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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As we consider a world in which the post WWII consensus is collapsing through age and inability to engage with the fruit of globalisation, we will do well to consider how nature abhors a vacuum.

Many in the church, especially Protestatnt Reformed and Roman Catholic, have a tendency to lean in the direction of conservatism, yearning for the stability of the past ahead of embracing the challenge transition offers with its many uncertainties.

If ever there was a destabilisation of the political, social and economic order it was through the incarnation of Jesus and the words he spoke. Often summarised as speaking truth to power, we sadly shrink away from the most obvious consequences of living and speaking in such a way. For Jesus it meant his destruction by the establishment and so the price tag has been set.

Maybe, the failure even of the Confessing Church in Germany to live by the woirds of Jesus in the turbulent years following the election of Hitler, often concerned more with internal conflict and disagreement than the main game played out across the world at the cost of thousands of innocent victims. Read, reflect as I am myself and consider how it is you live, in your innermost thoughts as much as by your public declarations.

“The role of the Christian churches in Germany from 1933 to 1945 raises many troubling questions about the perceived lack of action on moral issues. Many people wonder if Nazi atrocities might have been reduced or prevented if the Churches had done more to protest what was going on. This essay will look at the role of the Confessing Church during the Nazi regime to see what role it played. By studying the events of this time period that involved the Confessing Church, it can be shown that the Confessing Church did resist the Nazi government efforts to subvert it and, by preserving the truth of Christianity, prevented the total apostasy of the German Evangelical Church….”.

Farewell to Shadowlands

(This essay was written for History 285.6, University of Saskatchewan, 8 April 1999)

The role of the Christian churches in Germany from 1933 to 1945 raises many troubling questions about the perceived lack of action on moral issues.  Many people wonder if Nazi atrocities might have been reduced or prevented if the Churches had done more to protest what was going on.  This essay will look at the role of the Confessing Church during the Nazi regime to see what role it played.  By studying the events of this time period that involved the Confessing Church, it can be shown that the Confessing Church did resist the Nazi government efforts to subvert it and, by preserving the truth of Christianity, prevented the total apostasy of the German Evangelical Church.

The history of the structure of the German Christian churches goes back to the sixteenth century.  After the Peace of Westphalia…

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img_20161104_091418-1It’s often difficult to turn to prayer at the start of my day. The computer summons me siren like. It is perhaps a problem with my ego that seeks to discover who has emailed me. Fortunately since pursuing the anchorite life for a while now, my inbox receives very little traffic. I am learning that it is my identity in Jesus that truly reveals who I am in this life. Again I yearn for a cup of green tea (organic Sencha to be precise), but I resist such distractions.

It is a simple exercise with which I enter my conscious day. I have a small altar to help give expression to my prayerful approach to all of life. It also provides a visual reminder throughout my day that all is about Christ. When I react from deep within my fracture, it’s always useful to be reminded that I am not the key event. Maintaining my connection with the Presence is. A visual altar helps me in this process.

So here I am before my altar. I may well quietly and internally pray the Jesus prayer as I quieten my heart. Then crossing myself as a physical reminder of my true identity gifted through the Cross, I strike a match, light the candle and make my prayer for the day. This varies, yet always includes the theme of light. Jesus, the Light of the world, to reveal my path to me, to lighten the challenges I face, to be a light within always revealing God’s presence, to enable me be to be a source of light, and thereby hope, to those who cross my path. This is a spontaneous prayer, differing each morning, yet always resonating around the theme of light.

This prayer takes no more than five minutes. I then make my way to the kettle. Prepare my cuppa, start ordering the Kitchen for the day ahead, prepare Jayne’s packed lunch. Usually I can then sit awhile before Jayne and mum emerge for breakfast. In this time I cup my tea in my hands and generally take some moments in reflective silence. However more of that another day.

Try by starting your day with a candle prayer. If a formal prayer helps then try this one I found courtesy of the Northumbria Community.

May the blessing of light be on you – light without and light within.
May the blessed sunlight shine on you like a great peat fire,
so that stranger and friend may come and warm himself at it.
And may light shine out of the two eyes of you,
like a candle set in the window of a house,
bidding the wanderer come in out of the storm.

Candles in the Dark

 

Oratory Garden

Oratory Garden

Some time since I have blogged. To be honest I am settled into a lovely routine here in the Oratory. Nothing too much to say as I listen to the sounds of God in the rustling leaves and melodious birdsong. Yet, a significant change has taken place over the last two months.

