bent down and wrote on the ground.
And in response, they went away one by one, beginning with the elders. So he was left alone with the woman before him.
Then Jesus straightened up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”d
She replied, “No one, sir.” Then Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you. Go, [and] from now on do not sin any more.”]e
(John 7:53-8:11)

Do I need to spend some time with Jesus who will gently just tell me "go and sin no more"? If I am not Christian, is there an appropriate text which offers me words of healing now that I am aware of my sin or disorder?

Speak from your heart to the God of your understanding. If you are Buddhist, choose whatever text or meditative approach is appropriate.


Friday, November 18, 2011

Phase One, Week Four, Exercise One: Sin And Disorder

This Exercise is to be experienced between November 27 and November 30:

Having meditated upon the purpose of our lives, we now consider why we fall short of reaching our goal of loving God in all situations. The human story is not just about the successes of the heroes of our various traditions. It also details our failings. In this week, Ignatius encourages us to contemplate the history of human sinfulness as well as our personal sinfulness. We contemplate sin and disorder so that we may undergo conversion and become free.

There are certain classic texts in the Jewish and Christian traditions that deal with sin and disorder. Probably the best known story that helps us contemplate sin is the story of the sin of Adam and Eve. The value of this story is not its historical value. Rather, the value of the story is its rich symbolism. All of the ancient creation stories of the ancient traditions use symbolism to convey their message. What makes this story so insightful is that its symbolism gives us insight into the graces and disorder of human relationships.

As we engage in this exercise, there are specific graces we should ask for. Fr. Skehan suggests that we should ask God for the following:

"Conscious of the high adventure, sublime destiny, and freedom for which I was created and of the vocation to which God invites me, I beg Him for a deep-felt understanding of my sin and of the disordered tendencies in my life that hobble me in my pursuit; that I may feel a need for a change, and so turn to him for healing and forgiveness. I seek to rid myself of every form of greed and lust, of anger and resentment, and of delusion that I may rid myself of all that fetters me" (31).

Now, read through Genesis 2:4b-3:24. I have provided the text below:

Genesis Chapter 2

When the LORD God made the earth and the heavens—
there was no field shrub on earth and no grass of the field had sprouted, for the LORD God had sent no rain upon the earth and there was no man* to till the ground,
but a stream* was welling up out of the earth and watering all the surface of the ground—
then the LORD God formed the man* out of the dust of the ground and blew into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.d
The LORD God planted a garden in Eden, in the east,* and placed there the man whom he had formed.e
* Out of the ground the LORD God made grow every tree that was delightful to look at and good for food, with the tree of life in the middle of the garden and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.f
A river rises in Eden* to water the garden; beyond there it divides and becomes four branches.
The name of the first is the Pishon; it is the one that winds through the whole land of Havilah, where there is gold.
The gold of that land is good; bdellium and lapis lazuli are also there.
The name of the second river is the Gihon; it is the one that winds all through the land of Cush.g
The name of the third river is the Tigris; it is the one that flows east of Asshur. The fourth river is the Euphrates.
The LORD God then took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to cultivate and care for it.h
The LORD God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the gardeni
except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die.* j
The LORD God said: It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suited to him.* k
So the LORD God formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds of the air, and he brought them to the man to see what he would call them; whatever the man called each living creature was then its name.
The man gave names to all the tame animals, all the birds of the air, and all the wild animals; but none proved to be a helper suited to the man.
So the LORD God cast a deep sleep on the man, and while he was asleep, he took out one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh.l
The LORD God then built the rib that he had taken from the man into a woman. When he brought her to the man,
the man said:
“This one, at last, is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
This one shall be called ‘woman,’
for out of man this one has been taken.”*
m That is why a man leaves his father and mother and clings to his wife, and the two of them become one body.*
The man and his wife were both naked, yet they felt no shame.*

Genesis Chapter 3: Expulsion from Eden.
Now the snake was the most cunning* of all the wild animals that the LORD God had made. He asked the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?”
The woman answered the snake: “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden;
a it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’”
But the snake said to the woman: “You certainly will not die!b
God knows well that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened and you will be like gods, who know* good and evil.”
The woman saw that the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eyes, and the tree was desirable for gaining wisdom. So she took some of its fruit and ate it; and she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.c
Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they knew that they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.

