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There is a story about one of the great Desert Fathers, Moses the Black:

Abba Moses

“It happened that Abba Moses was struggling with the temptation of fornication. Unable to stay any longer in the cell, he went and told Abba Isidore. The old man exhorted him to return to his cell. But he refused, saying, ‘Abba, I cannot.’ Then Abba Isidore took Moses out onto the terrace and said to him, ‘Look towards the west.’ He looked and saw hordes of demons flying about and making a noise before launching an attack. Then Abba Isidore said to him, ‘Look towards the east.’ He turned and saw an innumerable multitude of holy angels shining with glory. Abba Isidore said, ‘See, these are sent by the Lord to the saints to bring them help, while those in the west fight against them. Those who are with us are more in number than they are.’ Then Abba Moses, gave thanks to God, plucked up courage and returned to his cell.”

Interestingly, a few lines later in the same collection we read this:

“A brother came to Scetis to visit Abba Moses and asked him for a word. The old man said to him, ‘Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.’”

What Abba Moses had learned from Abba Isidore he was the able to share himself: “Go, sit in your cell, and your cell will teach you everything.” It is a simple, seemingly unremarkable, bit of counsel. Unremarkable, because it seems as if it is basically counsel to do nothing: sit in your cell. That certainly doesn’t seem like much, and it certainly doesn’t seem like a great ascetical labor or warfare. But within this simple commandment is hidden a rather remarkable and profound bit of wisdom.

When we are battling against temptation, we often start casting about trying to figure out what we can do to make it stop. How do we win this fight? How do we make the temptations go away? These are the thoughts that plague us and drive us, like Moses, looking for relief, for something to do.

But, perhaps counter-intuitively, the very first thing we must learn is not to do anything. “Go, sit in your cell.” Don’t, that is, do anything. Why? Because you don’t yet know what to do, and anything you do will be the wrong thing. At this point any action that we would undertake would be something that we have learned int he past, something out of our old, fallen habits and activities, and these are the very things that got us where we are in the first place, i.e. enslaved to the passions. So, the very first thing that we must do is to do nothing but sit in our cell, not act according to old habits and responses, but to simply wait and watch. And immediately, if we do this, we will learn that this sitting in the cell is not nothing but a very definite and profound something. For to sit in the cell is itself a great act of faith.

If we go sit in our cell, we will discover that the thoughts are still there and that the temptations will not magically go away as if God were to wave a magic wand over us. But if we persist in sitting still, neither running from the thoughts nor giving into them, then the cell will begin to teach us everything, as Abba Isidore promised. It will teach us that the very things within us to which the temptations appeal, our passions, are not truly satisfied with the things with we are tempted, but will, if heeded, leave us defeated, empty, and filled with despondency as they have always done. Furthermore, it will show us the very things that drive these passions and give fuel to the temptations: our fears, lust, desires, and a seeking for comfort and consolation in things that can never comfort or console us. Ultimately, if we persist in sitting in our cell, we will be led to the One and only One who can truly give us comfort and consolation, the One who said, “Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

All of this will be learned only if we sit in our cell and do not act according to all of our typical reactions, which were, as I said, formed in the same processes that shaped and defined our former way of being as slaves to sin. The new way of being, in Christ, will be formed and shaped in the cell like life in the womb. For that is what the cell is, a virginal womb awaiting the Word. Real spiritual life, then, is not something we produce ourselves within ourselves. Our work is to sit, waiting in faith, with patience and hope. And this sitting and waiting is not nothing but a profound something. It is the plaintive cry of the Psalmist. It is the Virgin maiden awaiting, though she does not know it, the arrival of the archangel. And it is even, mysteriously, the watching, piercing gaze of the Father looking for the arrival of the prodigal. For it is God himself, already in us, awaiting our arrival to the heavenly home, our deep heart.

A few days ago, I had a conversation with a man, a recovering alcoholic, who was experiencing a series of traumatic events in his life. In the past his response to such trauma would have been the obvious reaction to drink, looking for comfort and consolation in alcohol. The temptation is ever present, it doesn’t magically go away when someone stops drinking, and the temptation was present as he spoke. My simple and direct counsel to him was not to drink. That might seem like a simple negative, something not to do. It is, rather, the simple and yet profound wisdom of Abba Moses: “Sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.” Not drinking means sitting in the cell. And if that is undertaken as a simple act of faith it will become the womb from which the new life in him will be born.