For years I have begun each day with daily prayer. This has been with a daily office or set of prayers said each morning. A mixture of psalms, scripture and prayers it gave me the perfect way into my day. I considered God, myself and the world I was stepping back into.  I chanted the psalms aloud before a lighted candle, bowing, kneeling or standing as seemed most appropriate. My voice added to the prayers encircling the globe everyday.

Yet after six years of this routine I felt God reach down and remove it from my grasp. Surprised, I fought to take hold of it again. Yet, it was now yesterday’s song and not today’s refrain. Now I was invited to enter the silence. I had practised centring prayer for a while, yet I now felt a strong necessity to adopt it at the start of my day. I also brought together various prayer strands that were meaningful to me, some inviting chant, and created my own Office. Such life flowed and my heart rose in pursuit of God. Celtic_Circle

My initial confusion, and a sense of guilt, soon disappeared. I was soon lost in reverence and praise of my Saviour and Lord.

So now I light the candle to welcome the dawn. I enter into the silence of contemplation. Then, ordering the house for the day ahead, I return to my Office, mug of tea in hand. It is a change that has led me closer to God. Following the urge of the Spirit is essential in spiritual growth.

Brexit is sinking in. The UK has left the European Union, although that Referendum outcome may in fact trigger Scotland to seek permission of its citizens to leave the Union and find a way of joining the EU in its own right.

Waving United Kingdom and European Union Flag

Waving United Kingdom and European Union Flag

Sadly, the anger that followed the outcome has only revealed just how conflicted the English, in particular, are. To claim that those who voted to leave are either racist or more accurately, xenophobic, is simply to reinforce the unhelpful polarity of the ‘In or Out’ Referendum question. There is a case to make that the EU itself and the apparent high handed behaviour of its institutions has enriched the soil in which nationalism and right wing politics flourishes. Austria only just avoided electing an extreme right wing President.

Sadly, the whole Referendum was unnecessary given that it was a vanity project for the Conservative Party. Having surprisingly seized victory from the jaws of defeat in a General Election just over a year ago, Prime Minister Cameron had no need to invoke his manifesto promise of a referendum, After all when previously elected he instituted a top down reform of the NHS, something not in the manifesto. The assumption in the establishment that the Remain vote would carry the day largely relied on inherent conservatism across the electorate fanned into flame through the dire warnings of ‘Project Fear‘, the economic melt done that would follow any exit from the EU.

So what have we learnt? The Brussels Trinity of Council, Commission and Parliament never saw Brexit as a likely outcome as simple moves to have their books independently audited or showing a face of flexible negotiation as available for any member state seeking to influence the Union going forward would have been well received by the UK electorate. As a result Cameron’s mock ‘re-negotiation’ carried no authority and the UK electorate lost faith that the Union was subject to the normal rule of political engagement, which is negotiation between competing needs and preferences between member States. It appears that critical decisions lie in the hands of unelected bureaucrats who perhaps profit personally too well from their appointment. As a result all claims that it is better to influence from within than to leave proved unbelievable to a majority of the electorate and the EU must accept some responsibility for that and its failure to play anything but hard ball, a policy it appears to want to continue post the Brexit vote, is to my mind, a strategic error, or deserving of the overworked use of the word ‘arrogance’.

I would like to think that given the narrow win for Brexit, the EU and the British negotiating team might recognise now is the time to explore a constructive working relationship between the EU and the UK. Continuing with a binary approach surely has no place in a mature democratic debate. Big questions face the leaders both within the UK and across the remaining twenty seven members as well as the EU unelected officers. The initial comments from the latter are not encouraging and only further fuel anger across the UK and incite movements to leave throughout the remaining EU member nations.

As for Scotland, can the SNP really say that it is in everyone’s best interests to exploit the voting figures to push for another Independence Referendum? Now is surely the moment when a party that actually enjoys the trust of their supporters and has engaged a large electorate in the reality of politics, to act as an effective honest broker in a fractured relationship between the UK and EU. Why would any right minded political figure want to destabilise the world more completely? Time will reveal how self centred and self satisfied the Scottish nation and political establishment has become.

Obviously, little will change in real terms. Immigration will continue, and to paint Brexit as a xenophobic reaction is plain wrong. However, there is a need for a clearly understandable Immigration Policy, something successive UK governments have refused to grapple with. There are plenty of examples elsewhere in the world such as USA and Australia, but in both confusion and challenge will always surround such complex issues. Overall the issue in the UK is less about a refusal to offer hospitality to victims of war and terror, and far more about businesses exploiting migrant labour and driving wages down in the lowest paid sectors in our economy. No right minded person wants to support such exploitation, yet I guess many are guilty of purchasing from Amazon, whose employees speak clearly of the terrible employment conditions they experience. I would be thrilled if the indignation this Referendum has stirred up might act as a creative challenge to all of us so that we might invest our leisure time into campaigning and working for justice and peace, using our diverse skills and different resource levels to work on behalf of those marginalised through no fault of their own. This truly is a consequence of globalisation that requires compassionate engagement.