When they heard the sound of the LORD God walking about in the garden at the breezy time of the day,* the man and his wife hid themselves from the LORD God among the trees of the garden.d
The LORD God then called to the man and asked him: Where are you?
He answered, “I heard you in the garden; but I was afraid, because I was naked, so I hid.”
Then God asked: Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree of which I had forbidden you to eat?
The man replied, “The woman whom you put here with me—she gave me fruit from the tree, so I ate it.”
The LORD God then asked the woman: What is this you have done? The woman answered, “The snake tricked me, so I ate it.”e
Then the LORD God said to the snake:
Because you have done this,
cursed are you
among all the animals, tame or wild;
On your belly you shall crawl,
and dust you shall eat
all the days of your life.* f
I will put enmity between you and the woman,
and between your offspring and hers;
They will strike at your head,
while you strike at their heel.* g
To the woman he said:
I will intensify your toil in childbearing;
in pain* you shall bring forth children.
Yet your urge shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.
To the man he said: Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, You shall not eat from it,
Cursed is the ground* because of you!
In toil you shall eat its yield
all the days of your life.h
Thorns and thistles it shall bear for you,
and you shall eat the grass of the field.
By the sweat of your brow
you shall eat bread,
Until you return to the ground,
from which you were taken;
For you are dust,
and to dust you shall return.i
The man gave his wife the name “Eve,” because she was the mother of all the living.*
The LORD God made for the man and his wife garments of skin, with which he clothed them.
Then the LORD God said: See! The man has become like one of us, knowing good and evil! Now, what if he also reaches out his hand to take fruit from the tree of life, and eats of it and lives forever?j
The LORD God therefore banished him from the garden of Eden, to till the ground from which he had been taken.
He expelled the man, stationing the cherubim and the fiery revolving sword east of the garden of Eden, to guard the way to the tree of life.

Notice the following about the text before you pray with it:

1) The meaning of the first story, the story of the Garden of Eden, is that human beings are made for relationships of equality and intimacy. Note the following symbols:
a. In 2:7, God makes the man out of clay and then breathes life into man. He does not create him from a distance. God is very close to his creation.
b. In 2:18, God states that it is not good for the man to be alone. The man is made for relationship.
c. In 2:19, God gives man the power to name the animals. In the Hebrew tradition, the ability to name something gives you power over it. This is why the Jewish community does not say YHWH, the name of God. No one can have power over God. God's giving the man the ability to name the creatures symbolizes that God is sharing God's dominion with humanity.
d. In 2:21-23, God creates the woman from the rib of the man. This does not justify male dominance over the woman. Rather, it symbolizes that the relationship between man and woman is to be a relationship of equality and intimacy. The rib is close to the heart, and, for the Hebrew people, the heart is the center of the human person. It is also the seat of wisdom. The mind resides in the heart and is informed by the heart. God did not create the woman from a bone far from the heart. Rather, he created the woman from a bone close to the heart. Man and woman are to live heart to heart, in love and equality. How does male domination enter into the world? We shall see in Genesis 3.
2. The meaning of the second story, the story of the expulsion from Eden, is that sin does not originate from the heart of man. It comes about from the tempter distorting humanity's good heart. Also, sin disrupts human relationships: relationships between the human person and him/herself, between the human person and other persons, between the human person and God, and between the human person and the ecology.
3. In 3:1-7, the serpent, representing the enemy of human nature, sows the seeds of envy in the hearts of the woman and the man (the fact that the woman is portrayed as the one who misleads the man is clearly an example of sexism. The text is not historical. Nevertheless, the text does give us important insight into sin.).

In chapter 2, God engages in the incredibly generous act of sharing his power and authority with the man and the woman, but they end up wanting more. The enemy encourages them to desire what is not theirs--"to be like gods." He sows the seeds of envy into their hearts. This disordering of desire ripples throughout all their relationships. Whereas in chapter 2, the man and the woman enjoy perfect, unencumbered intimacy (they are naked but feel no shame), after they eat of the fruit, they become aware of their nakedness and make fig leaves and loin cloths for themselves. There is now an obstacle between them. They also begin to hide from the God who had been a source of life for them.

4. In 3:16, God tells the woman:

I will intensify your toil in childbearing;
in pain* you shall bring forth children.
Yet your urge shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.

In a lecture at the Catholic University of America, Fr. Alex DiLella, OFM offered the following accurate interpretation: the development of male dominance over women occurs after the sin of Adam and Eve. It is thus not part of God's plan. It is a consequence of the human rejection of God. Our task then is to cooperate with God in the building up of a society that values all human beings--male and female.

