Archive for 2006

Nothing to Lose Sleep Over

This riddle is doing the rounds locally. Can you see the answer (without googling!)?

I am:

  • Greater than God;
  • More evil than the devil;
  • The rich want for me,
  • Yet the poor have me;
  • But if you eat me, you will die.

Who am I?

5 comments December 20th, 2006

Addictive Aquarium Game

If you’d like to waste a few hours here’s a fascinatingly addictive aquarium game to help you in your procrastination.

1 comment December 20th, 2006

Wednesday Week 2 of Advent

Readings: Isaiah 40:25-31; Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus confuses me. I love this gospel but my first reaction hearing Jesus words ‘I am gentle and humble in heart’ is to say ‘who are you kidding?’

We used to have a big red poster downstairs, done by Cafod I think, with a face of Jesus, Ché Guevara-style, and the words ‘Meek. Mild. As if!’ Someone nicked it—or maybe it was taken down in protest. Either way they were wise.

Gentle. Humble. As if. It’s not just the Temple-cleansing incident, the argy-bargy with the authorities, or the increasingly outrageous claims he makes for himself—it’s not even the yoke and burden we’ve since fashioned from his words—it’s the whole idea, the very foundation, of his mission: ‘Come to me’, he says. Who does he think he is? ‘Come to me and I will give you rest, rest for your soul’.

Rest for the soul—who doesn’t need it? We long for our unburdening. God knows there is enough weight across our shoulders—whether imposed by others or worn by habit.

Isn’t that what Advent is for? To see through the gentleness of our illusions and feel again the rod of our oppressors, weigh once more the burdens upon us, reconsider the yoke of our bondage. And yearn for freedom—long for a liberator. Need one more than comfort and calm.

‘Come to me’, Jesus says but who does he think he is? Isaiah paints a picture of a real God, a God to get the job done—a celestial sergeant major, strong, powerful, and untiring. Part of me would like that kind of liberation. But the answer to all my advent longing will not be him at all but a baby. It’s like those T-shirts—‘My parents went on holiday and all I got was this lousy T-shirt’. I’ve waited, longed, yearned and all I get, is Jesus—complicated, vulnerable, human Jesus. So much more and so much less than I deserve.

4 comments December 13th, 2006

Post Plugins Updated

Similar Posts, Random Posts, Recent Posts, and Recent Comments have all been updated. The update is an interim bug-fix until the next real versions are ready. Two bugs are addressed.

One caused some users to get spurious characters displayed before the post listing.

The other… well the plugins were meant to work together but I’d managed to make them all fail if more than one of them were installed together! D’oh! I hope I’ve got that fixed now.

It’s a lesson to me to make sure I use the same configuration I recommend to others when testing plugins.

December 6th, 2006

Discipleship

The following talk was given to a weekend retreat group. I begin by referring to a session the previous evening where I’d shown a couple of clips from the film American Beauty in which the central character, at the point of death, reflects on his life and finds himself moved by gratitude and beauty. I asked the group to do their own reflection:

  • What would you like to flash before your eyes in that last second, that ocean of time?
  • What are you grateful for–really, spontaneously grateful for?
  • Where is the beauty in your life and where is it leading you?

Called to Discipleship

I deliberately didn’t pretend last night that I knew what was meant by ‘Called to Discipleship’—it could mean all sorts of things—in general or specifically for this group or individually for me or for any one of you. I deliberately started of our working with the topic last night from what seems to me a particularly Ignatian angle. You start with experience, with life, with memory, with imagination and you let God show Godself there—in beauty, in gifts given, in attraction felt, in desires that grow and deepen.

In a section of the Spiritual Exercises that deals with making discipleship decisions one of the questions St. Ignatius asks—or one of the imaginative exercises he presents—is the one from last night: he says tersely, ‘consider, if you were at the point of death, what procedure and guide you will at that time wish you had used in this present decision’.

You’ll see I’ve already taken a position on our title: being called to discipleship is—at least in part—about making decisions. But before I go any further I want to get your sense of what might fit under our theme this weekend, both in general and for this group specifically.

