Tag Archives: Ignatian spirituality

Discovering my path

Ever since I was eight years old, I knew that God had called me in some special way. I didn’t know how the “call” happened. I just knew that God had chosen me, and I could see that I was different from my brothers and friends in certain ways—mostly in my desire to spend time in church and to talk to God.

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I felt a closeness to Jesus, and I knew instinctively that he was with me. I thought of him as a brother who “got me,” who related to my vulnerability and my feelings of helplessness.

When he cried out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” I heard an echo of my own cry. Like me, Jesus was an innocent victim. And even though I felt chosen by God and closely connected to God, I still went through my life experiences on my own.

Knowing that God was with me was a comfort, but I understood that God was not going to take away the difficulties of my life. God was not going to make my dad stop drinking or make my mom protect me. God was not going to change my “bad-touch” uncle or prevent my being abused.

Yes, God was with me, Jesus was with me, and I was also on my own. It was a mystery.

Why God had chosen me was a mystery, too. Why me? A poor girl from the east side of Detroit who had no special talents or skills.

At one point, I thought I could escape to a convent, but I have a lousy singing voice and I thought being able to sing was a requirement of being a nun. (I did not go to Catholic school, so I had no first-hand experience with nuns.) I was stuck living the life I had, playing the hand I had been dealt.

I envied Jesus because he had a clear sense of his mission, of why God had sent him. Me? I had no sense of my mission.

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Finding the path I was meant to walk has been a life-long quest.

When I read St. Paul’s letters about our different gifts (Romans 12:6) I could hardly relate. What gifts did I have that could help build God’s kingdom? I wasn’t a teacher, a healer, a prophet or a preacher. What was my gift? Another mystery.

Now, here I am at seventy years old, looking back on the path I have walked. Over time, my gifts and talents revealed themselves through the events of everyday life. Over time, I have been able to let go of unrealistic expectations, the “shoulds” and “oughts,” and accepted what is.

I am now comfortable in my own skin and grateful for my life.

I recently completed an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and hope to help others discern the path God is inviting them to walk, to help identify their gifts and to affirm that God can be found in all things.

Imagination in prayer

At Mass last Sunday, we heard the story of the Prodigal Son with intro parables about the lost sheep and the lost coin. (Luke 15:1-32) These stories introduce us to at least nine (9) characters:

  1. a shepherd whose one sheep has strayed
  2. a woman who lost a coin
  3. the friends and neighbors who rejoice when the sheep and coin are found
  4. a man who has two sons
  5. the older son
  6. the younger son
  7. the pig farmer who starved his workers
  8. the father’s servants and
  9. the older son’s friends

Nine different personalities inviting me to step into the stories and imagine myself in each role.

All week, I have engaged in imaginative prayer with the scenes in this Scripture, placing myself in each of the roles portrayed, letting the scene play out and looking at how I am like the person or how I am different.

For example, when am I put myself in the place of the shepherd, I wondered if I would be willing to leave what I have in search for something lost. It is a risk to leave the safety of the known, and I wondered if I would take the risk.

My opportunities to take risk don’t usually involve sheep, but as I let this image play out, I thought about the safety and security of my circle of friends, and I wondered if I am willing to take the risk of inviting someone into my circle of friends or even just to reach out to someone who seems to be on the outside. Do I tend to play it safe or am I willing to stretch beyond my comfort zone?

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The woman who searches for something precious that has been lost is an easy one for me to imagine because I frequently lose things (mostly earrings, which is why I had an extra hole pierced in one ear so I can still wear the remaining earring). I tend to tear the house apart and retrace my steps looking for a lost earring. But what about other things? Do I persevere or give up? Do I persevere in prayer? In hope?

How am I like the forgiving father? The rebellious son? Or the dutiful son? When am I like the servant who has to prepare something for others to enjoy while I just look on? Or like the local pig farmer who cares more for his pigs than the people who work for hm? How do I react when a friend complains about unfair treatment from a parent?

Each of the people in these stories help me to see myself in relation to God and to others. Each invites me to imagine myself inside the Scripture passage and learn something about myself, others and God.

On my walk one day, I realized that each person represents a different character trait, and it reminded me of the words stenciled at my neighborhood school—incoming messages through different avenues.

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What I want

Last week Rachel Mankowitz wrote about hearing and trusting her internal voices speaking of what she does and does not want to do. I resonated.