Now ask God for the grace to obtain "a deep-felt understanding of my sin and of the disordered tendencies in my life that hobble me in my pursuit; that I may feel a need for a change, and so turn to him for healing and forgiveness. I seek to rid myself of every form of greed and lust, of anger and resentment, and of delusion that I may rid myself of all that fetters me."

Using your imagination, enter into the scenes of Genesis 2 and 3. Are you the man or the woman? Are you a third person observer of the scene?

What is the expression on the face of the man when he explains "this one is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh"? How do you feel his joy? What is the expression on the face of the woman?

What is the expression on the face of the man and the woman when the serpent tempts them to want the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil? What do they feel in their hearts? Do they value themselves as they envy what is God's?

How does this scene remind you of your own life? Has sin or disorder disrupted any of your relationships?

Have I degraded a member of the opposite sex? What led me to do so? What kind of healing will lead me to value the opposite sex? Have I allowed myself to be devalued? What kind of healing will lead me to value myself?

How else has sin or disorder affected you?

Do the stories give you any other insights?

At this point in the retreat it is appropriate to participate in the healing and reconciliation rituals of your tradition. If you are Catholic, it would be appropriate to participate in the Sacrament of Reconciliation.

If the source of your own personal disorder is not sin, but rather a psychological illness, it would be appropriate for you to find a gifted healer. If the source of your own personal disorder is a neuro-chemical mental illness, it would be appropriate for you to find a gifted psychiatrist.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Prayer In Daily Life Phase One, Week Three, Exercise Two: Final Repitition On First Principle With A Buddhist Monk

This Exercise should be experienced between November 23 and November 26 (Thanksgiving Weekend).

The First Principle is universal. Each wisdom tradition phrases this principle using its own language. For this reason we have spent extra time considering it. We have meditated on Ignatius' version and Abraham Joshua Heschel's version. Now we will pray with a Buddhist version. After that we will learn an Ignatian prayer called the Consciousness Examen.

The Buddhist monk Maha Ghosananda has written:

The thought manifests as the word,
The word manifests as the deed,
The deed develops into the habit,
The habit hardens into the character;
The character gives birth to the destiny.
So watch your thoughts with care,
And let them flow from love,
Born out of respect for all beings.

Now, let's utilize the Consciousness Examen.

With a pen or pencil in your hand, review the previous 24 hours by answering the following:

1. What gifts has God given me during the past 24 hours? On this Thanksgiving weekend, relish those gifts in your memory. Apply your senses. What did you hear, taste, see, feel, smell? Who were you with? Now, in your own words, thank God for each gift.

2. When did I fail to foster gratitude in the past 24 hours? When did I fall into a habit of resentment? How else have I failed to watch my thoughts with care? What thoughts have not flowed "from love, born out of respect for all beings"?
Have I hurt anyone? Ask for God's forgiveness and resolve to do better.

3. Use the previous definitions of consolation and desolation to answer:

A. When did my thoughts and feelings flow from consolation?

B. When did my thoughts and feelings flow from desolation?

4. Looking at my answers to the previous questions, how do I think God is calling me? Am I being called to make a particular decision? Where is God in my prayer?

5. Finally, consider the next 24 hours. What plans do I have? What thoughts and feelings emerge as I ponder the future? Pray with them.

Close with a prayer or a method of reverence that you have learned from your tradition.

Prayer In Daily Life Phase One, Week Three, Exercise One: Repetition Of First Principle With Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel

This exercise should be experienced sometime between November 20 and November 23.

We have prayed with the First Principle and we have read about Fr. Tetlow’s analysis of the religious experience that led to the writing of the First Principle. Now we will see just how universal the First Principle is.

First, recall your experience of praying with Ignatius’ phrasing of the First Principle. Did it help you understand the purpose of your life? Now consider how a scholar from the Jewish tradition has thought about the purpose of life.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote:

What is the meaning of my being?
. . . My quest--man's quest--is not for theoretical knowledge about myself . . . What I look for is not how to gain a firm hold on myself and on life, but primarily how to live a life that would deserve and evoke an eternal Amen. (The Wisdom of Heschel, selected by Ruth Marcus Goodhill, New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1975, p 3)

Pray with the following and write your answers in your journal:

What is the meaning of my being?

Have I ever become obsessed with theoretical knowledge to the detriment of my understanding of the meaning of life?

What aspects of my life would deserve and evoke an eternal Amen? What aspects of my life would not?

Read through the passage from Rabbi Heschel again. What was consoling? Did you experience any desolation? If so, why?