So for a moment think or re-think about that:

  • What does discipleship mean?
  • What would it mean to be a disciple today?
  • What about the calling part—what is it to be called?
  • And what do these two terms leave out that also feels important?

We did some exchange of experiences and ideas at this point…

I hope we’ll get into most of your concerns and ideas in one way or another this weekend… For now I want to keep going with looking at how discipleship is handled in the Spiritual Exercises. I’ve already spoken about one of Ignatius’ major orientations: discipleship is about making a decision—or about continually making decisions. But what kind of decisions and how are we supposed to make them?

If we took his death-bed perspective—or did another thing he suggests and imagine ourselves before God on Judgement Day—if we took that vantage point on our decisions it could feel like we have a tough and threatening God looking over our shoulder ready to ruin us if we get it all wrong. But that isn’t how Ignatius wants us to go about it. The very first time he raises that question of choice he does so in the context of gratitude and of grace. What are you grateful for in your life? How do you feel you have been gifted—even among the pains and problems of life—how do you feel the thread of grace running though your days? It’s in that context—the context of redemption—that Ignatius asks us what kind of response we want to make: what will I do for Christ who has saved me and continues to save me?

Discipleship only makes sense out of an encounter with grace and an experience of real and spontaneous gratitude. And discipleship as a response of gratitude only makes sense if it is freely entered into.

So alongside decision we have to add gratitude and grace. Ignatius’ next word is probably attraction…
There’s an imaginative exercise he entitles the Call of the King—it all gets a bit Lord of the Rings here—the call of the king. He asks you to imagine a king—bring it forward 500 years and make it any kind of person who has a vision and a dream—imagine the kind of person who could inspire you to respond generously, even heroically. Imagine what kind of vision or dream would be worthy of you. What kind of project could catch your imagination? And more—what kind of person could catch your imagination and get you to reshape your life so you can help them do what they are burning to do? Ignatius wants you to do this imaginatively and not just abstractly: what would he or she look like, their manner, their clothing, their look? What would their friends be like? What, in fact, could so attract you about someone that you’d change your life for them?

Got any ideas? … Ignatius does a ‘bait and switch’ at this point and says ‘well how much more worthy and attractive is Jesus and his living out of God’s vision and dream’. Discipleship is about letting ourselves be attracted, letting ourselves desire and need to be disciples—not just in some abstract sense but disciples of this man with his crazy dream for this personal corner of the world. Attraction and desire awake in us a need, a need to be alongside this man—a desire and a need that go beyond the practical. Not just sharing the same project, or putting my money in the same pot, or casting my vote as he would vote, but taking up the same lifestyle: doing what he does, eating what he eats, sharing his hardships, enjoying his victories, mourning his setbacks. ‘What would it take to make you a hero?’ is the discipleship question. Who would it take?

Ignatius roots discipleship in relationship—and relationship that is mutual. Most people praying this exercise only experience an inkling of attraction in a dark and tangled mass of ifs and buts and doubtful maybes but insofar as they feel any desire they discover their vulnerability. I might desire to be with this man but he might not desire to have me with him. We have to be chosen, called. There’s an agonising echo of that schoolyard moment of picking teams— pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me, pick me. We need the call. Not just abstractly—we need to feel our desire met and kindled. Discipleship is only grown in the dance of mutual desire. God and I desiring together.

OK the list is growing: decision, gratitude, grace, attraction, desire, relationship and call.

Ignatius’ next move is to switch viewpoint—or viewpoints—he goes all split screen. He asks us to imagine three scenes. First of all imagine the Trinity in heaven having a conversation… Give it a try … What are they talking about? You have to follow their gaze to find out. They are looking at the face of this round world. So imagine scene two: the world. What do the Trinity see? They see people, they see people in all their diversity, their sorrows and joys. They see us loving and laughing; they see us hurting and hating. They see violence and they see tenderness; care and callousness. They see discrimination and oppression and misery. They see all we see when we open the newspaper or turn on the TV: AIDS and Iraq and climate change and polonium 210. What do you imagine they see, they hear, they feel? What moves the Trinity when they see this planet’s condition?