The poet Rainer Maria Rilke, wrote:

“The space within us reaches out, translates each thing. For the essence of a tree to be real for you, cast inner space around it, out of the space that exists in you. Encircle it with restraint. It has no borders. Only in the realm of your renouncing can it, as tree, be known.”

True ascetical life is, to use the poet’s words, “the space within us.” And it is only in this “realm of your renouncing” that anything can be known. Sitting in your cell, not drinking, not looking for comfort and consolation in our old habits and sins, makes the inner space within us a fertile womb which can become, like the Mother of God’s, border-less and more spacious than the heavens when it receives the infinite Word. And it is only there and then that we can know him, and knowing him truly know ourselves for the first time.

Post by Fr. John, Orthodox Church of St John of Chicago.

It’s now clear that COVID-19 is a deadly serious global pandemic, and all necessary precautions should be taken. Still, C. S. Lewis’s words—written 72 years ago—ring with some relevance for us. Just replace “atomic bomb” with “coronavirus.”

In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. “How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: “Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.”

In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me, dear sir or madam, you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us were going to die in unpleasant ways. We had, indeed, one very great advantage over our ancestors—anesthetics; but we have that still. It is perfectly ridiculous to go about whimpering and drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself was not a chance at all, but a certainty.

This is the first point to be made: and the first action to be taken is to pull ourselves together. If we are all going to be destroyed by an atomic bomb, let that bomb when it comes find us doing sensible and human things—praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children, playing tennis, chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts—not huddled together like frightened sheep and thinking about bombs. They may break our bodies (a microbe can do that) but they need not dominate our minds.

This May, you can enjoy five days of holiday and spiritual retreat with Dr Micha Jazz from Be Still and Know on Premier Christian Radio.

As well as morning and evening gatherings for reflection and prayer, we shall both be available throughout the day offerng personal spiritual direction and spiritual coaching. We are also happy to host informal conversations on the challenges of prayer during the afternoon. In other words this is a retreat in which everyne can choose the rhythm that best suits their preference.

See details: https://www.springharvestholidays.com/feature-weeks/retreat/

Le Pas Opton offers four-star holiday facilities and quality accommodation in a Christian environment. The Be Still and Know retreat holiday offers the opportunity chance to explore your faith with the support of an experienced Retreat Guide.

Prayer, discussion, meditation plus time to relax in the holiday environment – a perfect combination for spirit, soul and body!

Here in the Oratory our grasp on prayer is improving through practice and reflection and we’re thrilled to see God at work. Prayer is always our response to God as well as our search for enriching God encounter. Join us as together we we seek God’s presence.

https://www.springharvestholidays.com/feature-weeks/retreat/ 

Summer is for us a time for working on the Oratory garden. It’s been a labour of love to create a tranquil space for Quiet Days and Retreats. Many of you have commented on the peace you encounter whilst with us. This is all by the grace of God. It stirs our hearts in prayer and adoration of God.

Oratory Day Retreats

This past year has seen our monthly retreats offer an opportunity for deepening faith and personal encounter with God. We are thrilled at the way our dream of a space for prayer and encounter has taken shape. We also want to respond to other requests made of the Oratory. This coming year we are publishing a new set of monthly retreats based upon the theme of ‘Reawakening Narnia’. We trust you will make the time to set a day aside for refreshment, renewal and envisioning and full details are available on the website. We shall be adding additional dates in 2020 very soon. And if you have a subject that you would like included then please do let us know.

 

Facilitated Conversations

We have also decided to explore running some facilitated conversations to explore critical themes that impact our faith in the world. The first of these addresses the issue of our mortality. In an age in which death has largely been surrendered to the medical profession, ignored and, more often than not, excluded from the public discourse, Dr Mich Jazz and Stuart Lindsell have created three facilitated days exploring the nature of Christian death in contemporary society.