Close with a reverent prayer from your spiritual tradition.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Prayer In Daily Life, Phase 1, Week 2, Exercise 2: Repetition of The First Principle And Foundation

This Exercise should be completed between November 16 and November 19.

In an essay on the First Principle (also called the Fundamentum), Fr. Joseph Tetlow, S.J., writes that behind the first principle of Ignatius lies a religious experience—the experience that Ignatius had as he meditated on the bank of the Cardoner River near Manresa. What happened by the Cardoner? As he sat praying, he suddenly experienced enlightenment that he had difficulty putting into words. His enlightenment was that God was in the world, constantly creating. Ignatius sensed how all things come from and return to God, and he realized that he and the entire universe were being created moment by moment. God was creating him by infusing specific thoughts and desires into his heart and mind. Fr. Tetlow continues by explaining that God creates us using all of our reality, including the raw material of poorly made decisions. (All of these insights are relevant for all people. You do not have to be Christian to engage in this Exercise).

The desires that God infuses into our hearts lead us to freedom and foster the freedom of others. How do we know which thoughts and desires come from God? Those thoughts and desires are consoling: they foster creativity, lead us to empathize with others, and free our minds of emotional clutter. Desolate thoughts and feelings foster resentment, hatred, selfishness, and despair. What an enlightenment Ignatius had! To follow God then is simply a matter of knowing the direction of our thoughts and feelings. If our thoughts and feelings foster resentment and hatred, we need to drop them. If our thoughts and feelings foster empathy for others (including ourselves), we should act on them.

(Although Ignatius did not write extensively about empathy for oneself, modern psychologists and spiritual directors have added this emphasis. Even the ancient Aristotle was aware of the need to care for oneself in relationships. A dear friend of mine has occasionally reminded me that because my self is the “first gift God has given me,” I should take care of myself. It is possible for a manipulative person who abuses power to demand empathy for him over against healthy self-caring of yourself. That is not what Ignatius means by empathy. Empathy for such spiritual vampires is a tricky business. This is where contemporary translations of Ignatius’ definition of consolation and desolation are relevant. It is also healthy spirituality to simply avoid toxic personalities until they undergo some kind of conversion.)

We can summarize what we have discussed thus far by paraphrasing the first principle: Human beings are being (present tense being!) created to praise, reverence, and serve God by God who is creating them by infusing creative, charitable, and just desires into our hearts and minds. We fulfill our purpose in life by acting on these consoling thoughts. We stray from our purpose of being loving by acting on resentful, self-pitying, self-destructive, or selfish thoughts.

At this point, it is helpful for us to introduce Ignatius’ definition of consolation and desolation. Once again, we find that there are classical definitions and contemporary translations.

First, the classical definitions, which are overtly Christian, taken from St. Ignatius’ Rules for Discernment:

Third Rule. The third: OF SPIRITUAL CONSOLATION. I call it consolation when some interior movement in the soul is caused, through which the soul comes to be inflamed with love of its Creator and Lord; and when it can in consequence love no created thing on the face of the earth in itself, but in the Creator of them all. Likewise, when it sheds tears that move to love of its Lord, whether out of sorrow for one's sins, or for the Passion of Christ our Lord, or because of other things directly connected with His service and praise. Finally, I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity, and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one's soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord.

Fourth Rule. The fourth: OF SPIRITUAL DESOLATION. I call desolation all the contrary of the third rule, such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord. Because, as consolation is contrary to desolation, in the same way the thoughts which come from consolation are contrary to the thoughts which come from desolation.

Second, a contemporary translation, which applies to all people, from Margaret Silf’s book Inner Compass (an excellent introduction to Ignatian Spirituality, p 52):

• Turns us in on ourselves
• Drives us down the spiral ever deeper into our own negative feelings
• Cuts us off from community
• Makes us want to give up on things that used to be important to us
• Takes over our whole consciousness and crowds out our distant vision
• Covers up all of our [spiritual] landmarks
• Drains us of energy

• Directs our focus outside and beyond ourselves.
• Lifts our hearts so that we can see the joys and sorrows of other people.
• Bonds us more closely to our human community.
• Generates new inspiration and ideas
• Restores balance and refreshes our inner vision.
• Shows us where God is active in our lives and where he is leading us
• Releases new energy in us.

Take 10-15 minutes and review the previous 24 hours with these definitions of consolation and desolation. When did you feel desolate? When did you feel consoled?

How does the truth that God is creating you from the material of your life, even from bad decisions, make you feel? What gives you greatest hope? What feelings and thoughts are leading you to freedom? Which are moving you to work for the freedom of others?