Back to scene 1. The Trinity is moved to come to our aid. ‘Let us work redemption’, is what Ignatius puts into God’s metaphorical mouth. Which brings us to scene 3: Mary in Nazareth and the mutual risky endeavour entered into by one person and their God. That’s discipleship for Ignatius—both what transpires between Mary and God—the ‘let it be to me as you say’—the asking and the answering—but also what happens ‘before’. The Trinity sees need and chooses to respond. Discipleship always arises from the choice to answer concrete need. Discipleship is always a response to reality, the way something will punch us in the guts with its injustice, its wrongness, its need that things be different. The gospels are always saying Jesus ‘took pity’ on someone or other. It’s a bad translation of a Greek word that also gets rendered as ‘felt anger’, ‘had compassion, etc. But it’s a word to do with spleen. It means feeling that churning in your guts at the wrongness of things that won’t let you rest until you do something even if it’s only weep or rage. The first disciple in the Spiritual Exercises is God, the Trinity. Or from another angle it is Jesus.

Jesus offers an easier way to study the discipleship of God—and to learn our own discipleship. Ignatius urges the person praying to ask, day after day, for a particular gift: to know Jesus better. To know him with the kind of knowledge that is very like falling in love. To know him better, to love him more, and out of all that to follow him. To know, to love, to follow. There’s discipleship.

How’s our list looking? Decision, gratitude, grace, attraction, desire, and call. But also: need and spleen. And, finally, the following, what used to be called the imitation of Christ. This imitation is more than mechanical reproduction, or following a set of maxims, or espousing certain values. It’s not quite ‘What Would Jesus Do?’ But it is about knowing Jesus. It is about knowing Jesus in a way that transforms us—that simultaneously makes us more like Jesus and more like ourselves. That’s discipleship: falling in love with God, with Jesus, so that we can respond to the planet’s need the way he did and does and would do through us.

Pedro Arrupe, the General Superior of the Jesuits before the present one, used to speak about us having a planet to heal. Grand, that! But it’s true. He had another favourite topic too: falling in love and the difference it makes to our lives. Both are about the call to discipleship.

7 comments December 2nd, 2006

Eros, Attraction, Beauty, Desire

The “October” issue of The Way has just been published including my article on the Spiritual Exercises, “Id Quod Volo: The Erotic Grace of the Second Week”. I wrote briefly about the core idea a little while ago and if you are interested you can access the full version free, gratis, and for nothing at The Way online.

3 comments November 29th, 2006

Sunday Week 33 Year B

Homily for a Study Day on the Spiritual Exercises dealing with the Contemplatio ad Amorem

Readings: Dan 12:1-13; Heb 10:11-14, 18; Mark 13:24-32

A plane passed over and I could hear it with a shudder even though I was sitting in The Arches (basement prayer room). I heard the plane in my praying and the thought passed through me that it could be the first bomber of a nuclear war. Twenty years ago in the last days of my 30-day retreat.

That wasn’t the only apocalyptic shiver of those days: someone was coughing and coughing and I found myself thinking of polluted air and poisoned waters; and then among the great cloud of witnesses gathered to help me pray ‘take Lord receive’ I could see the starving children of Africa in their millions. It felt like I was back at the beginning: looking at the way sin scars the world, or at the Incarnation looking down on all we are and all we do, well and ill.

But wasn’t this the Fourth Week, weren’t we asking for the grace of joy, the fruitfulness of the resurrection? What place does apocalyptic have here?

Well every place! Apocalypse means unveiling, lifting the veil that hides reality. And this was, and is, our reality: those horsemen of the apocalypse—war, plague, famine, and destruction—ride among us yet. They are our sin. They killed the one who came to save us. And yet he is not dead and we are offered a share in his joy. Not because we are better at covering up reality than the rest, nor because we are eager for the end, but because Jesus bore the brunt of hell on earth and was not bent by it. He is here today, alive, wounded, and joyful—the veil is off, he knows the full horror of global warming, of terrorism and genocide, of heartbreak and retribution—and he is not bent by it—not broken, not violent, not victorious—not bent.

