Posts Tagged With: Ignatian Spirituality

Finding Iggy: Going to the Frontiers

Love deed IgnatiusDear Pope Francis,

Happy feast day!

I’ve been following lots of the social media updates on Twitter and Facebook about the Feast of St. Ignatius. There have been lots of cool quotes, well wishes to the Jesuits, and funny pictures with the cartoon Iggy to celebrate St. Ignatius’ legacy and the contributions of the order he founded.

What has been popping up for me all day is Ignatius’ idea of being sent to the frontiers; going to those places where other people either can’t go or don’t want to go. The frontier may be a literal place, like a remote mission territory. It could be working with a marginalized population in a very populated city. It could even be spending time with a single person who is feeling like they are at the edge of society.

I’m thrilled to see social media feeds full of pictures and thoughts about spiritual things, especially when they have to do with such a cool saint, but being called to the frontiers issues me a challenge.

I am challenged to go beyond myself, and the safety of posting my thoughts and reflections online. I am challenged to go, to act, to do something to serve my neighbour. One of the quotes floating around today illustrates this: “Love ought to show itself in deeds more than words.” Being called to frontiers, wherever that may be, is to be done with love, and that requires actions. Tangible things that, with God’s grace, I do to share the Gospel with the people around me, even if I don’t explicit talk about Jesus-stuff.

At its heart, this is about following St. Ignatius’ oft quoted maxim: find God in all things. In order to go to the frontiers, in order to serve people or situations with love, I need to genuinely believe that God is there. I need to be willing to find the grace in the hardest moments, and open myself up to allow God’s love to flow through me.

And I can’t think of a better way to celebrate the spiritual contributions of St. Ignatius all year round!

Embracing my inner Iggy,

Lauren

Go Forth Ignatius

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Using my Imagination

Dear Pope Francis,

I was recently cleaning out some of the files on my computer, and I stumbled across some documents that I had written before beginning my M.Div. With school starting today, it seemed like an appropriate time to read through them.

What I found was something that I had forgotten all about. It was a ‘day in my life’, written before I had even moved to Toronto. I had used my vivid imagination to ‘watch’ a day in my life as an M.Div. student. The day I described was towards that end of my third year, I was living with two roommates, whom I got along with. I was busy with school and extracurricular activities. Most of it was described in great detail, but definitely imaginative as time has shown that some of the details are inaccurate (such as I have one roommate, not two).

I used this ‘day in my life’ trick before, notably before beginning every year of my undergrad. It helps me to create a concrete image of what I want for my life at the end of a particular time period or endeavour. Even when the details don’t match up exactly, I still find the whole process helpful, because it usually gives me some ideals to shoot for. In this case, it was that I would be involved, as I have always been, but that I would be striking a healthy balance, which I struggle with. I would feel settled where I was, but, after having a (mostly) good time doing my M.Div., I would be ready to look ahead to the next adventure.

I’ve seen this kind of imaginative technique used in other situations, like self-help books, weight loss programs and people expounding the power of positive thinking. Even Ignatian spirituality encourages the use of imagination to place yourself into a Gospel passage, allowing the text to speak to you based on how you insert yourself into the scene.

In some ways, this is another way that we can allow ourselves to become like little children again, which Jesus suggests is important in the life of disciples. Imagination is so often written off as something childish, something which everyone eventually grows out of. Yes, I have grown out of having imaginary friends, but imagination continues to help me connect with where I want to go by creating that reality as vividly as I can before it begins.

Certainly, there are limits to this method; we can’t simply imagine world peace into existence. Maybe it can help us to see new ways we can help bring it about in our own lives by imagining what living peacefully concretely looks like in our own corner of the world. Maybe it helps someone get through a hard time, or empathize by walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Or maybe it allows us to sink in and really connect with a Gospel story that we’ve hear many times before so that it challenges us in a new way.

Another limit, especially when using imagination as I used it before starting my M. Div., is how to know if what we imagine the future to look like is even remotely what God’s plan is. Again, it comes back to those big ideas in the image, rather than the minute details. As I discern, part of the answer often comes as these imaginings, so I have a sense that I will be busy, but what exactly keeps me busy, I don’t know. As I find consolation in the day-to-day discernment, those big concept ideas begin to take shape, even if the concrete image I had isn’t exactly the same as the reality.

If you’re looking for something different in your prayer life, perhaps try the Ignatian practice of inserting yourself into the scripture. Or if you need a little boost of motivation, try picturing what life could be like after you accomplish the goal you’re working on. It might just be the dose of child-like energy we need.