It is helpful for you to re-read these definitions as we move into the next weeks of prayer, to take notes about your consolation and desolation, and to try to notice patterns to your movements of consolation and desolation.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Prayer In Daily Life, Phase 1, Week 2, Exercise 1: The First Principle And Foundation

This exercise is to be experienced sometime between November 13 and November 16.

In the first week of our retreat in daily life, we were invited to open ourselves in prayer. The metaphor for prayer that the prophet Isaiah used was water. Water cleans us, renews us, invigorates us. This week, invigorated by the consolation God gave us in prayer, we meditate on our purpose for living. The Buddha referred to the goal of human life as “the sweet joy of living in the way.” St. Ignatius summarized our goal in life in his “First Principle And Foundation.” It is also called “The Fundamentum.”

We will use two versions of the First Principle: the classic, literal translation and a translation by Spiritual Director David Fleming, S.J.

The prayer experience follows the following format:

1. Ask God for the gift of spiritual freedom. According to Fr. Skehan,
Spiritual freedom is mine when I am seized so completely by the love of God that all the desires of my heart and all of the actions, affections, thoughts and decisions which flow from them are directed to God, my Father, and his service and praise. My attitude is that of Samuel, “Here I am Lord, send me” (24).

2. Read through both versions of the First Principle:

The classic text:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.
All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.
It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one's end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one's end.
To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.
Thus, as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

David Fleming’s translation:

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God's life
to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God's deepening [God’s] life in me.

If you prefer one of the translations to the other, then pray with that translation. If you find spiritual benefit to praying/meditating with both of them, then pray/meditate with both. I have Ignatian friends who prefer the classic translation and I have Ignatian friends who prefer Fr. Fleming’s translation.
Over the next months of our prayer in daily life experience, it is beneficial to occasionally read the first principle.

3. Pray with the following questions:
Have I ever been aware of the experience of God creating me?

How have I praised, reverenced and served God? How have I not?

Recall a moment when I felt loved by God. Ignatius encourages us to relish these moments. Whom were you with? What were you doing? Apply all of your senses. What did you see? What were the smells of the experience? Enter back into these sensations. Relish them the way you relish a gift. Let your heart “taste” these experiences again. What did you hear? What did you touch? What did you taste? Let your whole being savor all of the good of that experience. Now say a prayer of thanksgiving to God for that experience.

Consider a gift God has given you. Using the above method relish that gift. Now consider the following: when have you freely enjoyed that gift? Recall Fr. Skehan’s definition of spiritual freedom:

Spiritual freedom is mine when I am seized so completely by the love of God that all the desires of my heart and all of the actions, affections, thoughts and decisions which flow from them are directed to God, my Father, and his service and praise. My attitude is that of Samuel, “Here I am Lord, send me” (24)

Has that gift or any gift displaced God and become the center of my life? What did that feel like? Talk to God in prayer about that experience.

Read through the translations of the first principle again. Let any spontaneous prayer well up in your heart.

Just listen to God. How does he feel toward you? Ask him to understand your deepest, most authentic desires. He knows them better than you do. How do you feel toward God? Why?

4. Close with a spontaneous, authentic prayer asking God that your only desire and your one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads
To God's deepening [God’s] life in me.

5. In your prayer journal record what happened during prayer. What were the most consoling moments of your prayer (which moments gave greatest insight)? Which moments were desolate (full of negative energy)?

Friday, November 4, 2011

Prayer In Daily Life: Phase One, Week One, Prayer Experience 2:

Since we are so busy, we will only aim to complete two prayer exercises a week. If you have more time and authentically, truly authentically desire more prayer, then choose material that helps you. It may be helpful to pray with the Hebrew Psalms, especially Psalms 42: 2-3, 103, 104, 131 and Psalm 150

Prayer Experience 1 should take place between November 6 and November 8. This prayer experience should take place between November 9 and November 11. Since this is the first week of the retreat, try to meet with your director or prayer group one day from November 10 to 12.

Directions for Prayer Experience 2:

First, find a quiet place. Sit down and focus on your breathing. Calm yourself. After about five minutes, slowly read the following passage from the Buddhist Scriptures.

Second, read through the passage and choose one word or phrase that resonates with your deepest self. Say that word or phrase over and over.

Third, using the words of your own faith tradition, speak with God about this word or phrase. Do you need freedom? Are you joyful? What keeps you from joy? Are you attached? How is God inviting you to pray about this need or condition of yours? Are they prayers of thanksgiving? Of petition? What do you want to ask from God during the next few months of prayer? What do you need? What does your community need? Early Christians called themselves “people of the way.” What does it mean for you to “live in the way” as Buddha recommends?

