Thinking Again About Mental Health

Posted: May 17, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Last year we briefly considered mental health as part of our series on inclusion. We never expected or intended to cover everything we needed to know in a single evening, but rather we hoped to start a conversation in order to make clear that we want to be a safe space in which people can acknowledge and talk about their own mental health. Moving sentness to an evening slot was our first practical response, as it aimed to give more time and a more appropriate space for people to share in greater depth, including about their mental health if this was relevant.

It has taken a little time, but we are now coming back to the conversation, and we will be inviting in speakers with experience of working with people with mental health difficulties, in the hope that this may give us greater understanding and some more practical responses.

I am writing on this today partly to let you know where we are headed, and partly because this is Mental Health Awareness Week, and so there is lots on line and on social media at the moment. My expertise is limited to my own experience of depression and anxiety, which many of you will have heard about already, so for the moment I’m going to hand over to some other articles and resources that you may find interesting or helfpul.

Mental Health Awareness Week is an initiative of the Mental Health Foundation, so their website is a good place to start. Mind are alos good for information and support, and the Time to Change campaign aims to raise awareness and reduce stigma. CALM works specifically in the area of men’s mental health.

From a faith perspective, a number of Christian organisations have produced a Mental Health Access Pack with information about common conditions and practical advice on how to support people living with them. Inclusive Church have produced a Mental Health resource, which is currently in the possession of a member of revive whose identity eludes me.

Pray As You Go have produced a series of reflections for Mental Health Awareness Week. (Thanks to Emma for putting us on to this one!) We have used and recommended Pray as You Go in the past, so these may be well worth checking out.

Our very own Joelle is passionate about the role music can play in promoting good mental health, and Mind explains why. A number of us play as part of the West Leeds Music Centre, and these local music centres a great play to start (or restart!) engaging with music.

When I shared my own history of poor mental health last year, I suggested that we need a more nuanced understanding of healing which sees God in coping as well as in cure, and I also talked about the need to be a community of care and hold space in which it is safe to be vulnerable. I still hold all of that to be true, and I hope it may lay some of the foundations as we come to talk about mental health once more.

 

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Ignatian Roundup

Posted: May 3, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

This isn’t about some kind of spiritual weedkiller, but a chance to bring together all of the blogs from our series on Ignatian Spirituality.

We started with Ignatian Spirituality 101, a look at the life of Ignatius and some of the basic principles of spirituality in general and Ignatian spirituality in particular.

We then moved onto Ignatian Desire, or at least Ignatius’ ideas about desire and why we need to recognise and listen to our soul deep yearnings.

At the mid-way point and then again at the end of the series, we introduced some methods of Ignatian Prayer, which centre on contemplation and imagination and an openness to the Spirit.

Next we thought about Ignatian Living, specifically the principles of poverty and chastity and obedience, which have far more to offer than we may expect.

Finally we looked at Ignatian Discernment (and more!), the more including ideas about vocation and finding God in all things.

I’m sure I haven’t done Ignatian spirituality the justice it deserves, but I hope this has been an interesting exploration into a different tradition. I have been enormously blessed by my engagement with Ignatian spirituality over the past seven years, and I hope there may be some blessing in it for you.

If you want to dig deeper into this tradition, there are lots of resources online. The websites Ignatian Spirituality and God in All Things have lots to offer, and Pray As You Go and Reimagining the Examen offer apps which may help build a pattern of prayer. If you really want to get hardcroe with it, you might like to look into the Spiritual Exercises, which can be done as a thirty day retreat or a retreat in everyday life.

I leave you now with two prayers by Ignatius of Loyola, giving thanks for all that his rich prayer life has to teach us.

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Ignatian Discernment (and more!)

Posted: April 18, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

We have very nearly come to the end of our series on Ignatian Spirituality. We will have another chance to engage with some Ignatian styles of prayer this Sunday, but a week last Sunday we finished James Martin’s book The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything by looking at a couple of different ideas related to the core ideas of finding God in all things and being a contemplative in action.

These Ignatian principles suggest a holistic approach to life, in which we stop seeing the world as sharply divided into the sacred and the secular. That doesn’t mean that we won’t have times that feel holier than others, and it doesn’t deny the existence of thin places where we feel particularly spiritual. It means that we are open to God in all times and at all places. Neither does it mean that we must all perfect the practice of praying in every moment, or that there is no value in setting ourselves aside from work and distractions. It means that we create rhythms of stopping and returning that weave prayer and contemplation into our everyday.