I learned early on (probably before I was five) that what I wanted or did not want mattered little. I did what I was told—whether I wanted to or not—and rarely got anything I wanted, so I learned to stop wanting.

The depth of the disconnect was made clear to me when I was twelve years old and had my tonsils removed. On the way home from the hospital, my mother stopped at the grocery store and said I could pick one thing I wanted. I had no idea what I wanted and was overwhelmed by having to pick something. I remember standing in the store paralyzed by indecision. What did I want? No idea.

So, I picked something practical, something I thought my mother would like—dill pickles.  

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I have spent a lot of my life doing things other people wanted me to do—out of guilt or not wanting to hurt someone’s feelings or some other version of making other people happy—while ignoring my own desires.

Therapy in my early thirties started a process of discovery, and by my late thirties, I began to identify some things I wanted.

I took my first real vacation, a windjammer cruise, when I was thirty-seven. It was thrilling to realize that I knew what I wanted and that I could make it happen.

At the end of a retreat in my early forties, I read Coming Down the Mountain by Thomas Hart, and I have kept a “cheat sheet” of questions from that book that I refer to regularly.

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These questions have helped me gain clarity, and after years of asking them, I am much better at knowing what I want.

But I can still fall into the old patterns.

When I turned fifty, I made a “travel wish list” of places I wanted to visit over the next decade. Other than the Holy Land, my destinations were in the U.S. or Europe. Included at the end of that list was a thirty-day retreat, something my friend Jim had done, and he thought it would be good for me to do. I put it on the list more as a reminder because I could not foresee a time in my fifties when I would have the money and time to do it.

My sixties’ travel list included the retreat, along with the Holy Land and some of the European counties I had not managed to visit, but my sixties were full of upheaval, and I did not do much traveling. So my seventies’ list closely resembles the sixties’ list, including the retreat.

Now, I am in a place where I can do the thirty-day retreat, and so I signed up. I told my spiritual director, expecting her to be thrilled, but instead, she asked why I wanted to do a thirty-day. “Because Jim thought I should,” was my first response, and even I could hear how lame that sounded.

She suggested I pray about the retreat and ask God for clarity. So, I prayed, and I got clarity.

I realized that I feel passionate about European travel. I am energized by my volunteer work (especially supporting survivors of sexual assault) and the consulting work I am doing. I am excited about the Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and have clarity around how I want to use what I have learned (mainly in helping people process the experience of pilgrimage or mission trips). I am also drawn to officiating at weddings and funerals.

Where is the retreat in all that? I am indifferent.

Discernment is a big part of Ignatian Spirituality and following the process has helped me gain clarity about where God is calling me, and what I want to do.

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Works of mercy

The Little Black Book, a collection of daily reflections for Lent, recently focused on almsgiving.

“Almsgiving results from feelings of pity and compassion for someone in need. It’s often associated with giving money to the poor but almsgiving includes all of the seven corporal works of mercy: feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, sheltering the homeless, visiting the sick, burying the dead.”

Visiting the imprisoned jumped off the page.

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Next week will be the tenth anniversary of my friend Jim’s death. After his death, a woman at church told me how grateful she was that Jim had visited her son in prison. I remembered that visit because I had gone with Jim. She asked why, and I explained that Jim had never visited anyone in prison before, so he asked me to go with him because he knew I had. She asked if I was a probation officer or social worker and I said “no.” Then why I had visited someone in prison? “It is in the Bible,” I said. She looked confused, so I quoted from Matthew 25. She still looked confused, so I tried a different approach.

I asked if she had visited her son in prison, and she said she had. I then asked if she would visit someone else in prison, now that she could see from her son’s experience what it was like to be locked up. She became defensive and explained that her son was not like other people in prison. “He just…” she started, but I stopped her. “Your son broke the law and got caught, right?” “Yes, but…” she started, and again I stopped her and pointed out he is just like the other people in prison who broke the law and got caught.

Why, I wondered, can it be so difficult to see ourselves and those we love honestly?

To be fair, I understand that this woman wanted to put this episode in her son’s life behind her, but I wondered how she could do that without accepting the truth of her son’s situation.

A few years later, I met a woman who told me her son was at “boot camp.” I asked which branch of the service, and she said it was a different kind of boot camp. “Some people say he is in prison, but he is not in prison” she said.