Going to my imagination place,

Lauren

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Looking too Far Ahead

Dear Pope Francis,

First Day of School

All set for school!

It’s happening! It’s the end of July, and I’m ready for it to be fall. While, I am really excited to travelling home today, and wouldn’t want to wish the month of August away entirely, fall is definitely on my mind. It has a little bit to do with the fact that the weather has been fall-like here in Toronto the last couple of days, and that I’ve been scrambling to research for papers I need to write while I’m home (summer courses are a great idea, until there are papers to write…)

I am always the person who gets excited for the new thing. When it’s summer, I can’t wait for fall, and when it’s fall, I can’t wait for winter. When I’m on the East Coast, I look forward to going back to Toronto, and when I’m in Toronto, I can’t wait to go east. To some degree, I love living my life this way, because there is always something to look forward to. Sometimes, I run the risk of wishing away things when I’m bored with them (like every summer break for twelve plus years). When I start wishing things away, I have a much harder time enjoying them for what they are.

In addition to looking forward to the next thing, I love countdowns. At one point in May, I had four countdowns happening, one for my sister’s visit, one for Meredith’s first Toronto visit, one for another friend’s visit, and one for my trip in June. I will countdown how many assignments I have left to pass in at the end of the semester (three before September), how many courses I have left until I finish my M.Div. (seven), and just about anything else that seems relevant in my life (the next installment of my favourite book series, perhaps…). Thankfully, I have never had a countdown until I could start counting down (I don’t personally know anyone who has done this, but I believe someone, somewhere has!).

But all of this looking forward, off into the distance, stops me from looking at the ground right in front of me.

I know when I go for a walk, I’m supposed to walk with my head up to keep good posture, but sometimes, I need to watch the ground right in front of me because there are things on the sidewalk that could trip me (or maybe I’m just kicking a stone along and I need to see where it went). Looking at the ground right in front of me, while preventing an immediate fall, doesn’t give me a very good sense of direction, and doesn’t mean that I will notice when I’m about to run into a pole. So, I need to be able to do both, watch the ground and keep half an eye out for the general direction that I’m heading.

Cracks in the Sidewalk

Don’t trip!

I use discernment to help me keep a general direction. Movements of consolation or desolation help me to acknowledge where it is safe to walk, and when there are poles that I need to avoid. Sometimes they also tell me when I need to wait for something, like waiting for the cars before I cross the street. I will ultimately get to where I need to go, but I need some patience first.  In real life These safe places, poles and crosswalks, could be things like knowing that I to go home for a bit, or knowing that taking a certain job isn’t the right fit, or waiting out a tough time. Having a sense of the general direction that I’m going, allows me to recognize the smaller things that might trip me up, all the curbs, rocks and cracks in the sidewalk. I can avoid them, while keeping my general direction.

I think it’s been safe to say that there’s been lots of discernment for both Meredith and I in the last few months. I have definitely tripped up a little bit in the process, but as with anything else, I get up, dust myself off, and try to avoid running into the same pole or tripping over the same curb in the future.

 

Going for a discernment walk,

Lauren

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It’s like Night and Day

Dear Pope Francis,
Last Wednesday Hopes and dreams I shared my struggles to let go so that God can do his work in my life. Since then, Pope Francis, I’ve been thinking about one of your tweets from last fall: “Dear young people, you have many plans and dreams for the future. But is Christ at the center of each of your plans and dreams?” (October 5, 2013). Thinking about this quote, and a few conversations that I’ve had with people in the last couple of weeks has helped me to realize that Christ has certainly not been at the centre of my immediate goals and dreams. It’s more like I’ve been actively resisting God’s plan, and keeping Christ as far away as possible from my hopes and dreams.

St. Ignatius of Loyola wrote about experiencing the movement of the Spirit in two ways: consolation and desolation. Part of the Ignatian spiritual practice is to discern these experiences. In thinking about the tweet and talking to a few different people, I realized that there have been a couple of different things happening internally. One is definitely that I’ve been experiencing desolation, a time where, no matter what I do, I struggle to feel God’s presence. It’s not that God has abandoned me, but that I am not quite on the same wave length as God – resisting God’s plan.

However, not everything can be chalked up to desolation in my case. I also realize that I need some serious self-care. I am experiencing serious burn out, the kind that isn’t going to be solved by taking a weekend, or even a week, off. I just finished a big school year, with lots of work, stress and joy (not to mention an intense trip). In the last year, there has also been some hard personal stuff, like my dog being put down while I was away at school. As I’ve been reminded a few times, next year is another big year. I’m the student council president, and entering my third year, which means I start preparing for my M.Div. Comprehensive Exam, which includes a paper and oral exam. I won’t be able to fully engage in the new school year, with its joys and struggles, unless I’ve taken care of myself by processing and recuperating from the last year.

