Monday, 10 August 2020

Writing as Spiritual Practice

People are busy. The demands of work, exercise, team sports and family life, in general, does not leave much time for hobbies or spiritual practices. During the lockdown due to Covid-19, there was an initial panic of how the country would cope without our busy schedules. The country coped very well. The air became cleaner; the birds returned into the city, sounds from further away became audible again. It seems nature sighed a sigh of relief. And so did the people. We found a new rhythm, and it wasn’t always easy. However, the demands ‘of the office’ could be dealt with at home. Sure the children missed their mates, people died, and others wanted to get married. Life during lockdown was no ‘picnic’. It sure had its challenges.

 

On the other hand, people took a good look at their present lives and commitments. Some decided to retire, others to re-evaluate their spending of money and time. In the wake of what is happening in the world, things became relative. In general, people valued having time to themselves and enjoyed family life.

  

I wonder how many people re-engaged with a spiritual practice, whether in the form of art, prayer or meditation. Spiritual Disciplines include a wide variety of practices.

Writing is a tool for reflection and gaining insight, if you trust your inner wisdom to come out. As a child, I used to keep a diary, nothing earth-shattering, I was far too worried someone might find it. I still find journal writing a helpful tool to process life experiences and an excellent tool for self-care and discovery.

 

Henri Nouwen said:

 Writing can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions to reflect on our experiences to give artistic expression to what we are living and to store significant events in our memories”.

 

Writing as a spiritual practice, is more than writing liturgy or prayers. It is a tool to gain insight and to develop intuition, or more precise to be attentive to the nudging of the Spirit.

Writing as a spiritual practice challenges me to be honest with myself, to question my beliefs and the teachings of the Church. The dogmas may be black and white. Life is not. Life is more than the grey-scales some see; there is an exuberance of colour and excitement.

 

Now that I have reached the age of maturity, I no longer want to look over my shoulder and worry what other people think. There is no need to hide behind the common held beliefs; it is time to explore and decipher what those beliefs and philosophies means to me.

Writing is a gift from God, like painting and all other creative expressions. The fascinating part is that when I put my fingers on the keyboard, I never know what rolls out of my fingers. Words can be tricky; they have a life of their own!

 

Whatever you write, be honest with yourself and trust your inner wisdom. The saying “Don’t ask if you are not prepared to hear the answer” might be right for some places, I think you might be surprised if you trust the writing process.

Another saying is: “When you ask the question, you are ready for the answer, (which is already within you)”. In many cases this will be true too. At times in our writing, we may surprise ourselves, we may have an inclination, but writing helps to process the quests of life.

 

There are many posts and articles on writing as a spiritual practice. If you want to explore this, you could start with writing about ‘how you are feeling today’, or ‘what is your deepest desire’. Reflect on what you need to feel at peace, or what you do when you feel at peace.

 

Happy writing!

 

Sunday, 9 August 2020

To Worship or not to worship

Can anyone have too many books?

I love books. Books that challenge my thinking and perspective on life. Books that take you across the world into a variety of cultures and give an insight into other people’s hopes and dreams. Books that teach me skills, from cooking to needlework or languages; books that stimulate my curiosity, that give me a glimpse of insight into the world we live.

 

Needless to say, we attended the local book fair over the weekend. There were a lot of people, silently moving around the endless tables with novels, scanning titles and authors. A separate hall with cooking and gardening books was soon filled with cries of excitement, as someone found the perfect cookbook, while children rushed around to the kid’s corner. The supply seemed never-ending. We went back twice, as new boxes were brought in when space became available. Novels were put on the table as they came out of the box, not on alphabetical order, so if you were looking for a specific title or author, you had to go around all the tables. A church, full of tables.

 

I sensed a slight panic with some volunteers. They were supposed to close at midday, so they could clear the space for Sunday worship. There were too many patrons, still milling around; there were far too many books to call it a day.

 

It seems worship requires a particular space—a sense of sacredness, a sense of peace and quiet. Although to be fair, that is my idea of communal worship. There are other traditions where a band offers music, rather than a pipe organ! So stillness and quietness are relative.

 

Worship, according to Wikipedia, is an act of religious devotion usually directed towards a deity. An act of worship may be performed individually, in an informal or formal group, or by a designated leader. Worship means different things to different people.