 

We started with vocation, because this is something that encompasses all we are and do. We often speak of vocation in quite a narrow way, but it simply means the thing we are called to, and the truth is that we all have one of those. We are all called to serve God and one another in the best way we can, whether that is through work or hospitality or parenting or activism or anything else, and one of the things I have always loved about revive is the way we recognise and honour one another’s callings through sentness. 

We spent some time engaging with a short reflection on vocation, in which I asked you to think about what brings you pleasure, what your skills are, what God has prompted you to, and where those three things overlap. I will say again that I think that idea of overlap is really important. Our vocation may challenge us at times, but it will always contains moments of joy, it will always draw on the gifts we have been given, and it will always come from God. If you want to spend more time thinking about your own vocation, I got the idea for the meditation from an old blogpost here.

 

The idea of vocation also brought us to the idea of discernment, of how best to make good and godly decisions. This is somthing which is really important to Ignatian spirituality, and forms a large part of the experience of the Spiritual Exercises, but I didn’t say a huge amount about it as it is something which needs to be practiced rather than simply taught.

Ignatius talked about three types of decision making. A decision in the first time is when we have an immediate sense of certainty about what we should do. A decision in the second time is when we meditate on our choices and follow the one which brings greater spiritual consolation. And a decision in the third time is when we ask God to be in our thoughts and then weigh up our options to find the most rational choice. 

I think this approach is helpful because it reminds us that we won’t always have a lightning bolt moment, especially if we are trusted to choose from among our best options rather than being limited to a single good choice. It’s okay to use all our rational and emotional capabalities, and they are not contrary to listening to God because God can speak through them.

It’s worth saying here that Ignatius believed the process of decision making must begin with indifference, which he described as the freedom to approach each decision with a genuine openness. He also recognised that all outcomes have their drawbacks, and so making a decision means saying a wholehearted yes to the positives and the negatives. That may not feel particularly encouraging, but I think there is a relief in accepting that no decision will ever be perfect, because life isn’t perfect.

 

 

We very briefly touched on Martin’s ideas about a spirituality of work (or home or school or you fill in the blank). He talks about the importance of consistently finding time for God, finding time for silence and solitude, and living ethically.  We will all have our own ways of practising these things, but we have much to gain from sharing our experiences with one another, and so I hope to find a way of gathering our wisdom and ideas. Watch this space…

 

We ended the session with two final thoughts from the closing chapters of Martin’s book. The first was that God loves you but God also likes you. It may not seem a significant difference to some of you, but to me it says that God doesn’t just love me because he cannot do otherwise, he also likes me because he sees the good in me even when I don’t.

The second related to the final scene from Paris Je T’aime, which I have posted a link to below. It does not speak of spirituality or prayer, but it does expresses the sense of connection and aliveness which comes from finding God in all things. I really encourage you to take a few minutes to watch and enjoy it, and then think about a time when you have felt similarly, or ask how you may become more open to such moments.

The Gospel According to Us

Posted: April 18, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

On Sunday evening, we spent time sharing the ways in which the gospel has been good news for us. It’s not my place to share the stories that were told, but it was great to hear of encouragement and presence and fulfillment, of God helping us make sense of the world and assuring us that we are enough.

This time of sharing happened on what would normally be a sentness night. This was not just a filler because we didn’t have anyone to send, but something I have been wanting us to do for some time, because these stories are part of what we are sent into the world with. They are the good news we are called to share as much as the stories of Jesus are, because they turn history into testimony, and invite others to discover or recover their own good news stories.

So I encourage you to take time to think about how the good news of Christ has been good news for you, first to remember and celebrate all the blessings of a life of faith, and then to start thinking about how you might bless others with your story as part of your sending.

 

We also talked a little about how difficult it is to be good news in a world full of bad news, how hard it is to stay generous and loving and hopeful when people and events threaten to makes us angry and bitter and hateful.

I don’t have any ready answers to that, because it is something I really struggle with, but the more I read about nonviolent and creative resistance, the more convicted I am that this was the core of Jesus’ message and the heart of what it means to be people of good news. I’ll be exploring these ideas more in the near future, as this is the direction my dissertation has unexpectedly but blessedly led me in. I encourage you to explore them too, and perhaps we’ll talk later…

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Art of Lent – Love

Posted: April 1, 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.

 

Christ is risen. He is risen indeed. Alleluia!

It should be easy to talk about Easter. It is the heart of our faith after all. And yet it is still a profound mystery. One that I feel both compelled and unable to express.

I wrote last year that I found Easter difficult because I never feel like I am doing it properly. That I do not truly feel the despair of Friday or the confusion of Saturday or the joy of Sunday because I know the whole story from the start.