 

Each day offers those with a genuine interest in considering the reality of death an opportunity to explore, in a non prescriptive way, the theology, practicalities and realities of ageing and dying. All are welcome, especially those with experience within the field of death and dying. Whilst the three days complete a series, each day is complete in and of itself so if you are only free for one day then do come along.

 

We are holding these days near Hampton Court, London at The House of Prayer 35 Seymour Road East Molesey Surrey KT8 0PB.

 

Cost: £50.00 per person inclusive of materials and refreshments. Please bring your own packed lunch.

 

Timings: 9:30-16:00 each day. Please email if you would like a flyer and/or to register for a place on any of the days, or the series.

Finally, I have teamed up with an old friend, Clel Thom, and we have launched an initiative for the over 55’s, called VOICE. Ageing calls Caleb to mind. At 80, he told Joshua: ‘I’m just as strong as I used to be. Give me the mountain you promised me.’ Maybe you are asking God for fresh challenge in later life. This is where Voice comes in. We aim to equip God’s Calebs to live on purpose; leave a legacy and to find God’s plans later in life.

 

Prayer

The role of the Oratory is to operate as a Home of Prayer. We pursue this life and are always ready to field your prayer requests. We also invest in praying for our nation and the world as we pass through times of transition and challenge. We very much look forward to welcoming you to The Oratory over the next few months.

Every Blessing, Micha & Jayne

stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com

www.stcuthbertsoratory.com 

The subject of the presence of God raises a host of descriptions that have been entrusted to sermon, books and blogs over the years. It is something, or Someone, who every disciple seeks. Perhaps it is in the seeking that the greatest challenges lie. It was once said of Christopher Columbus, the pioneer explorer credited with finding America, that he set out not knowing where he was going, returned not knowing where he’d been and did it all on somebody else’s money.

 

Whilst amusing, it appears his methodology didn’t die with him. So many of us have great aspirations, especially around drawing near to God. Problem is these aspirations most frequently never get beyond the sofa. Imagining a personal and intimate relationship with the Trinity is one thing; establishing it quite another.

 

James Clear helps clarify why such aspirations often remain no more than the longings of the human heart. A failure to take action will guarantee we make little or no progress toward our desire. It is down to us to give our aspirations a time and a place to live in the world. In other words, take the initiative in putting a specific date, time and duration in your daily schedule when you will create an opportunity for an encounter with the divine presence.

 

James uses a simple analogy. Imagine a cup of coffee. If I am to benefit from that coffee I first have to notice that it is there. How can I lay hold of something that I know about yet is not within my field of vision of experience?

 

Next I have to want that coffee. Jayne’s system reacts badly to caffeine. She may on smelling coffee feel drawn towards it. However, its impact upon her health is sufficient for her to say she doesn’t want it. Pursuing God’s presence, I must want to find myself in God’s presence. This desire is what will sustain me when the going gets tough. Is my desire greater than the effort of overcoming any obstacles that lie between me and my aspiration?

 

If I notice and want the coffee, then next I must do something, like pick up the coffee, or perhaps even pour it into a cup and then drink it. Doing is the basis upon which any practice is built. Many people have a terrific prayer life within their heads, yet they never actually engage in a daily practice of prayer. Without such practice there can be no substance to my aspiration.

 

Finally, I must like it. If what I do is not liked it will sadly have little chance of enduring and becoming a part of my daily practice. Drinking coffee because others do, even when I don’t enjoy the bitter taste, is not likely to grow into a personal habit. When I make coffee I engage in a little brewing ritual that I enjoy. It reminds me I’m taking a break from writing and having some down time. The ritual prepares me, my body, mind and spirit, for this down time. I grind the beans, heat the kettle (90 degrees only), just cover the freshly ground beans in the cafetiere and allow thirty seconds for the gases to be released before pouring the rest of the water and leaving to brew for a further three minutes thirty seconds and then plunge and pour immediately. Creating a ritual to take you into your daily prayer time is the best way to manage distractions that all too easily lead you away from prayer.

And as for presence, well that remains a unique personal possibility and lays well beyond any verbal constructs.