The Media has shown itself highly irresponsible in the way it has fuelled polarisation within the debate. The result can be laid at its feet, even though after the outcome it acts both surprised and unhappy uk_regionalisationat the outcome.

The good news is that we may now invite those who are sixteen to be enfranchised in any future UK wide election. It has woken those who’ve lost interest and trust in politicians to the power and purpose of politics, that is young people, and they must be offered critical roles throughout all our political institutions. Just looking at the Commission and much of the critical officers who manage our political life, they are grey haired and out of touch with emerging trends in culture. Time to move people out of public life earlier and create more opportunities for the young.

I am very optimistic regarding the future for the UK, Europe and the rest of the world. We are wrestling with the end of the Nation State, the battle to give up on an idea birthed in 800 and which we thought had ended in 1806. I speak of the Holy Roman Empire. Europe has been fascinated with being joined together for centuries, and maybe this is the last attempt at establishing this expression of a mega state. In fact, just as Scotland seeks independence so do the regions throughout the UK. It means the movement of power from the centre, London and Westminster, to elected, representative bodies in the regions. If the Referendum revealed anything it revealed the privileged position of London, other urban centres to a lesser degree, and then what have been allowed to become the wastelands of our historic industrial landscapes. Yet government seems to have no policy for addressing manufacture, engineering and industrial development.

So the future isn’t bleak. It may be uncertain, yet this is a great opportunity and let’s demonstrate international leadership in building a political, social and economic model that offers hope to all our children and grandchildren, gives the necessary ability to respond to fast changing global change without being saddled with a bureaucratic response. Its a time for belief not bitterness and recrimination.

cloud_unknowingWe had a wonderful retreat day  in pursuit of the Cloud of unknowing.

A journey of exploring those attachments that might unnecessarily tether us and leave us earthbound even as our Spirit within yearns to discover and explore more of the life of God. Attachments that are both positive, yet run  the danger of obscuring God, and also negative in that they deceive us and delay our movement deeper into God’s heart of grace and full acceptance.

We faced the questions that for so long had remained unexpressed, carried as a burden weighing us down, invisible to all but ourself and God. And then took time in silence to consider such attachments and found creative ways to respond to the degree we felt able to on the day, whilst carrying the insights away to continue our meditation in the days to come.

We each sensed a sobering sense of God’s immanence and, whilst we dared to face ourselves in the questions God presented, we equally experienced an increased sense of God’s acceptance and peace in that God accepted us questions and all.

As ever such a privilege to journey with others as we waited and watched before learning to walk with less of a limp.

Keep in touch, we are a community that offers hope and sustenance to one another in the Way.

Retreat Day with Dr Micha & Jayne Jazz May 25, 2016 @ The Wisdom Centre Romsey, 9:30-16:30 refreshments and lunch provided. All inclusive price £35.

Just a few places remain for this day retreat in Romsey Hampshire. We already have a group of twenty people booked to explore deepening their understanding of contemplative activism Please do let us know if this is a day that you might value.

We shall explore the whole area of attachment and detachment with the help of the text of Cloud of UnknowingScholars date the anonymous authorship of Cloud of Unknowing to 1375, during the height of European monasticism. Written as a primer for the young monastic, the work is instructional, but does not have an austere didactic tone. Rather, the work embraces the reader with a maternal call to grow closer to God through meditation and prayer.

Our day will begin with coffee from 9:30 and we shall make a formal start at 10:00. The day will be a combination of learning together and self discovery through directed, individual activities. The objective as ever is to take a step back from the busyness of life and  deepen your personal understanding and awareness of both God and self. The core theme in our time together will be to examine the relationship between contemplation and activism.
 
You do not need to have read the text of Cloud of Unknowing and I shall have copies in a modern translation available for purchase on the day if you think you might want to explore further in this wonderful contemplative fourteenth century text. Do however bring your own notebook and pen. Slides of the day will be circulated after the retreat as a PDF via email.
To book: Email stcuthbertsoratory@gmail.com.

What exactly is simples? I am in conversation with many individuals all of whom see that the answer to their stressful life lies in ‘simples’! By which they mean moving through a process to simplify life. I have a lot of empathy, yet everyone is starting from a different perspective as well as point upon the journey. I remember one time talking with a friend who was stressed in managing is portfolio of stocks and shares. My suggestion was sell the lot, remove the source of the stress. He looked as me as if I was mad. Perhaps the stress was in fact an essential component reminding him he was alive. I know not. Suffice to say over the next few postings I want to reflect upon the ‘simplicity’ agenda, as much for my own benefit as anyone else’s.