Interestingly enough, classical Buddhism is atheistic. If you are Buddhist, then meditate on these beautiful words in whatever way is fruitful. If you believe in God in any particular way, try to follow the instructions above.

From the Dhammapada, Words of the Buddha:

Live in Joy

Live in Joy, In love,
Even among those who hate.

Live in joy, In health,
Even among the afflicted.

Live in joy, In peace,
Even among the troubled.

Look within. Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of living in the way.


There is no fire like greed,
No crime like hatred,
No sorrow like separation,
No sickness like hunger of heart,
And no joy like the joy of freedom.

Health, contentment and trust
Are your greatest possessions,
And freedom your greatest joy.

Look within. Be still.
Free from fear and attachment,
Know the sweet joy of living in the way.

Now, close the prayer period with a prayer of your own tradition.
Finally, write down what happened. Was prayer difficult? Was it easy? What did you feel? Did you feel dry? Did you feel your heart and mind being enriched? Did you feel yourself being moved to faith, hope or charity? Did you feel a desire to continue in prayer over the next weeks? Ask God for the grace to understand your feelings.

Pray As You Can, Not As You Can't

The Exercises are not a series of lessons to be pushed through, or of theorems to be memorized. They are a means of facilitating a personal and group encounter with God. If something about the prayer experience is not working, then you may make an adjustment. However, there are times when a desolate prayer experience may lead us more deeply into our relationship with God. If that is the case, it may be profitable to endure the difficult experience. As the weeks go on, I will write about the nature of what is called consolation and desolation. Right now, however, please know that we are to be flexible. If you need to adjust the time you spend in prayer or change the place you think you should pray, then make the change. If you feel yourself called to repeat an earlier exercise because it was so fruitful, then follow that desire. If you have a spiritual director, you can qualify these things with him or her.

This retreat experience is not an attempt to encourage people to become Catholic Christians. It is an interfaith experience. Use the prayers from your own tradition that give you the most spiritual benefit. For example, if closing your prayer experience with the Our Father does not work for you, then don’t do that. Find another prayer that works for you. It might even help you to write a prayer of your own, something that comes from your heart of hearts, something that spontaneously speaks to God as you really want to speak to God. Obviously, if you are Buddhist, then a closing prayer would not be appropriate. Adjust the Exercise to fit your Buddhist method of meditating.

Ignatius noted that, for Catholics, attending the Liturgy as often as possible aided the retreat experience. If you are a non-Catholic Christian, it may be fruitful to spend a little extra time praying with your community over the next few months. If you are not Christian, it may be fruitful to spend a little extra time praying with your community, as your community normally prays, over the next few months. While you are attending your communal prayer/liturgy, please pray for the entire community experiencing the Exercises, pray for your own self as you experience the Exercises, and pray for your fellowship group, trusted friend, and/or spiritual director. There is no power as powerful as prayer! Once again, if you are Buddhist, then spend a little extra time with your sangha and, in an appropriate manner, center your mind on the spiritual well-being of the community experiencing this Ignatian retreat together.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Four Phases of the Exercises

Ignatius recommends that, if possible, one should make the retreat over 30 days. This 30 day period is broken down into four weeks. Since we are following the Eighteenth Annotation, our retreat experience will last longer. In our case, we will not speak of one section of the retreat taking a week. Rather, we will speak and write about four phases. Within the four phases, we will have various weeks. Right now, we are in the first phase of the exercises which will last five temporal weeks.

For Those Engaging In Prayer In Daily Life: The Director of the Exercises

I find the following advice from James Skehan’s book Place Me With Your Son to be helpful:

Ignatius suggests that the “director of the Exercises, as a balance at equilibrium, without leaning to one side or another, should permit the Creator to deal directly with the creature, and the creature directly with his Creator and Lord” (The Spritual Exercises, Annotation 15). For Ignatius, therefore, God himself is the director. Nevertheless, the human instrument may explain the process of the Exercises, give instruction in prayer, assist in discerning the various spirits, validate the exercitant’s graces and propose further matter for prayer [N.B. the exercitant is the one making the retreat].

Perhaps the most important function of the director is to require of the exercitant a certain accountability in prayer, and so lessen the distortion that can come from the evil spirit and confirm those graces that come from God. A conversation with one's spiritual director will help to discover which of the following modes of accountability is best for you:

1. One may invite a trusted and respected person to be a director in the full sense--one who will assume responsibility for all the functions assigned by Ignatius to the director in the Guidelines or as they were originally called, "Annotations."