At the time I felt guilty about that, but after a week sat with the Ecocycle Laybrinth, I have made my peace with it. The cycle of life and death and resurrection that we see in the Easter story is unique, but it is also everyday. We go through that same cycle many times in our lives, often with numerous cycles in different places at the same time.

We live in Friday and Saturday and Sunday all at the same time, so no wonder it is confusing and perhaps even foolish to try to separate them out. It is good to have particular days of rememberance, but it is also okay to dwell in the whole story, to know that Christ is in the suffering and the waiting and the rejoicing, not by turn but always.

None of that is anything to do with this week’s art. In fact it is probably a distraction away from the fact that I don’t have much to say about this week’s art. The painting that struck me most was Craigie Aitchison’s ‘Crucifixion’, but I’m not sure I can or even want to say why.

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On second thoughts, perhaps what I said before does have something to do with it. The suffering of the cross is not denied, but it is also transcended by the light and the dove and the rainbow, and it may well be disturbed by whatever is growing beneath it. It is a confused and confusing image, and there is something reassuring about that.

This Easter I want to acknowledge the pain of Good Friday and the despair of Holy Saturday and the joy of Resurrection Sunday. Because Christ is in each of them with us, with solidarity and hope and celebration, but most of all with love.

Christ is with us. He is with us indeed. Alleluia!

Ignatian Living

Posted: March 28, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Last Sunday we went back to our exploration of Ignatian spirituality. We covered as much of James-Martin-the-priest-not-the-chef’s book in one evening as we had in the previous three sessions, and there was plenty more we could have said, but it was all held together by the idea of the simple life, which for Jesuits means accepting the disciplines of poverty and chastity and obedience.

Those words may cause a sinking feeling in the gut, but please don’t stop reading just yet, because I think there are great insights to be learned from the lives of religious communities like the Jesuits, and I think there are many blessings to be gained by incorporating elements of the disciplines they follow into our own lives.

 

Poverty

The Jesuits have, at various points throughout their history, been criticised for their accumulation of wealth, but that is a departure from the way of Ignatius. Pope Francis is a much better model, with his rejection of many of the finer things that come with the papacy.

Poverty was also part of my introduction to Ignatian spirituality, as I lived on the equivalent of benefits while part of the Jesuit Volunteer Community. I managed to put food on the table for the month, but as the project went on, I began to wonder what would happen if this was my everyday reality. What would I have to sacrifice if I wore through a pair of shoes or I wanted to buy a birthday gift for a friend? I wasn’t part of the project long enough to have to answer those questions, but it did provoke some interesting reflections.

In The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, James Martin says that taking a vow of poverty allows you to live simply, which makes it sound like a gift rather than a burden. He also notes that there is a difference between voluntary poverty and forced poverty, insisting that the former is not intended to romanticise or legitimise the latter, which is dehumanising and should always be worked against.

Speaking from his own experience of living in community, Martin says that poverty leads to a greater simplicity and unity. We do not live in community in the same way, and so we may not hold all things in common or be able to avoid clutter completely, but there may still be advantages to living a less material life.

Possessions take up time and energy, lead to comparisons with others, and start a never ending cycle of want. On the other hand, poverty can mean freedom from those things. It may alos be understood as an imitation of Christ and a way of standing in solidarity with those for whom poverty is not chosen, as well as increasing our sense of dependence on God.

Martin therefore calls us to practice sensible simplicity, moderate asceticism, healthy poverty. I think those moderating words are important, because this is not about making ourselves destitute. The Jesuits have homes and enough food, and they run schools and hospitals and refugee support programmes. All of those things require resources, so the kind of poverty the Jesuits are interested in is about using those resources wisely.

Martin proposes that we get rid of what we don’t need and be generous with it, encouraging us to really think about what it is that we truly cannot do without. I also think there is value in thinking about what leads us to consume as we do, because that self awareness can help us to challenge our habits.

When we broke into groups for discussion on Sunday night, a few of us expressed some concern about what all of this meant for those things which bring great pleasure but are not strictly necessary. I think we have emotional and spiritual and social needs as well as physical needs, and so there can be a place for beauty and creativity within this kind of poverty.

 

Chastity

Ignatius had little to say on this one, as he believed that it was most perfectly practiced as an imitation of the angels, and that was all there was to it. Martin affirms the value of celibacy for those who are called to it, saying that it brings freedom to devote oneself to others in a way that is impossible if there is a primary commitment to a family, and serves a reminder that romantic and familial love are not only loves which give meaning and fullness to life, but takes a more generous view on chastity.

We often think of celibacy and chastity as being interchangeable, but whereas celibacy has always referred specifically to abstaining from romantic or sexual relationships, chastity originally had the sense of being in a state of moral purity. To conflate the two is to assume that only abstinence is pure, but that’s not how Martin understands it.