 

In my church, I have noticed that some people genuflect or bow to the cross, as an acknowledgement to the Divine Presence who is present in the place of worship. It seems odd though… We know that God is present everywhere. God is within us and around us.

 

For me, I sense God’s presence at the beach. However, I don’t bow to the beach. I assume God is present in the Supermarket; again, I don’t bow when I enter the shop. I wonder what worship means to others and even to God.

 

You are all aware of the debates if God requires our worship or not. I suppose God doesn’t. It is for us and our sense of relationship. I wonder if it is like many relationships. My children know I love them; still, it is important to nurture that relationship, talk to each other, and share our life stories. To celebrate and grow that relationship with God, I need to invest time and effort, pray and sit in silence, for that is the time I find God’s voice is most apparent.

 

Worship, music, song and dance, preaching, and all other aspects of what we name as worship, is for our benefit.

I am sure you are familiar with some dramas of the faith community, where singing becomes a performance or is a ‘put off’ for those in the congregation. Another point of contention is the length and the message of the sermon. I don’t know what kind of music God likes, and I don’t know whether God wants to hear one sermon after another, words, and more words.

Frankly, I wonder if all God needs is for us to love God as we love our neighbour and ourselves. I wonder if all God wants for us is to take care of Creation and engage in our spiritual practice–not for God’s sake but ours. 

What do you think?

 

 Seek Peace and find it within.

Sunday, 2 August 2020

Shoes

God in all things and all things in God.

Finding God in all things, the invitation to encounter God in all we do, is an essential part of Ignatian spirituality. The possibility of an encounter with God is not limited to our spiritual practice or when we visit a church or other sacred space. Ignatian charism encourages the believer to pay attention to the inner movement of the spirit, growing our awareness of feelings and emotions as we go through our days. This all helps us discern God’s presence in an around us.

Within the Catholic tradition, there are a variety of Religious Orders, each with their charism.  Franciscans, for example, are called to living a gospel life. The heart of gospel living is about relationships: relationship with God, others and self. Dominicans are a preaching and teaching order; the Benedictines are known for their balance of ‘Ora et Labora’–pray and work. Jesuits are famous for the Spiritual Exercises and the Examen of finding God in all things.

The brief list above only describes the Roman Catholic flavours. The Protestant churches offer other characteristics. There are Liberals, ‘literalists’, and those who focus on music or preaching. Another aspect can be how community orientated the Church is. Do they value social engagements or are people like ships meeting in the night? Finding a church community that ticks all the boxes might prove to be a challenge!

On my quest to find some shoes or boots, it struck me that finding the right Church is similar to discerning what shoes to buy. Do I acquire a pair for a season or a lifetime? High heel, no heel, boot or shoe. And if I buy boots, do I want ankle boots or calf boots? Plain or with some interesting features? The same questions apply for my shoes, do I buy pretty shoes or practical shoes, with laces or ‘pull-on’; not to mention the options around hiking boots!

When we look for a church, do we chose the one closest to us? Or where we went as children? Or maybe there is a church for each life’s season?

In today’s society, people move around; adolescents leave home to go to university, or work outside the town they grew up in. Apart from the school-leavers, older people move around too. Professionals move around with work. Others move because of family. Young people may gravitate to a more energetic way of worship unless they prefer a structured approach. Families with young children will make a different choice than those with teenagers.

Choosing a church is not quite the same as buying shoes. You have to work out what you want or need from a church community, and where you sense God is calling you to. As we grow older and our faith and understanding deepens, we may want to look around.

If you go to Church, was the choice you made, a conscious decision of where to go? What was the main reason for your decision? And if you have left the Church, is it a good time to find a new pair of boots?

Seek Peace and find it within.


Thursday, 30 July 2020

Antidote

Most of us take good health for granted. We might suffer from an occasional cold or infection, although with Covid-19 lurking around the corner, this sense of security has been diminished. Recently I have been trying to get rid of an infection, despite healthy food, saline solutions and paracetamol, something more substantial was required. Penicillin was the answer.

