Archive for February, 2018

Ignatian Prayer

Posted: February 27, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

On Sunday night, we spent our time together in prayer and worship, as an offering to God and a gift to ourselves, and I laid out a number of prayer stations based on Ignatian practices. These forms of prayer were the aspects of Ignatian spirituality I most wanted to share but least wanted to teach, as they can only be learnt and appreciated through engaging with them, so here I will once again offer them quite simply.

Sunday was a beautiful coming together of charismatic and contemplative styles, but these styles of prayer are often practiced individually and in a place of quiet calm. It may be that music and community help bring you into a place of encounter, but you may also like to try making time for silence and stillness.

 

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Thinking About Prayer

This first bit isn’t actually an Ignatian practice, but a way into thinking about prayer. On Sunday, the first station featured some thoughts about what it is to pray, and a few of us decorated and annotated them, as you can see above. Rather than simply posting the quotes into the blog, I will share them here, so that you can decorate them for yourselves if you find that to the a helpful meditative practice. Whether you colour them or simply contemplate them, I invite you to reflect on the ideas and on your own understanding of prayer.

First Method

This is a form of confession, as a preparation for further prayer. It takes the form of a contemplation of the Ten Commandments (although I think you could also use the double love commandment) in which you ask when you have failed to keep God’s commands and seek forgiveness. In case that sounds a little too Catholic, I do believe that this kind of practice is important. It’s not about drowning ourselves in guilt but opening ourselves to grace. One way of making this process a little more active and visual is to drop a vitamin tablet into a bowl of water, and seeing the tablet melting into the water as an image of all you have confessed melting into God’s love.

Examen

This is a way of reviewing the day in attitude of prayer. There are many variations on a theme, but the essence is to consciously place yourself in God’s presence and look back over the day, asking the Spirit to guide your thoughts to those moments it is most important for you to remember, then respond to those memories with thanksgiving or apology or promise or whatever else seems most appropriate.  It can help us to discover what our Ignatian guide James Martin calls our beautiful yesterdays, and if we make it a regular practice, it can develop habits of listening to the voice of God and being alert to the presence of God. Here is a five minute guided examen, which is a great way to get started.

Lectio Divina

This is a way of reading scripture in a spirit of discernment, holding the text lightly and with an openness to what God may want to say through it. Here is a general guide to using lectio divina and some guided readings of particular passages. I have always been taught the final step as contemplation, which is what you will see in the guides, but Martin talks instead of action. As a Jesuit who speaks of being a contemplative in action, it is perhaps natural that the two should go together for him, and I encourage you to think on what your contemplation may lead you to do.

Imaginative Contemplation

This is a way of imagining yourself into a story from scripture, to learn through the senses and emotions as well as the intellect. You may remember that it was imagining himself as a great hero of the faith that inspired Ignatius on his sick bed, and so this kind of imaginative practice was really important for him. I have posted written contemplations on the blog before, and you can find them here, here and here. There’s no need to use them though. Simply read a gospel story, create the scene in your head by thinking about what you would see and hear and smell if you where there, then let the events unfold in your imagination, paying attention to how you would react, and finally take time to approach Jesus and talk with him.

 

 

If you want to find out more about Ignatian practices, this website is a great resource. And Pray as You Go and Sacred Space both offer short daily online meditations, which can be a great way to develop a rhythm of contemplative prayer.

 

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Art of Lent – Silence

Posted: February 25, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

This Lent I am using Sister Wendy Beckett’s ‘The Art of Lent’ as my daily devotional. Each day offers a work of art and a short thought. Each Sunday I will share what has struck me most during the week.

 

The images that struck me most this week were a couple of abstract paintings, Rebecca Salter’s Untitled H30 and Yuko Shiraishi’s Three Greys. I couldn’t find either of them online, but if you google the artists you will find similar work. They are both composed of different shades of grey, and it would be easy to walk past them as dull and interesting if you saw them hanging in a gallery, but if you really pay attention, they draw you in to discover their subtleties, until you could find yourself quite lost in them. In that sense they are quite pefect visualisations of silence.