In mathematical terms I understand that to simplify something is to present it in its simplest terms. This can prove a struggle for a mathematician. Whilst life may not lend itself to mathematical simplicitysolutions.

What I hear as I converse with others is a desire to reduce the amount of pressure each of us feels in navigating our course through life. There are different seasons when distinct pressures apply uniquely, as when children first arrive and then at each stage of their development. Those first years struggling to meet mortgage payments relating to a house purchase, or to meet rents that seem to rise sharply every year. I am left wondering if it is in rearranging the externals that a simpler lifestyle is achieved or is it through a re-framing of how I engage with life, perceive myself and determine my aspirations? For me it is far more the latter than the former, then again I am somewhat mature in years.

Certainly from scripture my understanding is that it’s the lens through which we choose to peer at life that most forcibly impacts our reaction and resistance to circumstance. So I remain at the very heart of the challenge for a simpler life. My assumption is that much of the writings and musings  actually address actions we must take, itself often a further stressor as to do lists usually are, rather than a pathway to a more peaceable and therefore enriched and enjoyable life.

I want to explore the normal recommendations, including the large volume of literature that in some way simple means we contribute a vital service to our planet and humanity; no surprises that I feel a measure conflicted as to such a reality. The performance may in  fact be no more than an extra patch in my comfort quilt within which I wrap myself  in throughout my perennial search to find (or extract) some meaning and purpose for my life.

So simples it is and comments welcome as we engage with what has been a leading subject of discussion throughout my lifetime.

As you might expect, ‘Let’s Pray’ is a central pillar of our household together. Indeed as we enter a New Year, Jayne and I will be exploring both the involvement of imagination in prayer as well as, given her own struggles with chronic pain, the relationship between contemplative prayer and pain management. I am hoping to write about this journey as we go.

However, short and sweet, let’s pray today by joining in the following prayer.

‘Father, you established your ancient covenant by signs and wonders,

but more wondrously you confirmed the new covenant through the sacrifice of your Son.

Guide us as your church through the pathways of life,

that we may be led to the land of promise

and celebrate your name with lasting praise.

We recall, Lord, that all your ways are holy

and we desire to walk within them. Amen’

seeking

 

 

St Cuthbert’s is first and foremost a prayer house. We pray the rhythm of morning and evening prayer. We meditate with Lectio Divina. We contemplate with breath prayer and centring prayer. Indeed we also train people in the ways of prayer, meditation and contemplation. This latter through day retreats, longer journey’s of personal reflection and teaching points.

We receive many requests for prayer by email, letter and over the phone. Our pledge to hold someone in prayer for five consecutive days after which we pray as and when they come to mind. Today Premier phoned as a reader of Voice of Hope wanted to chat about a situation. I phoned back and spoke with Pauline, whose daughter, Sarah, has an MRI scan on Wednesday this week as the neurologists think she has Multiple Sclerosis. Pauline wanted to chat because of my own journey accompanying Katey through her battle with MS.

What comfort might I bring? It is a frightening consideration, and as with Katey whose mother also had MS, but of the remitting/relapsing type and lived a long life, so Pauline’s mother had also had MS. Whilst I don’t think it is officially listed as genetic, it does appear to run in families.Pray-Together

Listening to Pauline, her fears, her pain, her despair all stirred again within me. I empathised with her situation, more difficult as she suffered from fibromyalgia, constant pain throughout the body as well as severe fatigue. I sought to encourage and support her, whilst affirming as good her very human reactions. God knows us as God made us. We can never disappoint God – he knows us through and through. I also explained the journey ahead remains as yet unknown, so it is best not to imagine the future, especially ahead of any final diagnosis. We are to travel by faith, even as the very reality of our pain and despair ground us and suck all hope from our heart.

This is a journey we must make as community. Sadly too few churches it appears are capable of walking at the pace of their slowest, so keen are they to run ahead toward imagined future possibilities. God invites us to live well with what we have together, not to constantly be scanning the horizon for what lies ahead. Pauline, like so many in her situation, has a shrinking fellowship circle, unable to make church meetings that often and therefore increasingly isolated.

So in a spare moment pause and pray for Pauline and Sarah, together with Sarah’s husband Jeff. Also consider how many of the wounded are in your fellowship circle or have you, as I so often have, left them in your wake as you pursue God in the future at the expense of the Christ in your present?

candles

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