It is with eyes wide open, eyes unveiled, we ask to stand with him and be as vulnerable as he: “Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty, my memory, my understanding, and all my will—all that I have and possess. You, Lord, have given all that to me. I now give it back to you, O Lord. All of it is yours. Dispose of it according to your will. Give me your love and your grace, for that is enough for me.”

Enough.

5 comments November 19th, 2006

Post Plugins Updated

Similar Posts, Random Posts, Recent Posts, and Recent Comments have all been updated. One or two bugs in parameter handling have been fixed, certain parameters can now be blank where appropriate, or be more complex than before, e.g., 'before_title=<li class="item">'.

Excerpts can now be trimmed down to stop them ending in mid-word. They can be cut back to a word or a sentence. NB excerpt_length is now counted in characters and not words as previously.

November 14th, 2006

Saturday Week 31 Year II

Readings: Philippians 4:10-19; Luke 16:9-15

Money continues to be in the spotlight today and it’s interesting how Jesus both praises and condemns it in the same breath.

He calls it tainted, little, even loathsome and yet, precisely because it is so unimportant it assumes importance. How we handle the small stuff reveals our hearts better than our big-banner projects or the public values we claim. Money, because it means so little says so much: it speaks of what we worship truly rather than who we say we do.

Isn’t this an interesting thing to hear from Jesus’ mouth: ‘Use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when money fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity’. No one bribes their way through the Pearly Gates. Heaven’s honours can’t be bought—not even with a backdoor loan. What Jesus seems to be saying is that what opens the gates to us is not what we have but who we know, who our real friends are, where we have given our love, our time and treasure.

That’s the only investment that pays off in the long term: the friends we have made, the generosity we have shown, the love we have spent.

12 comments November 11th, 2006

Too Attached to Words

It isn’t as if it is entirely news to me… but a recent round of being edited for publication has really rubbed in how attached I am to the sound of my own ‘voice’.

I’ve been working with Philip Endean, SJ, editor of The Way, to get an article ready for the latest issue and I realise I’ve been a difficult author. I’ve been adapting a piece given orally at the Loyola Hall Seminar on Spiritual Accompaniment into something that can be read off paper. My written style tends to the oral anyway, which stands me in good stead for preaching but makes me awkward on the written page. And this piece I wrote deliberately densely, playing with the weight of words, to evoke a feeling, a memory, an experience. Philip’s admirable outlook is that if a sentence takes two readings it needs editing. He has his readers to think about but I have been more wedded to the words than the communication. Every cut and every elucidation I’ve taken personally–I want it to sound like me.

The end result is, in fact, much clearer than the original talk ever was–both in the quality of communication and (I hate to admit it) in the clarity of the ideas. Philip is very good at making me realise what I want to say when it turns out I’ve been mumbling about something altogether different.

The title of the article is ‘Id Quod Volo: The Erotic Grace of the Second Week’. See what I mean about obscure density? The second ‘week’ in question is a phase of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. Someone praying through the Exercises as part of a retreat spends the Second Week (just to confuse matters it is usually about 12 days long!) alongside Jesus in imagination as he grows from a twinkling in God’s eye to become a man with a mission. Each ‘week’ of the Exercises has its own ‘grace’, the gift or outcome a person might look for, ask for, and expect. ‘Id quod volo’, Ignatius called it–that which I desire’. The Second Week grace is ‘a growing felt-knowledge of Jesus, so that I might love him more deeply and follow him more closely’. How that grace gets given in each concrete case is fascinating.

Desire plays a large part in the Exercises and my article explores the Second Week grace as something irreducibly erotic in nature. If you want to find out more you’ll have to check out The Way online.

4 comments November 8th, 2006

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