The Third Essential of Prayer is Presence. As one writer succinctly describes it, ‘Being present with the presence’. Now this may sound confusing, yet when Jesus promises to be with us always, ‘even to the end of the age’ this is the invitation to presence.

 

Often our humanity associates presence with feelings. Yet feelings are emotional states of response. My approach to God will prove different when feeling content and secure to when I have raging toothache. Often we make judgements about church worship, even whole church congregational gatherings, simply upon the feelings they induce. Nothing wrong with feelings per se, but be warned, they are an untrustworthy measure of reality.

 

Presence is an ever present truth and reality for God is with us always. The issue is will I rest in that reality, regardless of the flow of my feelings with undistracted mind and by my senses that continually send it information?

 

To acknowledge the reality of God and God’s presence, despite my ever changing circumstances, is to stand in the presence of God. It is no diversionary tactic, for the reality of such circumstances doesn’t change. What changes is the way in which I choose to frame them. I can look at them from the fears, anxieties or pleasures which they induce. Or I can perceive the presence of God, living the Godward side of my experience. This is quite the journey.

 

As my first wife, Katey, battled with MS, we managed our own journeys from different perspectives. Katey experienced the loss of physical and mental ability that accompanied the deepening hold progressive MS had upon her whole being. I fought anger, resentment, a sense of abandonment by God whom I’d served faithfully as far as I could tell. We both became consumed with our own presence, our physicality. We lived from a collapsing ego, unable to craft a world of any sense within which we might define ‘self’ in a meaningful way. And we proved a handful to others, most of whom, understandably, took a large step back from us and our situation.

 

Discovering we had nothing within to address such circumstances, that we were empty shells of humanity, we paused through exhaustion. Like Jacob we wrestled long through the darkness of our night. It was only as dawn began to appear above the horizon, the dawning of a recognition of God’s presence in the bleakest of contexts, that we both sensed something of God’s presence. God was not some external, impotent fraud outside and unable to intervene within our situation. God had always been accompanying us within this the bleakest experience of our life to date.

 

Presence is in the acknowledgement of God’s presence. It is neither something we can strain to grasp nor an escape from our challenging circumstances. It is the recognition that God is with us and God’s invitation is that we stand with that truth. The battle is always with my preconceived and usually preferred perspective on God and God’s work in the world. Yet, this can only ever prove to be a perspective. I have to discover the willingness and then the practice of re framing my life around the fact that God is always present. It is my walk of faith that can bring me to the place where I acknowledge that, regardless of such circumstance. This leads to the next important wrestling match; how to allow perfect love to cast out all fear! More of that later.

 

If you enjoy these blogs follow along with my daily devotions at Voice of Hope.

I have concluded after numerous conversations that there are the three essentials of prayer.

Too often prayer is a seemingly endless monotone of requests, concerns, hopes and fears directed broadly at some entity we trust is God, or in reality someone or something that might come to our aid. The ‘God’ persona is regarded as some form of life belt, required as we struggle to stay afloat in stormy seas, a means of escape from an inevitable drowning.

This, of course, may well reflect our point of entry into God. For God is often ill considered when the yacht’s intact and the cruise in full swing. Crisis creates quasi believers of us all. And why not? Better to grasp for a life belt in despair, than quietly slip beneath the waters of obliteration.

What is Prayer?

In fact prayer is a practical and precise response in search of a God who I desire to encounter. There are no guarantees! I may simply be ‘whistling Dixie’. For God is sought and found in faith, and faith is literally without substance, built solely upon the insubstantial foundation of inner resolve. In other words it can only ever be established a priori. For faith is to knowledge, what skill is to sport, intuition + practice = Performance.

So there are the three essential of prayer for anyone who desires to explore the unknowable God proclaimed by the Christian church for two millennia, and Judaism for quite some time before that. Today let’s look at the first of these three essentials; Stillness.

Prayer Essential #1: Stillness

Stillness is the absence of motion. Of course this might recall the game you may have played as a child called statues. Yet, it’s not stillness in the sense of being perfectly motionless physically. It is the stillness of mind and heart, the management of the distractions that flood in once we choose to be still.