However, the reflection that struck me most was inspired by Pieter Bruegel the Elder’s The Tower of Babel, which is of course based on the story from Genesis 10, in which God confuses the language of the people of the earth, leading to a cacophony of noise which is the very antithesis of silence.

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Sister Wendy says that “what silence primarily armours us against is Babel, the endless foolish chatter, words used to confound thought, words misused to ward off friendship or attachments, words as occupation”. I like the idea that silence does not just bless us while we rest in it, but strengthens us against the loundness and brashness and busyness of the world we must enter into everyday. It reminds me of the absolute necessity of nourishing and sustaining myself with silence.

Art of Lent – Preparation

Posted: February 25, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

This Lent I am using Sister Wendy Beckett’s ‘The Art of Lent’ as my daily devotional. Each day offers a work of art and a short thought. Each Sunday I will share what has struck me most during the week.

***I originally managed to create this as a page rather than a blog entry, hence it being reposted on the blog a week late***

 

These first few days having really been about preparation, with a weekly theme beginning on each Sunday of Lent. The first theme is silence, but we will get to that next Sunday, at the end of the week.

The reflection that struck me most came right at the start, on Ash Wednesday, accompanying Katsushika Hokusai’s painting ‘The Great Wave’.

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Sister Wendy spoke of the wave as an image of the unpredictability and uncontrollability of life. “Risk is a human constant; it has to be accepted – and laid aside. What we can do, we do. Beyond that, we endure, our endurance framed by a sense of what matters most.”

It sounds fatalistic, but it is also liberating. We can only do as much as we can, so there is no point in worrying about what we can’t. Preparation can be as much about acceptance as action. If we cannot ride the wave, we must simply hold our breath and wait for it to pass.

Ignatian Desire

Posted: February 21, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

In the story of Blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52), Jesus is leaving Jericho when a blind man sat by the side of the road calls out to him. Those around him try to shut him up, but Jesus hears him and calls for him. Jesus asks him what he wants, to which he replies that he wishes to receive his sight. Jesus tells him that his faith has made him well, and the man is immediately able to see.

It is one of many healing stories in the Bible, each one a wonder but each one unique. The healing of Bartimaeus is interesting because Jesus first asks him what he wants, even though it feels like it should be obvious. We talked on Sunday about why that may be. Perhaps there was something significant in the man examining himself and naming his desire. Perhaps it is a sign that Jesus respects our desires rather than simply enforcing his own. Perhaps it is a recognition that physical healing is not always what people desire most.

Whatever the case, it is an interesting way in to thinking about a particular aspect of Ignatian spirituality, because Ignatius had much to say about the importance of desire. It is a word that is often held in low esteem in Christian circles, perhaps as the church has at times fallen into seeing a dichotomy between body and spirit, assuming desire to belong purely to former, and therefore to that which is weak and imperfect.

I’m not sure that sort of dualism is right or helpful. Of course there are physical and mental and emotional and spiritual aspects to our lives, but as we are called to love God with body and mind and heart and soul, I believe they are meant to exist as part of a totality, and we should not draw hard lines between them. And as for the body being seen in wholly negative terms, I believe the incarnation shows that God takes our bodily experience seriously, and with the amount of feasting he did, I expect Jesus rather enjoyed his physicality at times.

Desires can certainly be physical, but that doesn’t necessarily make them bad. Surely is depends on how they are expressed and the fruit that they bear. And desires do not only belong to the body, but also to the mind and heart and soul. Ignatius believed that our deepest desires shape who we are and what we do, that desire can be deeply spiritual and one of the most important ways in which God communicates with us

And yet with all the baggage it carries, it may be easier to redeem the idea of desire than the word itself. We also spoke on Sunday night of “soul deep yearnings”, and we heard shortly after our meeting that the Halls had just heard a preacher speak of “that which we cannot not do”. Whatever language you choose to use, I invite you to reflect on the things that God has planted deep within you, the things that inspire and excite you, that bring light and life even if they also exhaust or frustrate you.