2. One may continue to hold regular meetings with a spiritual director, but the conversations focus on the progress of the Exercises in Everyday Life and are more frequent than they would be in ordinary circumstances.

3. Two exercitants [people making the retreat in daily life] may meet with each other every other week in order to engage in spiritual conversation about the Exercises and to share with each other how God has been leading them in prayer. In this mode each partner, not strictly the director of the other, agrees to be accountable to the other in helping to discover God's ways.

4. Small groups of exercitants, generally ten or fewer, agree to meet regularly so as to share with each other what has been happening in their prayer, and thus act as instruments of God's grace for one another as they engage in the Exercises . . . .Additionally a private meeting with one's spiritual director from time to time helps provide valuable insights to progress. This mode commonly results in the formation of a post-retreat prayer [or meditation] group . . . .

5. One may make the Exercises privately, setting aside an hour each week to review the graces granted by God and to keep some record of the various movements of the soul.

Monday, October 31, 2011

A Note About How to Listen during Prayer in Daily Life

In section 22 of the Spiritual Exercises (the “presupposition”), St. Ignatius writes the following: “in order that the one giving the Exercises and the one receiving them, may help and benefit themselves, let it be presupposed that every good [spiritual person] is to be more ready to justify than to condemn what another says or writes. If he cannot justify it, he should inquire how he means it; and if he means it badly, then let him correct him with charity. If that is not enough, let him seek all the suitable means to understand the statement in the best possible sense.”

This paragraph helps us to focus on the positive during the prayer period and to avoid theological and political debate. Theological and political debate are fine outside of the context of the Exercises, but it disrupts the necessary trust between director and exercitant and among the fellowship groups making the retreat together. In the case of a group of people journeying through our Prayer in Daily Life together without a “director,” as you are sharing your prayer experience with each other, be more willing to justify than to condemn what each person says. The same is true for pairs of trusted friends who are making the retreat.

I find it helpful to consider the advice of Kay Lindahl in her book The Sacred Art of Listening. She writes that

Listening is a creative force. Something quite wonderful occurs when we are listened to fully. We expand, ideas come to life and grow, we remember who we are. Some speak of this force as a creative fountain within us that springs forth; others call it the inner spirit, intelligence, true self. Whatever this force is called, it shrivels up when we are not listened to and it thrives when we are.

The way we listen can actually allow the other person to bring forth what is true and alive to them. . . .

Listening well takes time, skill, and a readiness to slow down, to let go of expectations, judgments, boredom, self-assertiveness, defensiveness. I’ve noticed that when people experience the depth of being listened to like this, they also begin to listen to others in the same way. (11-12)

Later in the book, Lindahl suggests that we learn to listen to understand, rather than to listen to agree or disagree. When you are involved in some kind of political debate, you are listening to find a flaw in the other’s argument or you are listening to find “common ground.” In the context of the Exercises, you are not listening to agree or disagree with another. You are listening to understand the other, hoping to help the other hear herself or himself so that we might better understand how the Spirit of God is at work in our thoughts and feelings. According to Lindahl, “one important guideline of dialogue is listening to understand, not to agree with or believe. I do not have to agree with or believe what another person is saying in order to come to a new understanding of their experience” (50).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

An Olympic Prayer Exercise For Akron: Phase One, Week One, Experience 1

Akron is the birthplace of AA, one of the most important spiritual movements in the world, and yet Akron, like any other city, has room for growth. If Akron is going to help host the Olympic games, Akron needs to grow in humility, generosity, freedom, and hospitality. Many people who are from Akron may claim that there is no need for growth. They claim that everything is fine as it is. It is true that there is a lot of good here, but are we really full of the Olympic spirit? Are we truly as creative as we could be? Or do we cling to our comfort zone?
The upper classes in Akron may feel that Akron cannot be improved, but they’re not the ones who are hurting. Economic stagnation hurts the working class and the poor more than anyone else. We need a new spirit of entrepreneurship, of risk-taking, and, in light of our goal to host the Olympics, a spirit of openness to the gifts of the divine.
We come from many different spiritual traditions. I write as a Catholic Christian, but I do not expect everyone to use my tradition to pray. Rather, I propose that we adapt the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius so that they nurture prayer and meditation in all of our great traditions. Let’s ask for the Spirit of God to guide us to be more open to God’s gifts, more courageous, more open to positive change, more critical of abusive power structures and our complicity with them, and more full of faith, hope and compassion.
What I am proposing is called Annotation 18. All of the great Ignatian spiritual directors have adapted the Exercises to people in diverse situations. That is just what we are going to do.
I propose that we begin our prayer in daily life experience next week, starting on Sunday, November 6. If Sunday is too busy, then pray on another day. Just find a quiet place to pray for 30 to 60 minutes. It also helps to talk about your prayer experience. If you can, find a spiritual director. If not, then try to meet with a trusted friend or group of friends. Discuss what happened when you prayed.