Of course the mind is never still. It is processing millions of bytes of data that our senses send for interpretation. The brain is the control centre for our life, and must itself learn the art of stillness. The discipline of stillness trains us to manage distraction. For many people the thought of stillness proves highly problematic. Years of activity including work, family, maintenance, hobbies, all take their toll. The brain demands stimulation which each of these activities offered in spades. This is something stillness apparently fails to offer. We are restless within ourselves when forced to do nothing through periods of illness or when retirement creates a breach in our life time routine of work and the longed for rest proves a challenge to occupy effectively and satisfactorily.

Stillness is a process through which we grow to know ourselves. In stillness we grow content within ourselves and with our own company. Stillness reduces our constant need for distractions to sustain us. Into that stillness we can find the space and the time to wait upon God. For God is apparently elusive, and never seeks to compete with our preferred distractions. As in every relationship, for that is what we can enjoy with God, the party to that relationship demands my attention and is wounded at every distraction. Even those distractions I foolishly convince myself are for their primary benefit. Most often they are for my own satisfaction.

The Practice of Stillness

Oratory Garden

This practice requires three steps.

  1. A heart’s desire to move away from dependency upon distraction. What I call our inner spiritual Intuition.
  2. The concentrated discipline of taking time each day for short periods of Stillness. What I call Practice.
  3. Living below the constant rumble of traffic noise as the brain processes all that incoming data, whilst you disengage from interacting with it and find a sacred space into which you invite God. What I call Performance.

There are tools to accompany our search of this stillness such as breathing prayer, a long practiced form of centring self on God. Details of breath prayer are available from the Oratory.

It’s also worth ditching portable electronic devices for each period of stillness. Oh, how mobile devices have increased our fascination with distraction whilst crowding out yet another space for stillness.

Conclusion

What I can say is this first step takes time and demands my full attention. It can prove painful, for stillness is nowhere practiced in a society that is forever speeding up and driving each one of us to feel a loss of self worth if we are not ourselves busy, where busy has become a false synonym for productive.

Essentials #2 & #3 to follow.

 

patience

We all know patience is a virtue and one that is not particularly easy to cultivate. The current US culture, for the most part, is fast-paced and pressure-filled. Rapid-fire responses, productivity, and achievement are valued. Rarely do we give voice and praise to what is measured and slow.

Impatience is a disadvantage when it comes to our spiritual lives. As spiritual companions, we witness this firsthand in ourselves and in others. We may long to possess a saint-like inner landscape. We may become harsh and judgemental with ourselves when we do not make the spiritual strides we’d hoped.

In the process of our own awakening,
we cannot compare our growth to anyone else’s.
Each of us is growing emotionally, intellectually
and spiritually at our own pace,
in our own fashion, toward our highest purpose.
Each of us is exactly where we are meant to be right now—
or we would be somewhere else.
We are here, now, experiencing a growth pattern
that is uniquely our own
on a path that is ours and ours alone.

Patience in all things, especially with ourselves.

We can remind ourselves (and those we companion) not to compare the pace or pattern of our spiritual growth to that of anyone else. Comparison may be the name of the game in our competition-based world, but it is not so in the heart and mind of God. It is alright to go slow, to breathe, to wait, to listen, to rest into what is emerging, revealing, inviting. In fact, it is beneficial to do so.

Each one of us awakens
and grows into our spiritual nature
at our own rate.
For some, it will take many seasons
to realise our highest potential,
to come into our fullness.
This is a journey that cannot be rushed, judged, or compared.
Allow yourself to unfold and mature as Spirit intended.
Put your lamentations and worries aside.
Trust in the well-timed beauty of your own growth.

Patience in all things, especially with ourselves.

We can remind ourselves (and those we companion) to trust the timing of this spiritual unfolding. Each of us has been divinely crafted and lovingly made—being made—moment, by moment, by moment. Who are we to question the rhythm of creation, healing, and growth?

Hildegard of Bingen, the twelfth-century abbess and mystic affirmed, “At birth our divine potential is folded up in us like a tent. It is life’s purpose to unfold that tent.” We are co-creators. We have work to do, and yet, it is vital that we surrender the illusion of control to which we hold so tightly and, instead, align ourselves with the Spirit that steers and guides.