I recently read an article by a man on death row, reflecting on how he and others on death row were consoled by a priest who has cared for them and helped them grow spiritually. I am doing an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality and pondering how I might use what I am learning. The article prompted the thought that maybe I could offer a listening ear to someone who is in prison.

Reflecting on the article, people I have visited in prison and these two mothers made me wonder if I am being invited to this work of mercy.

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Wordcloud for “When did you see me?”

On retreat–pondering my blessings

The weather while I was on retreat was perfect for spending time outdoors, and the retreat center has beautiful grounds—grassy areas, a labyrinth, and trails through a wooded area.

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The labyrinth at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House

I had not been on retreat here in two years and was startled by the number of fallen trees in the woods. The undergrowth was so dense I wondered how deer could make their way through, and then I wondered what undergrowth might be preventing me from moving forward. What is tripping me up?

Time on silent retreats is different from daily life in that there is nowhere to go and not much to do. A schedule develops around meals, Mass, meeting with a spiritual director once a day, and prayer times.

Retreat time allows for being able to stay with one image, idea, word or phrase for a whole day—or two or three; there is no need to move on. Rather retreats invite and encourage dwelling with words and images, letting the richness surface, and then going deeper.

On the third day of retreat, I woke up with the words of the Magnificat running through my mind, and I wrote this prayer in my journal, noting which words or phrases created some reaction in me. I prayed the words as though they were my own, as though I was the one offering up this prayer from my life experience, as Mary once offered it when she was visiting her cousin Elizabeth.

On one of my walks, I stopped by a statue of Mary and sat on the bench facing Mary. I played out the scene of Mary visiting Elizabeth and heard Elizabeth ask, “Who am I…?”

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Statue of Mary at Manresa Jesuit Retreat House

Who am I? I asked, that I have been so blessed. I thought of how many times I have said, “I am the luckiest girl in the world,” because of all the wonderful opportunities I have had.

A litany of blessings started coming to mind, those experiences that were seemingly beyond the scope of possibility for a poor girl from the east side of Detroit.

For example, I was one of five people on a private tour of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, when the Basilica was closed (the Basilica closes when the Pope celebrates Mass on the Square).

I was one of three people on retreat in a cottage on the coast of the Irish Sea.

I was the only person on retreat in a hermitage on the grounds of a monastery in the desert, being directed by priest who has published books about spiritual writing.

I was one of three people on a night safari in Kruger Park in South Africa, which included a barbeque in the bush, complete with cloth napkins and candlelight (and armed guards watching out for lions).

I was one of eleven people on the shores of the Hudson Bay, 150 miles south of Churchill, Manitoba, watching polar bears migrate.

The list goes on and on.

Who am I that God has so richly blessed me?

On retreat–staying with the questions

Staying with the question

During the opening session of my week-long silent retreat, we were presented with the invitation to stay with the questions in our lives rather than rushing to find answers. Rainer Maria Rilke was quoted.

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The next day I reflected on my questions, those unanswered mysteries that keep resurfacing and whirling around in my head.

Why me? is the question I have asked countless times over the course of my life. Why did God choose me at the age of eight? What did God expect from me? I was the least likely candidate to do anything great for God; I was a child in a working-class home with few resources and no influence. Why me?

In my twenties, I went on a Cursillo retreat and learned the slogan, God don’t make junk. I even got a button to wear with that quote. God may not make junk, I remember thinking, but God makes mistakes—and choosing me seemed to be one of them, because I could not see how I could serve God in any meaningful way.

On day two of my retreat, as I walked along a riverbank pondering my why question, my cousin Marlene came to mind. When she was being treated for pancreatic cancer, she told me that she had gotten to know some of the people who were on the same chemo schedule, and as they sat for hours getting infusions they would chat about cancer and how unfair it was. Why me? was the question people kept asking. My cousin said she had come to see that was the wrong question. Why not me? she asked.

Maybe that was true for my God question as well. Instead of asking why me? maybe the question I need to ask is why not me?

I started to think of other people God had called who might make me wonder about God’s decision-making abilities, people like Dorothy Day, who as a young adult led a somewhat non-conformist life. Or Frances Cabrini, who was considered by some people to be too frail to become a teaching sister. Or St. Augustine, who lived quite a hedonistic life until his conversion. Or scads of other people who seemed too inconsequential or too frail or who were on the highway to hell and then, bam, God called.