Phase One, Week One, Prayer experience 1: An invitation to prayer.

A. Use the following passage from Isaiah 55 to pray. Slowly read through the passage once. Then ask for the grace that God might give you a spirit of generosity over the coming weeks. In the words of the Isaiah ask that you might come to the water.
If you are not Christian or Jewish, then read the passage the way you would read good poetry. Pray if you feel moved to pray.

Isaiah 55
All you who are thirsty,*
come to the water!
You who have no money,
come, buy grain and eat;
Come, buy grain without money,
wine and milk without cost!a
2Why spend your money for what is not bread;
your wages for what does not satisfy?
Only listen to me, and you shall eat well,
you shall delight in rich fare.
3Pay attention and come to me;
listen, that you may have life.
I will make with you an everlasting covenant,
the steadfast loyalty promised to David.b
4As I made him a witness to peoples,
a leader and commander of peoples,
5So shall you summon a nation you knew not,
and a nation* that knew you not shall run to you,
Because of the LORD, your God,
the Holy One of Israel, who has glorified you.c
6* Seek the LORD while he may be found,
call upon him while he is near.
7Let the wicked forsake their way,
and sinners their thoughts;
Let them turn to the LORD to find mercy;
to our God, who is generous in forgiving.
8For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
nor are your ways my ways—oracle of the LORD.
9For as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways,
my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
10* Yet just as from the heavens
the rain and snow come down
And do not return there
till they have watered the earth,
making it fertile and fruitful,
Giving seed to the one who sows
and bread to the one who eats,
11So shall my word be
that goes forth from my mouth;
It shall not return to me empty,
but shall do what pleases me,
achieving the end for which I sent it.
12Yes, in joy you shall go forth,
in peace you shall be brought home;
Mountains and hills shall break out in song before you,
all trees of the field shall clap their hands.
13In place of the thornbush, the cypress shall grow,
instead of nettles,* the myrtle.
This shall be to the LORD’s renown,
as an everlasting sign that shall not fail.

* [55:1–3] The prophet invites all to return, under the figure of a banquet; cf. the covenant banquet in Ex 24:9–11 and wisdom’s banquet in Prv 9:1–6. The Lord’s covenant with David (2 Sm 7) is now to be extended beyond his dynasty.
* [55:5] The “nation” is Persia under Cyrus, but the perspective is worldwide.
* [55:6–9] The invitation to seek the Lord is motivated by the mercy of a God whose “ways” are completely mysterious.
* [55:10–11] The efficacy of the word of God recalls 40:5, 8.
* [55:13] Thornbush…nettles: suggestive of the desert and therefore symbolic of suffering and hardship; cypress…myrtle: suggestive of fertile land and therefore symbolic of joy and strength. To the LORD’s renown: lit., “to the name of the Lord.”
a. [55:1] Jn 4:10–15; 6:35; 7:37–39; Rev 21:6; 22:17.
b. [55:3] 2 Sm 7:12–16.
c. [55:5] Acts 13:34.

B. Read the passage again. This time stop when your mind has an image from the passage. Perhaps you stop at water. In your mind and heart, you can imagine running water. It is water your soul longs for. It nourishes your heart. Perhaps another image occurs to you.
C. Read the passage one more time. Maybe this time, you read it aloud. Then just sit back and let your mind wander. What happens in your mind and heart? Ask yourself: what is my heart’s most authentic desire?
D. Now take a notebook and write down what happened. Use your notes to talk with your spiritual director, your friend or to your fellowship group.
E. Once again ask God for a spirit of generosity. Then, choose a favorite prayer of yours to close the prayer period. It could be the Our Father or any other prayer. Choose a prayer from your tradition that has a lot o f meaning for you.
F. Meet with your spiritual director, fellowship group, or trusted friend.

May God’s peace be yours! I am praying for all of you. Please pray for me. This is the healthiest way to begin our Olympic effort.