As the gardeners of our lives,
we can take all the steps necessary
to ensure the crop of an abundant existence.
We can prepare ourselves, nurture ourselves,
give ourselves what we need to grow and blossom,
but that is where the labour ends.
We can only do so much.
We must turn the results of our labours over to the Universe.
We must wait to see what grows.
Patience is in order
as we surrender to the will of the Master Gardener.
Everything grows in its own season,
in perfect timing with a cosmic plan
which is being laid out for us.

Patience in all things, especially with ourselves.

Indeed, “patience” can be our prayer.


Janice Lynne Lundy is an interfaith spiritual director and mentor, educator, and retreat leader who has been pointing people back toward the Sacred for more than twenty years. She is the author of several spiritual growth books, including Your Truest Self, My Deepest Me and Portable Peace. Her newest book is “Thank You” Is My Prayer to be released December 2016. Jan leads contemplative programs and retreats nationwide and serves as adjunct staff at Dominican Center in Grand Rapids, Michigan, USA, where she resides.

How do I “make straight the way of God”?

make_straightIt was a Native American chief who taught me the meaning of Christmas at a conference where interfaith leaders were gathered to discuss the relationship of religion to race.

Into the midst of the theological meanderings of those of us who wanted to write another paper, have another meeting, take another workshop to combat racism, the Chief brought the message of Isaiah again. He stood up slowly, folded his hands quietly in front of him, looked out over our heads and said softly, “I have spent my life teaching our children to say ‘thank you.’ Thank you for the grass. Thank you for the rain. Thank you for the stranger. Thank you for all the people of the world. I think that if we learn to say ‘thank you’ for everything, we will come to realise its value, to respect it, to see it as sacred.”

It was a simple speech but it had a kind of cataclysmic effect on my soul. It raised the spectre of Isaiah in me all over again. It made me think newly about what the scriptures are talking about when they tell us to “make straight the way of God.” I suddenly realised that Christmas is time to shout “thank you.”

Christmas is the commitment to life made incarnate. It is the call to see God everywhere and especially in those places we would not expect to find glory and grace. It is the call to exult in life.

Christmas is the obligation to see that everything leads us directly to God, to realise that there is no one, nothing on earth that is not the way to God for me. I knew instantly that the moment we begin to really celebrate Christmas, to look at everyone and everything as a revelation of God, to say “thank you” for them, that racism would be over, war would be no more, world hunger would disappear, everything would be gift, everyone would be sacred.

Indeed, it is simple but oh, so clear: All we have to do to “make straight the way of God” is to say “thank you,” to learn to live intensely, to have a zeal for life, to develop a passion for life.

Sr Joan Chittester

A lovely piece excerpted by America Magazine by Fr. James Martin SJ. Worth the read and as we battle ‘Black Friday’ and its celebration of consumerism perhaps find some space for rest and reflection.

The following is a meditation on the place of gratitude in Ignatian spirituality.

thanksgivingThe traditional first step of the examen, the end-of-the-day prayer that St. Ignatius Loyola told Jesuits never to omit from their day, is gratitude. You recall the good things that happened to you in the past day, and give thanks.

It is an essential step. As David Fleming, S.J., an expert on spirituality, wrote me in a letter, “Ignatius saw the examen as prayer, not just focused on the person, but as directed to God. That’s why the examination begins with thanks to God, establishing the focus. It’s not simply self-examination or dreamy introspection, it is a way of prayer, a way of being with God.

And Ignatius meant giving thanks for any “benefits,” as he said, in the broadest possible sense. Obvious things would include any good news, a tender moment with a spouse, finishing an important project at work. But also less-obvious things: the surprising sight of sunlight on the pavement in the middle of a bleak midwinter’s day, the taste of a ham-and-cheese sandwich you had for lunch; satisfaction at the end of a tiring day caring for your children.

For Ignatius many things–no matter how seemingly inconsequential–are occasions for gratitude. You recall them and you “relish” or “savor” them, as Ignatius would say.