Lots of people who seemed unlikely vessels for God’s message turned out to be exactly what God needed.

Who knows, maybe I am one of them. Why not me?

Seeking justice

A large plastic bin has been sitting in my garage since I moved here eight years ago, and I finally got around to cleaning it out. At the bottom was a scrap of paper with a quote from Helen Keller.

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I have been pondering where I might “soar” as I contemplate the next chapter of my life, or as one friend put it, my “last act.” Yes, I am in the third third of my life and it is time for me to consider my last act.

What shape this chapter will take is still a mystery; it is a mystery I want to explore.

One “scene” (to stay with the play metaphor) is speaking out about being a rape survivor, and particularly being someone who was raped by a man in law enforcement.

I want to reach out to others who have been sexually assaulted by law enforcement officials to let them know they are not alone—and that there is help, hope and healing. Prosecution may not be a realistic expectation or option but moving from victim to survivor is.

One of the presenters in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality course said, “Justice is what love looks like in public,” which got me thinking more about justice.

Upon hearing my story of being a rape survivor, several people have asked me about justice—or rather the lack of justice because the man who raped me never faced prosecution.

I have to confess that when the #MeToo movement started, I felt that justice had finally come, because I imagined the man who raped me having to wonder if anyone would say his name. It is a bit perverse (and perhaps not very Christian), but I got a little thrill from thinking that his foundation may have been shaken by wondering if he would have to face his past actions.

Another law enforcement person put it this way to me: “He has to wonder if someone is gunning for him.”

But now I am thinking about justice a bit differently. I have come to a deeper understanding and acceptance of the fact that people do cruel things out of their own brokenness. I am not excusing cruelty; I am allowing for redemption.

Reflecting on my friendship with a woman who committed a heinous crime because of her mental illness has helped me deepen my understanding of justice.

I did not know this woman before the crime, but afterward, once she decided to take her prescribed medicine, she was a different person. Instead of hurting, she began helping and instead of ranting, she began listening. She developed compassion, and she became someone who used her abilities and talents in service of others.

Where once she was intent on destroying, she became committed to building up. Her transformation helped me see how someone can grow into the person God sees, how love can restore wholeness.

That looks like justice to me.

Spiritual direction

Forty years ago, when I was considering becoming a religious sister, the Sisters required me to have a spiritual director to help guide my discernment process. That discernment process led me to say “no” to life as a vowed religious and “yes” to ongoing spiritual direction, and I have had a spiritual director ever since.

Whenever I have moved to a new city, finding a spiritual director has been one of my top priorities, right up there with finding a good bakery, a hair stylist and a doctor. Spiritual direction is an integral part of my life.

Perhaps because my spiritual life is so important to me, people have often come to me to talk about their experiences of God or spiritual dilemmas, and I have been an enthusiastic listener. I love hearing how God moves in people’s lives and I also enjoy the challenge of offering suggestions to reframe difficult situations, of inviting people to look from different perspectives.

About fifteen years ago, I took an introductory course to become a spiritual director, but the timing was not right. Now, though, I am enrolled in an Internship in Ignatian Spirituality at a local retreat center, and I am learning about the practice of spiritual direction, which is mostly about listening.

I am reading books written by people who have many years of experience as spiritual directors, and I am learning from their wisdom.

Something that continually surprises me in these books is how many people seem to have an image of God as harsh, demanding and judgmental, something they were taught as children and have carried into adulthood.

It surprises me because I somehow missed that lesson; God has always been loving and forgiving to me.

The image of God I have carried into adulthood is from when I was eight years old and God rescued me, pulling me into a loving embrace and whispering to me, “He can’t hurt you.” My God loves me and wants what is best for me.

When I mess up, God is there to welcome me back, like the father in the story of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11-32). God may not always be pleased with my actions (or sometimes my lack of action), but God always loves me as I am, accepts me as I am and forgives my shortcomings. I am much more likely to be critical and demanding of myself than God is.

Most of us have things from childhood we need to reframe as adults, things we learned that were just plain wrong or at least not helpful. Mine tend to be connected to issues of trust and low self-esteem, and I am continually working to change what I was taught that turned out to be false.

What has been your experience of God? Can you recall a time when you felt God’s delight in you? Can you imagine a conversation with God and hear God call you beloved? Do you ever talk with someone about your spiritual life?