The Jesuit poet Pedro Arrupe touches on some of these ideas in his poem about falling in love, and so it may help for you to meditate on these words, asking what has seized your imagination or amazed you with joy and gratitude. 

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James Martin (the priest not the chef!) talks about finding our desires in moments of longing, or connection, or clarity, or exultation, or vulnerability. They may be things that have been with us from childhood, or they may catch us unawares just when we think we know who we are and where we are headed. We can’t predict them or control them, we can only be open to recognising them and chasing them.

Ultimately, Ignatius said that “our one desire and our only choice should be this: I want and choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me”. Our truest desires are therefore those that draw us closer into relationship with God. Hopefully they are the things you have fallen in love with, but if not you may need to spend some time in prayer and perhaps in conversation with someone you trust, seeking to unpick why it is that the things you love are not leading you to God, and reflect on how you might change that

Perhaps we could look at it another way. Eric Liddell, of Chariots of Fire fame, said that when he ran he felt God’s pleasure. Running was one of his deepest desires because it deepened the life of God in him, and he knew that because he felt God’s approval and delight. It’s not just about what brings us pleasure but about what makes us feel God’s pleasure.

Which brings us to a final thought. Recognising our desires for God means also recognising God’s desire for us . Again and again the scriptures show God meeting people where they are – Hannah weeping for the child she fears will never be, Job covered in sores and raging against the unfairness of it all, Jonah in the belly of a whale, the Samaritan woman drawing water in the middle of the day because she has been ostracised by her community, Saul on the road to further persecution – because that is his one desire and only choice.

Some of the sweetest moments of exaltation I have known have been when I have been overwhelmed by a sense of God’s love, and it has nearly burst my heart with a desire to love better. Because this is the digital age, I turned to facebook after one of these moments, and so I will leave you with what I wrote in an attempt to capture that feeling, and invite you to reflect on your own experience of God’s love.

I have been trying to describe to myself what it feels like to experience the presence of God, and I had the most profound sense of it being like looking at someone you love and seeing their love for you written across their face as plain as day. Like the surge of joy that comes when their heart speaks to yours, and you understand how truly and deeply you are loved and wanted. Like knowing in every moment and every atom of your being that they love you, but just for a moment that love filling you so that it is the only thing that matters. Sometimes God’s presence is the most perfect sense of calm, and sometimes it is energy coursing through you like electricity. Sometimes it is a sense of things falling into place, and sometimes it is a righteous fury against all that is still wrong in the world. But just sometimes it is all the love in the world being lavished on you by the one who knows you best and loves you all the same.

Training for Easter

Posted: February 13, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

I’m about to eat my own body weight in pancakes, which can only mean that Lent begins tomorrow. It’s a strange time and I’m not sure I’ve ever properly got my head around it, but I still keep trying.

Rev Sally Hitchener recently described it like this on Twitter: “The idea of Lent is that Easter is so mind-blowing that to hope to engage with it we need to get in training. So we make space for God by six weeks of forgiving, saying sorry, reading the Bible, caring for and standing with those in need, fasting and praying.”

With that in mind, here are some resources that I hope might help you train for Easter. Many of them will be familiar from previous Lents and from last Advent, but I would love to add in some new ideas, so please do share anything you have found.

40 thoughts and 40acts will both be going again this year, if you want some daily inspiration.

Leeds Lent Prayer Diary will be posting the focus for prayer each day, so you can keep up with it online if you haven’t yet got your hands on a paper copy.

Illustrated Children’s Ministry provide creative materials which can be downloaded and printed.

Si Smith’s imagining of Jesus in the wilderness can be downloaded here, and Ian Adams’ Lent reflections around the idea of temptation (which Sue read from on Sunday) can be found here.

Pray as You Go and Sacred Space have created a Lent Retreat, if you want to take this time to explore more of the kind of contemplative prayer we are looking at together this term.

And I will be using The Art of Lent by Sister Wendy Beckett as a Lent devotional, and blogging a reflection on one or more of the week’s paintings each Sunday.

May something in there, or something completely different or totally unexpected, bless you this Lent.

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