Finally accepting that I am experiencing desolation and burnout allows me to do two things. One, it allows me better acknowledge what I’ve been feeling. For instance, not feeling joy and excitement about LTP does not mean that I’m bored with it, or that God wants me to move away from it. Rather, it’s a sign that while LTP is an awesome thing, I also need to take care of me. The second thing acceptance allows me to do is take steps to take care of myself and heal. This time, it means going home to the East Coast for much longer than I originally planned.

Day_And_NightIn finally acknowledging what is actually going on, and taking helpful steps, I have realized that this is where God has been calling me; now Christ is at the centre of my hopes and dreams. Knowing this is like the difference between night and day. When I resisting God, and trying to make my summer plans work, I felt anxious, tense and very dark. As soon as I acknowledged what I was actually feeling, in the process letting God in, and booked the flights to go home, I felt the weight lift, and I felt hopeful for the first time in a while.

This solution isn’t perfect, I don’t have a job at home either, but maybe, this summer isn’t about working. I don’t want to put words in God’s mouth, but maybe, just maybe, this summer is about healing and processing everything that’s happened this year, and the only way for me to truly do that is to go back to my roots and soak in the nourishment that I can only get from there.
Who knows? The one thing I have learned is that God works in the craziest ways. I’ve learned to hang on and enjoy the ride.

Finally seeing the sunshine,
Lauren

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Discernment: Am I Waiting or Doing?

Dear Pope Francis,

I have been noticing a distinct trend in my conversations with people and many of the posts on LTP lately: discernment keeps popping up. Discernment is a bit of a buzz word right now; it seems like everyone is using it! I shouldn’t be surprised by this, since discernment is a big component of Ignatian spirituality (which is a big part of my prayer life and time at school), and many of my friends are trying to sort out their next steps. They are seeking to do God’s will as they go forward with their lives.

Using discernment as a buzz word poses a big challenge for me because I fall into the trap of using it as an excuse to not do anything. I have discerned decisions before and in that process God gave me affirmation by providing what I needed to make the transitions and lots of consolation when I needed it most – He gave me a lot of very clear yeses. However, as I wrote before, God has been giving me (and Meredith too) lots of no’s recently. Given these no’s, my instinct is to retreat, thinking: well, God’s not calling me there, so I guess I’d better sit and wait Waitingpatiently until He tells me what’s next. But that’s not necessarily the answer.

Each discernment process is different, presenting its own challenges and difficult parts. Perhaps most importantly, it requires ongoing work. In earlier times of discernment, I was anxious and impatient as I waited for God’s answer. I wanted to know exactly what he wanted from me, so that I could jump right in and do it. This time, I’m having the opposite problem, I’m having a difficult time figuring out what to do, although I have a very clear sense that I need to do something. Instead of eagerly trying things out, I’m waiting (…and waiting) for God to deliver the answer on a silver platter.

This time, my discernment has led me to re-evaluating my priorities and goals, and trying to sort out my own next steps. Not surprisingly, this requires me to make some changes, like letting go of some activities that aren’t life-giving any more, or trying to be flexible with the changes that are happening in my life. Not surprisingly making these changes also requires some work: I need to talk to some people about scaling back my involvement, or looking for different ways to spend my time which are life-giving. This has involved meeting people, and learning new things, which, even though I love these things, is work. Even though I know that I need to do it, I would much rather hide behind my ‘discernment process’ and wait for God to deliver.

But hiding and waiting isn’t helpful this time; in fact they are almost as treacherous as my yes, but…” statements. Instead of activecountering my urge to rush into action with patience, I need to channel even a spark of that enthusiasm I had so that I can get moving. It’s not that my earlier discernment process was wrong; it’s just that I need something different in this discernment process. This time, I’ve got the waiting part down, it’s the doing part that I’m struggling with. Instead of just talking about discernment, it’s time to start doing something about what I’m discovering, especially since I would much rather sit and wait.

 

Starting to move,

Lauren

 

Prayer for Fervour in Thinking of God

O Lord, give us a mind that is humble, quiet, peaceable, patient and charitable, and a taste of your Holy Spirit in all our thoughts, words, and deeds.

O Lord, give us a lively faith, a firm hope, a fervant charity, a love of you.

Take from us all lukewarmness in meditation and all dullness in prayer. Give us fervor and delight in thinking of you, your grace, and your tender compassion toward us.

Give us, good Lord, the grace to work for the things we pray for.

-St. Thomas More

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