Breakthrough

I recently did a “the first four words you see will be your words for 2021” game on Facebook. My words were connection, self-care, money and breakthrough. Self-care is the one that resonated most strongly with me, because it is an area that challenges me.

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The other three, though, who knows what they might mean?

Then this week in my Internship in Ignatian Spirituality, I had a breakthrough.

We are doing a mini-course on Jesus and because of the pandemic, the presentations have been videotaped and we are watching them on our own. The first session was an overview of the Bible.

The priest who did the presentation shared that his favorite Bible is the Harper Collins Study Bible, which was a new one to me, and I made a note to check it out. The session ended with a Lectio Divina prayer time using Isaiah 40:1-2: Comfort, give comfort to my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem and…

This reading is very familiar to me, and my mind started filling in the next words. But this was a different translation, one I had never heard before, and after those first few words, I had to stop the video and go back to listen to what was being read, rather than listening to the words in my head. This translation read:

…cry to her that she has served her term, that her penalty is paid, that she has received from the Lord’s hand double for all her sins….

I actually laughed out loud because I almost missed this message by filling in what was familiar.

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Plus, these words are similar to what friends have been telling me for years, things like, you have done more than your share and you have atoned.

I stopped the video to spend more time listening to God telling me that I can let go of feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and to thank God for all I have received.

I am a loved sinner, I reminded myself.

Then I personalized the words:

I have served my term. My penalty is paid. I have received double from the Lord’s hands for all my sins.

On Wednesday of this week, I had cataract surgery, and the pre-op nurse and I chatted as she administered a series of eye drops. Her husband is from Italy, which led to us talking about our trips to Italy and my plans to return next year. She asked where I worked and when I said Gilda’s Club, she placed her hand on my hand and said, “Thank you for your work.” I could tell she knew the importance of support on the cancer journey.

I entered the operating room feeling blessed by my life. I have been fortunate to have meaningful work that touches the lives of vulnerable people, to have dear friends who love and support me, and adventures that broaden my life. I have received double and even triple blessings from God.

Now onto connection and money.

Pick me

I am enrolled in an Internship Program in Ignatian Spirituality, and during a recent session, the leader affirmed something I had said. I was filled with pride because of his affirmation. Still seeking approval, I acknowledged to myself.

The next morning at prayer, I replayed that moment—the leader’s acknowledgment, my pride, and then my awareness of my neediness. In that moment, I was my nine-year-old self again, except at nine, I would have voiced my pride in a kind of nah, nah, nah, nah, nah way. At least now, I stopped before that step.

The first image that came to me in prayer was a child in school, arm waving high in the air, wanted to be seen and chosen. Pick me, she says.

Of course, when I was nine years old, I would not have had the confidence to raise my hand, even if I did know the correct answer. Even at twenty-nine, I was reluctant to offer an answer. Probably even at forty-nine.

My lack of self-confidence ran deep.

As I sat with the image of the child waving her hand in the air, a second image occurred to me—it was God waving at me, trying to get my attention, wanting me to acknowledge and pick God.

God is trying to snag my attention in every moment—no matter where I am or what I am doing. I only need the desire to see and hear what God is saying, to be open and paying attention. It can happen at any time.

The other day, God snagged my attention when I was reading a novel about Auchwitz, and I had an aha moment that invited me to be more compassionate.

And then I started watching Mad Men, and the deep loneliness of the characters reminded me of the loneliness of so many people today—and I felt invited to reach out.

My cousin shared a video clip of her eight-month-old granddaughter, crawling over an obstacle. After several tries, she managed to roll over to the other side. She is one determined little girl, I commented and then realized God invites me to be that determined.

During the Internship session, someone commented on a something I had said, a throw-away line for me that caught him. Throw-away lines can carry great truth, I said, remembering that when my friend Jim was preparing for death, he recalled many throw-away lines people had said to him that seemed insignificant at the time, but that gave him great consolation at the end of his life.

We can easily miss the messages of God, the invitations to spiritual growth, because we are not paying attention. We can forget that God speaks to us through the mundane as well as the magnificent—even novels, popular culture, the actions of a child, and casual comments.

Ignatian spirituality reminds us that we can find God in all things. Everything holds the potential to reveal God, if we are paying attention and open to see.