Archive for March, 2006
Loyola Hall is in the middle of its season of spirituality courses and I am working at full capacity or, given the ME/CFS, slightly beyond it. The courses though are something I love to be involved with–there is such a palpable sense of God at work during them.
A week ago was ‘Theology and Spiritual Accompaniment’–three days working with a group of 14 exploring some of the theological questions that surface from the group’s experience and practice of spiritual accompaniment.
Right now we are two days into our two-week, second-level ‘Spiritual Accompaniment Course’. Spiritual accompaniment or spiritual direction is the ministry where one person helps another grow in their relationship with God by listening and helping them explore the places in their experience where God is waiting to be encountered more deeply. It’s an intense course with prayer, input and group and individual practice. Add on supervision, preparation, mid-course corrections and the team of seven is busy from dawn to late evening. The group of 26 is really rewarding to work with and already we are seeing some great growth.
Next comes a short workshop on ‘Supervision in Spiritual Accompaniment’ and then the Loyola Hall Seminar, three days of papers and responses on aspects of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. After that is Holy Week!
All that is by way of an excuse for the likelihood that blogging will be on hold for a while…
March 23rd, 2006
There’s been an interesting protest march today in the North East—from Chester-le-Street to Durham Cathedral. The Northumbrian Association is marking St Cuthbert’s Day by also unveiling a petition demanding the return of the historic Lindisfarne Gospels, which were written by monks on the island, and are currently held at the British Library in London. They want the 12 hundred year old books returned to their home where they were written in honour of St Cuthbert.
Now you’ll notice that, just like the Cuthbert Gospels, the saint himself has been displaced today in favour of St. Joseph. Joseph in turn was bumped from his rightful place on the 19th of March by a Sunday of Lent.
I don’t know how Cuthbert would feel about it but Joseph should be used to displacement. The title of the feast says it all—Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary. The poor man is displaced within this, his own feast.
Our snatch from Matthew’s gospel rubs it in. It’s the end of that long, long genealogy: Jacob was the father of Joseph the husband of Mary, of her was born Jesus. Joseph is just to the side of where the action happens. Joseph is held up in scripture as one who doesn’t do something—he doesn’t divorce Mary. By being her husband he lets her birth a boy to change the world.
Now, Joseph gets to shine in his own right in few weeks time as patron of human labour but right here we get to celebrate with him all the ways we are displaced, off-centre—eccentric even—in the service of the gospel. Our own worth, the worth of our efforts, the worth of our lives, is ultimately in the hands of eternity, in the hands of God. Who knows the upshot of our following Jesus, the outcome of our discipleship? We are outshone by brighter stars, overshadowed by bolder, nimbler, more creative apostles but who knows how God will bless our humbler efforts—even the chances we imagine lost, the decisions we regret, the gifts we seem to squander—even those in God’s creative care can change the world.
March 20th, 2006
Peter Scally has asked me to make clear that Pray-As-You-Go is running on a trial basis right now and might change quite a bit before it is finally and formally released. Until then please take part in the trial and give him any useful feedback you can. Please note that the URL has changed from ‘.com’ to ‘.org’.
March 8th, 2006
Once upon a time Jesus was sitting there praying, looking out from closed eyes over the sun-scorched hills of his homeland. The fellows who followed him from place to place were all there watching him, impatiently, maybe wistfully. They could see the look that came upon his face. They could see … something in the set of his aching body. And they looked at each other and they wanted what he had.
“I wish I could pray,” said Martha.
“I wish I could pray like that,” said her sister.
Peter, always aware of being in charge, spoke up, “You know, I’ve read all the right books on prayer but I still don’t feel I know how to pray.”
“Not just books either,” added John, “I’ve sat at the feet of some of the best teachers but I still don’t know how to pray the way I’d like.”
“Well, don’t feel bad,” Matthew put in, “books and gurus are fine but even with the best workshops—and I’ve been to them—I still can’t pray properly.”
By now, Jesus was getting distracted by their wrangling so he turned from his prayer to face them. “What is it now?” he asked. Peter spoke up immediately, “Teach us to pray!” “Yes!” “Yes!” the others all echoed his words, “Teach us how to pray!”
“Oh, is that all? Good. Just say this … ‘Look God … these are the things we need … food, forgiveness, and a father … or a mother,” he added, catching a look from Martha.