Martin talks about chastity as “proper and loving use of our sexuality”, which for him means refraining from sex, but for someone else may mean a full and exciting sex life with someone they love deeply. He also talks about it as the call to “love as many people as deeply as possible”, and that is certainly for all of us to hear. 

A couple of blogposts ago I shared the spoken word piece performed at Kate Wharton’s BeLoved ceremony, at which she made vows of singleness. I particularly like the following lines, which speak of an openness to the other, a passionate chastity I think we can all aspire to, single or married or other.

He instills in us a bigger heart, a wider stretch for welcome arms, 
And in him we are home and make home, finding peace where we are, 
Yet we call in one more to find hope in the dark, 
Giving away the gift of belonging, 
Knowing family is an open invite to the upside-down kingdom 
And we won’t quit, we won’t build walls, we won’t close down or grip tight, 
We pray keep this heart soft and strong, help me shine out your light 
So like neon signs in clouded skies the call of God will shine “You are beloved, be loved.” 
This discussion really seemed to strike a chord on Sunday night, with a real enthusiasm for affirming the love and joy that may be found outside of the married-with-kids model that society and the church have traditionally been so keen to press people into. This may be something we come back to…

Obedience

This is where things really start to get tricky between me and Ignatius, as he believed in maintaing a strict hierarchy within the order, but that is the antithesis of the Baptist ecclesiology I so fiercely believe in. I think we are called to practice mutual obedience, inviting and submitting to one another. It is hard but keeps us humble and considerate.

So much for obedience in the church, but of course there other areas of life where we are required to be obedient without that same mutuality. Martin calls us to accept such authority with grace, but that does not rule out challenge, as proved by Daniel Berrigan, the Jesuit priest whose opposition to the Vietnam War landed him on the FBI’s most wanted list. Perhaps we must discern whether acceptance or challenge is the better witness in each case.

Martin also talks about obedience to God as a surrendering to him, even when we are suffering. When some of us gathered to pray in a difficult time a couple of weeks ago, I kept thinking of the passage in John where Jesus asks his disciples if they want to leave him, and Peter answers “To whom would we go? You have the words of eternal life”. Even if we go to God with questions and rage and confusion, it is to God that we must go. There is something uncomfortable about calling that obedience, but there is certainly a sense of God being the one we always return to.

Obedience to God also means a willingness to adventure, although that does not mean giving up our entire freedom. When Thomas Oord was with us he talked about choosing from among the best options available to us, emphasising that God does not give us a single right path. Again, obedience doesn’t feel like the right word, but there is a leaning into God for wisdom.

The Methodist Covenant Prayer says Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will; put me to doing, put me to suffering; let me be employed for you, or laid aside for you, exalted for you, or brought low for you; let me be full, let me be empty, let me have all things, let me have nothing: I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal”. It is a radical declaration of obedience, but I think there is someting liberating in that willingness to accept whatever comes our way.

 

So there is a very brief introduction to the disciplines of poverty and chastity and obedience. I offer these thoughts to you, and encourage you to think about where the blessings might be for you, and how you might incorporate them into your own lives.

 

Art of Lent – Confidence

Posted: March 27, 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 have to be honest and confess that I missed last week entirely, although that was largely because I spend half the week working towards an art installation and half the week on retreat, so thematically I was doing okay.

I have now caught up, but to further add to the failure of this blog post, I cannot find an image of the painting I liked the best, which was Seaside Residence II  by Pia Stern. It is an abstract image of a house standing firm against the waves which seem to crash against it, confident that it will withstand and endure.

Sister Wendy says “Stern shows us two ways of being: the physical, answerable only to accident, to wind and tide; and the spiritual, answerable to inward truth. One is free-flowing; the other is fixed, confident, grounded in more than its own small compass – in God.”

I’m not sure that I want to say that life in God is fixed as opposed to free-flowing – with my calling to the church meaning two moves in three years, life with God feels pretty fluid, and there is great joy in that – but there is a sense of having my feet planted somewhere firm even as that somewhere moves.

 

I mentioned at the start of this blog post that I have been involved with the creation of an art installation, Ecocycle Labyrinth at Left Bank Leeds. The ecocycle seeks to represent the natural phases and rhythms of life and nature, from birth through maturity to death and on to possibility, and it has been envisioned as a labyrinth to encourage reflection on and engagement with its themes. I think it speaks to this idea of confidence, as seeing the whole of the cycle allows us to keep looking forward to the hope of renewal, a hope that for me is grounded in the way we see the cycle of life-death-resurrection in the Easter story. If you are around Leeds this week, do try and experience it.

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