Savoring is an antidote to our increasingly rushed lives. We live in a busy world, with an emphasis on speed, efficiency and productivity, and we often find ourselves always moving on to the next task at hand. Life becomes an endless series of tasks, and our day becomes a compendium of to-do lists. We become “human doings” instead of “human beings.”

Savoring slows us down. In the examen we don’t recall an important experience simply to add it to a list of things that we’ve seen or done; rather, we savor as if we were a wonderful meal. We pause to enjoy what has happened. It’s a deepening of our gratitude to God, and reveals the hidden joys of our days. As Anthony de Mello, SJ, notes, “You sanctify whatever you are grateful for.”

The way of Ignatius celebrates gratitude. The Spiritual Exercises are crammed with references to expressing gratitude for God’s gifts. “I will consider how all good things and gifts descend from above,” he writes in the Fourth Week, “from the Supreme and Infinite Power above…just as the rays come down from the sun.” The examen, as we’ve mentioned, begins with gratitude. According to John Padberg, S.J., a church historian, for Ignatius the “most execrable and the worst” sin was ingratitude.

Gratitude is an essential element in healthy friendships, too.

When I asked my friend Steve, a Jesuit priest in New York, about friendship the first thing he mentioned was the examen. “When I think embraceabout friendship, the first thing that comes to mind is finding God in all things,” he said. “That surfaces during my examen, when frequently God directs me to things that God thinks are important–rather than what I might be focusing on. Often that turns out to be friends and interactions with other Jesuits–in even the simplest of ways: a random comment in a corridor or a homily from another Jesuit. The examen helps me to be more mindful, and more grateful for, my friends.”

Paula, a friend who works in campus ministry at a Jesuit school in the Midwest, noted wryly that while everyone will say that they are grateful for their friends, the examen makes it easier to focus on that gratitude. “The examen always helps in friendships and in family relationships,” she said, “because it helps with gratitude.” For Sister Maddy, a woman religious who works at a retreat house in Gloucester, Mass., even days when friends aren’t as present are occasions for being grateful for them. “Every night during my examen, I remember my gratitude for friends–even if I’ve not been in contact with them on that particular day. I’m grateful for them wherever they are.”

Paul, until recently the rector of a large Jesuit community in Boston, said that gratitude was the most neglected part of friendship. For many years, Paul was in charge of training young Jesuits in Boston and Chicago. He has a lifetime of experience in counseling others in their spiritual lives. “One of the most important parts of friendship is living in gratitude for the gift, and growing into that kind of gratitude,” he said.

Paul noted that one common problem in Jesuit friendships stemmed from a lack of gratitude. Without gratitude, you take friendship for granted. “You forget that it takes a little effort. And the small things matter: making time to call, staying in touch. If people can name a friendship, and can appreciate it, they are more inclined to work at it.”

True friendships are hard to come by, said Paul, and they take work. And patience. “There are a small number of people who, for whatever reason, easily make and keep friends. But the vast majority of the human race has to ask for friendship, and be patient in waiting for it to come. When we imagine friendships, we tend to imagine things happening instantly. But like anything that’s rich and wonderful you grow into it.”

But what about those readers for whom talk of friendship reminds them of their loneliness? This discussion may help you find ways to strengthen or deepen your appreciation of relationships with family and friends. But what about the lonely reader? Well, you can enjoy God’s friendship in prayer, seeing how God is active in your work, your reading, your hobbies.

Still, what can we say to those who long for a friend?

It would be wrong to downplay the pain of loneliness: I have known many lonely people whose lives are filled with sadness. Perhaps the only thing I could add is to remain open up to the possibility of meeting new friends and not to move to despair, trusting, as much as you can, that God wants you someday to find a friend. The very desire for friendship is an invitation from God to reach out to others. Trust that God desires community for you, though that goal may seem far away.

“For those who wonder why it’s not happening faster in their lives,” said Paul, “I think that it’s more important to love and take the first step. And it also may seem that most people have to spend their lives giving more than receiving,” said Paul.

“But at the end, even with all the work that is involved, even if you only find one friend in your whole life, it’s worth it.”

Excerpted from The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything,

James Martin, SJ

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