Well, there was silence. There was embarrassment. They could hear themselves breathe. Until, finally Peter said, “Well, Lord, we already know about prayer of petition, of intercession—and I can see that’s got its place … but what about real prayer?”
“Yes,” John jumped in, “what comes after the kiddy stuff? Teach us that!”
And Matthew, trying to be helpful, prompted Jesus, “You know, Rabbi … meditation, contemplation, using scripture, centering … Teach us how to really pray?”
“Oh,” said Jesus understanding them at last, “you want the advanced prayer methods. Well that’s quite a lot harder to explain.”
Well, their eyes lit up at that. They licked their lips in anticipation. “But are you sure you are ready?”
“Yes, Lord, Yes!”
“OK! Where to begin … Well in 30 years of careful prayer and study I’ve developed the perfect technique. It can be learned—with discipline and stamina—though, I have to warn you, not everyone has the necessary mental clarity and emotional purity to completely master my methodology. Do you still want to try?”
“At last!” they thought.
“OK, well sit down and make yourself comfortable. Ready?”
“Close your eyes. Breathe deeply, breathe easily. Be aware. Now say, ‘Look God … these are the things we need … food, forgiveness, and a father.’”
And Jesus turned and went back to his own prayer.
March 7th, 2006
As attentive readers of this blog will know I sometimes succumb to that most terrible of preacherly temptations–to recycle a homily created for one community and time and place and use it in another setting. Sometimes it is laziness; sometimes pressing need; sometimes it seems as though I’ve said whatever it was as well as I’m able.
Apparently Edna, in the community here, has recognised that flaw too. She nabbed me after my homily yesterday and said how she’d been waiting to see what happened to the little girl because she “couldn’t quite remember the story from the last time”. The only problem is, of course, this was the first outing for that particular memory–in fact I only remembered I remembered it at all while mulling over the readings.
I reckon that little false accusation gives me a free pass on self-plagiarism which I might well use tomorrow. Stay tuned…
March 6th, 2006
Jesus came to Rainhill, message in hand: “It’s time”, he said, “Things are changing. So change your outlook. The news is good.”
I remember my first trip to the swimming baths from school, all excited, heart racing, aged maybe 5 or 6. The sharp stink of chlorine and disinfectant and wet changing rooms. Actually I’m lying about that because all I remember is a single image. A snapshot, a frozen frame, of a girl, a classmate—name erased by years—drowning that morning. I think she missed her step climbing down into the shallow end. She’s etched sharply against the black and white tile … floating underwater, her hair spread out all around her like a mane, a halo, eyes open, mouth gaping. I’m standing there on the pool side in wonder … here is something new, something astonishing, here is time frozen, here is death working, here is life all suddenly dangerous. Fear and wonder and chlorine all tasted together.
I don’t for the life of me remember how it was that she was saved. I don’t remember her being pulled out. I don’t remember her gasping. I don’t remember her telling the story. I just remember her weightless, motionless, … under.
I didn’t learn to swim that day. In fact a dose of viral pneumonia intervened and I didn’t go back in that pool for six months and I didn’t learn to swim for 15 more years. But this I did learn then and there: life is as easily lost as a missed step.
I spent those intervening, un-swimming years with one foot always on the bottom, in an ungainly and uncomfortable compromise between gravity and buoyancy. I wouldn’t let go the sides. I splashed about, had fun in my own way, and privately hated my otter-bodied friends cutting a carefree wake into deep waters.
Lent, we learn today, is about baptism and baptism about dying. The waters of the Easter Vigil which we aim for through Lent are not waters of washing but a pool for drowning in—for dying and rising with Jesus. And that means Lent is not about cleaning up our act but about letting go the sides and going under.
When I finally did learn to swim it was because I learned I had to take my feet off the bottom, I had to let go, I had to go under before the waters could buoy me up, I had to die before I could live. I had to repent, change my outlook. I had to believe the good news. And live deeply.
March 5th, 2006
If you are looking for something new this Lent to help you pray your way to Easter look no further than Pray-As-You-Go. This site, the brainchild of Peter Scally, SJ, co-creator of SacredSpace, provides a daily 10-minute reflection in mp3 format to download to your iPod or play on your computer. Each day’s file includes music, scripture, and some other material to help your reflection.
The site also has some downloads to help you focus and become still or to guide you in prayerfully looking back at the end of the day.
This is the first project to come from Peter and the new Jesuit Media Initiatives but he has many more up his sleeve.
March 4th, 2006