Archive for November, 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

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) is a strange and nasty and underestimated illness. I’ve been suffering with it for the last five years or so. The US Centre for Disease Control has just produced a detailed web site on the subject.

What is CFS? Doesn’t everybody get tired out? The CDC says this:

As the name chronic fatigue syndrome suggests, this illness is accompanied by fatigue. However, it’s not the kind of fatigue patients experience after a particularly busy day or week, after a sleepless night or after a stressful event. It’s a severe, incapacitating fatigue that isn’t improved by bed rest and that may be exacerbated by physical or mental activity. It’s an all-encompassing fatigue that results in a dramatic decline in both activity level and stamina.

On top of the fatigue the CDC lists a raft of other symptoms, among them (just the ones I’m familiar with):

  • cognitive dysfunction, including impaired memory or concentration
  • postexertional malaise lasting more than 24 hours (exhaustion and increased symptoms) following physical or mental exercise
  • unrefreshing sleep
  • joint pain (without redness or swelling)
  • persistent muscle pain
  • headaches of a new type or severity
  • sore throat
  • irritable bowel, abdominal pain, nausea, diarrhoea or bloating
  • brain fog
  • chest pain
  • shortness of breath
  • chronic cough
  • visual disturbances (blurring, sensitivity to light, eye pain or dry eyes)
  • allergies or sensitivities to foods, alcohol, odours, chemicals, medications or noise
  • difficulty maintaining upright position (orthostatic instability, irregular heartbeat, dizziness, balance problems or fainting)
  • psychological problems (depression, irritability, mood swings, anxiety, panic attacks)
  • jaw pain
  • weight loss or gain

I’m taking part in a CFS treatment programme based at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital based on a model of the illness as a physical dysregulation. The idea is that, for whatever reason, three major systems run out of control. The body clock loses sync with the normal day night rhythm shifting fatigue in to the daylight hours and depriving the body of the deep sleep it needs to recover mentally and physically. As a result, sufferers prioritise their activity and find a level of physical effort that minimises their symptoms. Over time the cardio-vascular system becomes massively deconditioned and muscles become depleted in mitochondria, the power plants of the cell, adding a second source of abnormal fatigue. To keep going at some reduced level the body compensates by abnormal nervous system arousal. Sufferers run on adrenaline with nasty side-effects.

That’s the theory. Intervention is aimed at each of the three problem areas. Relaxation techniques, abdominal breathing, pacing, ‘power rests’, and a certain amount of CBT-style corrective thinking attack the adrenaline production. An amount of rigour about sleep habits, a careful routine of rising, eating, activity and rest aim to resynchronise the circadian rhythms. Finally, and most controversially, a carefully graduated plan of aerobic exercise/activity aims to slowly recondition the cardio-vascular system and promote much needed deep sleep. The difficulty is that too much activity provokes symptoms and too little prolongs the causes. Finding the level of exercise that fits im between those two limits is difficult. I keep overshooting. Currently I’m doing two brisk walks a day and two stints on an exercise bike. If that sounds a lot, bear in mind that the bike ride is for three and half minutes with no resistance and the walks are for four minutes (2 out and 2 back!) and leave me with palpitations, dizziness, and tightness in the chest.

The Liverpool research group took a group of sufferers to be assessed by a scientist who studies the physiological effects of ageing. The group (average age 38) were rated with a ‘physiological age’ in the mid-seventies. I know the feeling. I live in community with an 80-odd year old who has started to regard me as a peer!

This approach to CFS had become orthodoxy in the UK. It remains to be seen how helpful it will be in my own case. I tried a briefer version–admittedly not well handled–over the spring and summer and it left me worse off than before. So far–six weeks in–I am feeling worse than ever but making some physical progress without major relapse. So I am hopeful.

The nice thing though about the CDC’s approach is that it remains agnostic about causes and open about treatment. I do feel the strangeness of being urged to accept a theoretical approach to CFS as gospel knowing that scientifically the matter is still very much up for grabs. It concerns me that medical research funding in this country is being funnelled in one direction. I guess I harbour the suspicion that there is more to my condition than the dysregulation theory supposes. Maybe I just want a magic pill.

9 comments November 8th, 2006

Presidents in Their Own Words

Chirag Mehta has taken the written words of US Presidents and plotted a tag cloud of the results. Very interesting. You can watch the rhetoric shift year by year.

Thanks to Andrew Vande Moere (who also has links to similar projects).

3 comments November 6th, 2006

Sunday Week 31 Year B

Readings: Deut 6:2-6; Hebrews 7:23-28; Mark 12:28-34

‘And after that no one dared question him any more’… Interesting. What do you think shuts them up so thoroughly? Are they scared? Confused? Are they silenced by his cleverness? Are they moved in some more obscure and unknown way?

And what of us? What happens in your heart on hearing that great prayer echoing tonight? ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the one God and you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind and with all your strength’. What stirs in you? Anything? Fear? Devotion? Joy? … What?

All my heart, all my soul, all my mind and all my strength. That’s asking a lot. Will there be anything left over? All my heart, my soul, my mind, my strength. All my time and all my money. All my health and all my illness. All my virtue and all my vice. My light and my dark. My feeling, my dreaming, my laughing, my losing, my living, my dying. My blood and bones and highest hopes. My all.

And the more, the more I give, the more I have to love my neighbour and myself.

November 6th, 2006

Beauty?

There’s a striking short video at the Campaign for Real Beauty website. It critiques the ideal and manipulation of female beauty in advertising while also managing to be an advertisement for Dove beauty products that manipulates images of female beauty. But it’s worth a look–do you feel enlightened or hoodwinked?

Thanks to Brandon

2 comments November 2nd, 2006


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