Tag Archives: Ignatian spirituality

gratitude-God-Examen

Living in gratitude

A friend posted this message on social media.gratitude-God-ExamenWhat if?

The question gave me pause, and I realized my life would be poorer by far. It is not that I am ungrateful; I am grateful. But do I express my gratitude every day? Especially to God? How often do I spend time just thanking God for all the good in my life?

When Jim was sick, I created a litany of gratitude, and every day I added to it. Nothing was too small to be included in my litany—a smile from a stranger, sunshine, the funny antics of the dog.

There were bigger things on the list, too— our faith, Jim’s excellent health insurance, living near a hospital with a cancer center and the generosity of friends and family.

I read the list to Jim every day, too, to remind him of all our blessings.

In those first days and weeks, when it felt that fear and anxiety might overwhelm me, I consciously sought blessings—something, anything, for which I could be grateful.

Jim’s death was imminent and God’s generosity was abundant. Those two realities co-existed.

I would often tell Jim about the day he got sick, because it was the day I started my litany. He had no recollection of that day or any of the days he was in ICU, but I would regale him with tales of the wacky things people said and did, which had not seemed funny when they happened but took on a comedic hue in the re-telling. I was grateful I could laugh at what had caused me so much anguish.

I lived in gratitude even though I knew I was on the verge of losing something precious—or perhaps because I was on the verge of losing something precious. Remembering my blessings helped me focus on God and gave me hope.

How could I not trust God when so many blessings were being poured out on me?

My awareness of God’s generosity was probably more acute during Jim’s illness than at any other time in my life.gratitude-God-ExamenAnd then Jim died, and I grieved. I got out of the habit of adding to my litany of gratitude and out of the habit of reciting it.

My litany of gratitude came back to me last weekend when I facilitated a Day of Reflection for a volunteer group. They are at the beginning of their year of service, and I wanted to offer them some tools to help them navigate the ups and downs of service and community living.

I shared with them my own volunteer experience in l’Arche and what I learned about expectations and letting go—two subjects that continue to pop up in my life. I encouraged them to pray the Examen, an Ignatian prayer that helps keep us moving in the direction of God and gratitude.

God continues to pour abundant blessings on me, and I want to be more mindful of thanking God every day for my blessings
gratitude-God-Examen

 

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Spending time with God

In 1995, two friends and I started a faith-sharing group. We began with the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and we made a commitment to spend an hour every day in prayer and meditation. We got together once a week to share what God was saying to us during that daily hour of prayer.

My yes to this commitment was monumental because I had resisted setting aside a regular time for daily prayer and meditation. I was one of those people who said that my prayer life was more fluid and the idea of setting limits—fifteen minutes, thirty minutes, an hour—every day would limit the Spirit. I believed that, too.

Until 1995 when I actually tried it. “Mea culpa,” I said to Sister Ann, one of the people who had suggested this practice to me. She was right; I was wrong.

It turned out that setting aside time for prayer every day did not inhibit the Spirit and actually opened me up to being more present to God throughout the day. It was as if that time each morning predisposed me toward God.God-prayer-meditationI both like and dislike those kinds of insights. Admitting I am wrong did not come easily to me when I was young. (And although I am still not much of a fan, I have had lots of practice owning up to my mistakes, and it comes a bit easier now.)

So, since 1995, I have set aside an hour each morning for prayer and meditation. I journal, read scripture, and pray the Liturgy of the Hours. I call to mind the people who have asked me to pray for them and allow space for God to bring others to mind. I ponder the words and images that catch my attention and sit silently with whatever the hour brings.

In the beginning, I would sometimes find myself looking at the clock, but other days the hour would fly by. It turned out I had a lot to say to God—and God had a lot to say to me, too.God-prayer-meditationI came to cherish that quiet time each morning and eventually got to the point where I could not imagine my day without it.

Sometimes, there seem to be no new insights, just an hour spent in silence; then I would remind myself that no hour devoted to God is ever wasted.

One hour a day, 365 days a year for more than 22 years—that’s a whole lot of hours.

I could have done something else with that time—watched the morning news, cleaned my house, etc.—but I believe my life would be the poorer for it.

I am grateful for my friend Steve, who first suggested praying the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola, and I often say a prayer of gratitude for his wisdom and guidance. Steve died in 2013, but I still feel his presence during my morning prayer.God-prayer-meditation

 

Daily Prayer

After college, I applied to be an FBI agent. My background check turned up no skeletons, and I was accepted. Shortly before I was scheduled to go to Quantico, though, I withdrew my application. It may have seemed impulsive and misguided, but it was the right decision for me at the time.

Then, though, I was left with no life plan. Unsure of what to do, I sought guidance through prayer and spiritual direction.

Sr. Catherine Quinn, a wise and patient woman, became my spiritual director and tried to guide me to a deeper relationship with God. I was a headstrong young woman who resisted most of her suggestions.

For example, she suggested I read An Interrupted Life by Etty Hillesum, and I baulked. I had just finished college and the thought of reading non-fiction just did not appeal to me.

She also suggested I set aside time every day, the same time every day, to pray. I already went to daily Mass, which seemed enough “set” time for me. I preferred to pray spontaneously when the spirit moved me.

In some situations, Sr. Catherine found a way around my obstinacy. For instance, about a year after she had suggested I read An Interrupted Life, someone in my book group proposed it. Once I started reading the book, I recalled Sr. Catherine’s suggestion. It turned out Sr. Catherine also saw this woman for spiritual direction. “Sneaky,” I thought.

Of course, she was right about the book. I loved it, and it profoundly affected me. I have re-read it several times and even used it as the basis for a grad school presentation.

Bringing me around to read a book only took a year. It took more than ten years for me to adopt her prayer suggestion.

It happened like this: two friends and I decided to do the 19th annotation retreat, the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises in daily life. We made a commitment to set aside an hour each day to pray and then to get together once a week to share what was happening in our prayer. I set aside an hour each morning, and by the end of the eight months of the 19th annotation, a daily hour of prayer was a habit.

That was twenty years ago, and the habit has persisted.

I was thinking of this today because I am preparing to facilitate a day of reflection for local Jesuit volunteers. Theological reflection on community living will be the focus. I realized that setting aside an hour each day for prayer has helped make theological reflection an integral part of my spiritual life.

I want to publicly thank Sr. Catherine for her wise guidance and to apologize for my stubbornness. She was right in these two matters—and so many more. What a blessing she has been to me.