 

This leads me to ponder the state of the Church in general. It seems that clericalism and abuse scandals are like an infection. They have festered for some time and have not been dealt with appropriately. Despite Vatican Two and the caring attitude of Pope Francis, some habits and behaviours of other clergy are challenging to deal with. People have been hurt and are continuing to be hurt and not heard. Apart from the issues about sexual identity or preferences and the inequality of women, to name a few; there is also the inequality of lay versus clergy. We need each other. Without a congregation – of lay people – there is no need for priests. Without priests, the lay cannot celebrate the Mass. Well that is the understanding of the Catholic Church.

 

We are created in the image of God; we are invited to Co-Create with God. In an earlier blog (Seek my face) I described the three faces of God. The God within, the God out there, and God always with us. I wonder if the antidote to clericalism, (grumble and crumble), lies in the invitation to Living the Gospel as St Francis instructed his brothers.

 

Gospel living for me is following St Francis. Praying and meditating on the Gospel, involves simple living with an awareness of our growing edges. Or as Chantal Fouchi puts it: “To live simplicity... means to treat everything in life as a pure and total gift from God”. In Gospel living, we treat others as you want to be treated, recognising that each and every person is worthy and has dignity. It is about Social Justice. I also think it is about focusing on Creation spirituality, with the emphasis on original Blessing.

 

Luke’s gospel (17:21) states that the Kingdom of God is within you, or amongst you, depending on the Bible translation you use. God planted a seed in each and every one of us. The God spark leads us to that place of inner peace, of union with God. I believe we all have to nurture that connection, in the same way we nurture a young child, or those we love. By being attentive to God, we grow the seed and sustain it into a flourishing relationship.

 

So the antidote to clericalism, (grumble and crumble for me), is about my spiritual practice, which includes centring prayer, Lectio Divina, liturgy, walking, chaplaincy and many forms of craft that sustains my creative spirit and helps me to go within.

 

Do you have an antidote that helps you to remain focused on the Divine and distracts you from the grumbling and crumbling of church life?



 Seek Peace and find it within.

Sunday, 26 July 2020

Ignation Contemplation

Do you have a rich inner life with the ability to visualize and daydream? In that case, praying with Scripture may well suit you.

 

I suppose there are as many definitions of prayer as there are people. We all have an idea of what prayer is about. We can divide prayer is corporate or personal prayer using the old and trusted prayers taught by parents, the Church and maybe at school.

We can separate prayers in other ways; for example, there is free expression, liturgical prayers, prayer with art forms, and also praying with Scripture.

 

Prayer is a vast subject. Many people think prayer is talking to God or thinking about the God ‘out there’. Prayer is, above all personal, and it starts with you; with your reality and experience. Prayer is about a relationship, similar to a relationship between people.

 

Our deepest self is within us, and that is where we are meeting the God within.

St Ignatius would agree with that notion. He says: “God speaks to us in our deepest human experiences, through our feelings, desires thoughts and ideas”. We give meaning to our world through thoughts, feelings and emotions. Our outer life is filled with demands of work, children, chores etc. We talk about a rich inner life; this is where we reflect and meditate, where we mull things over and use our imagination. This nourishes our creative spirit. And probably our sense of well-being.

 

St Francis of Assisi recreated the first Nativity scene in 1223. Although Ignatian Spirituality is has made the use of imagination popular, it was St Francis who understood that ordinary people relating to the Holy Family was a powerful experience that was deeply meaningful to the people of his time.

 

Ignatian Contemplation uses a passage from Scripture and invites you into the scene using your imagination. To make use of all your senses. What do you hear? Who is speaking? Are the conversations light-hearted, or is there confusion? What other noises might there be in the background? Seeing, what colours stand out, who is present, what is their mood like? What about fragrance? What can you smell? Is it pleasant? What do you taste? Feel, can you imagine what the surroundings feel like, the coarseness of the garments maybe? Depending on the scene, you might be able to identify a variety of things you can engage with.

 

If you are ready to try this approach, I suggest you chose a story from the gospels where you meet with Jesus and others. For example, the woman at the well in John’s gospel.

As you begin, place yourself in the presence of God. Then think about and clarify in your mind what your hopes are of this encounter.

 

Read the passage slowly, so you are familiar with the scene, become a spectator. When you reread it and remember the conversations, the mood and the scene you place yourself within. At the end, you may want to have a conversation with Jesus.

 

You may wonder if the thoughts and conversation are simply a result of your imagination? A Jesuit priest told me once that if God can speak to us through other people and situations, surely God can use your imagination too!

 

Seek Peace and find it within.