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People tend to have a single metric by which they think everyone should be measured. That metric tends to include things like going to a good school, getting good grades, getting jobs in the categories we deem to be “important” ones, excelling in activities on our list of “the right” activities.

The problem with that is that it leads to comparative judgements of other people that can be very harmful. When we have a single metric, the conclusion that A is not as strong as B on the metric (e.g. A was not a good student or didn’t go to college) too easily leads to A is not as valuable as B. B is somehow “better” than A. Sadly, we give no thought to the effect of those evaluations on the the people who come up short on the metric – particularly when those judgments are made about young people.

Single metric evaluation fails to recognize that we each have different gifts and each of our tasks is to identify our gifts and use them to the best our ability. My gift is not “better” or “worse” than someone else’s gift; we are all parts of one Body and everyone’s gifts have a part to play in furthering God’s plan.

If we are tempted to focus on others, we could use that temptation in positive ways. Often we can be of enormous aid in helping other people to recognize their gifts, and, when we have the opportunity, helping them to develop those gifts. That would be a whole lot more productive and loving than focusing on people’s failure to satisfy our metric.

I returned early from my retreat (about which I may write more as I continue to process the experience), hence my posting a day earlier than I had anticipated when I left.

This retreat was advertised as “a retreat experience in Christian Insight Meditation.” During one of the afternoons, one of the retreat leaders introduced a Loving Kindness Meditation, something I had practiced in a different form during the years I was a Buddhist (and a different version of which I present in adapted form in my book Growing in Love and Wisdom).

The practice begins with the self, based on the understanding that one has to develop loving kindness toward oneself before one can develop it toward others. So first one prays for oneself: May I be healthy…May I be peaceful…May I be safe…May I take care of myself easily. (The latter is a wish to have one’s daily needs easily met.) This is repeated many times.

Then, after some time, one visualizes another person – perhaps a family member or friend – or a group of people and prays: May she/they be healthy…May she/they be peaceful…May she/they be safe…May she/they take care of herself easily. Again this is repeated many times. Then after a time, one makes the same wishes for all beings.

I was stopped in my tracks as soon as I began the practice. I simply could not enunciate these wishes for myself. It had nothing to do with any difficulty of self love and everything to do with the depth of my Ignatian spirituality. Before I even got the words out, I felt their deep inconsistency with Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, the last lines of which express that

as far as we are concerned, we should not want health more than illness, wealth more than poverty, fame more than disgrace, a long life more than a short one, and similarly for all the rest, but we should desire and choose only what helps us more towards the end for which we are created.

I suppose I could say that if I am healthy, I am better able to engage in my ministry. But perhaps in illness there is something deeper I would learn, something deeper I would pass on to others. Likewise, the fact that I don’t have to spend two hours a day fetching water and can simply turn on a tap to wash myself gives me more time to do God’s work. But perhaps God would touch me more deeply in that walk for water than anywhere else. Ignatius’ point is that everything can be a means of “God’s deepening his life in me” (to use David Fleming’s translation of the last line of the Principle and Foundation). And that is all that I wish for.

It took me a little more time to sort out my feelings about praying this for others. Certainly when a family member or friend is sick I pray for their healing. And I pray for the safety of those in war-torn countries. But at the deepest level, my wish for others is no different than my wish for myself – that they experience whatever will bring them closer to God, whether that be something we label good or bad, positive or negative.

So I could not pray the Loving Kindness Meditation as it was taught. What I can wish for myself and others is this:

May I know God’s love.
May I be an instrument of God’s love to all I meet.
May I have the peace of Christ (which may not always feel like peace).
May I be an instrument of Christ’s peace.
May whatever I experience bring me closer to God and my brothers and sisters.

May you know God’s love.
May you be an instrument of God’s love to all you meet.
May you have the peace of Christ.
May you be an instrument of Christ’s peace.
May whatever you experience bring you close to God and your brothers and sisters.

I suppose I could word these in different ways (it is not as short an catchy as the meditation as it was expressed at the retreat), but I think that covers it.

Retreat Hiatus

This afternoon I will leave for Holy Spirit Retreat Center in Janesville (Minnesota, not Wisconsin) for my annual 8-day retreat. (The retreat begins this evening and ends the morning of July 13.

Although I sometimes post blogs on retreats (treating the posts as the equivalent of journal entries), I will not do so during this Silence and Awareness Retreat. I plan to follow the advice of the director of this retreat to neither read nor journal during the 8-days and I plan to keep totally away from internet and other communication. (One exception: Elena’s 21st birthday is tomorrow and I will make a brief Happy Birthday call to her in Italy.)

I’ve shared before how valuable I think it is to get away on retreat. I know not everyone can get away for a week or so, but for those who can, I can’t recommend enough making the time to do it. I know we are busy, but is is well worth finding the space to get away. Part of me cringes to think how many projects I am in the middle of that I am leaving dangling – not to mention that we close on a new house in St. Paul the day after I return. But I also know that there is never a good time to do retreat and that I just need to let go of things until I get back.

Look for a new blog post upon my return from retreat on July 13. In the meantime, I ask for you prayers while I am on retreat, as I will keep all of you in my prayers.

Today is Independence Day in the United States, a day on which many of us will gather with friends or family for a meal and watching fireworks.

I read a reflection by Archbishop Chaput about the celebration of this day that makes an important point. Talking about the blessings God has bestowed on this country he said

We have so much to be grateful for. But these are gifts. They can be misused. They can be lost. In coming years, we’ll face more and more serious challenges to religious liberty in our country…

And yet, the political and legal effort to defend religious liberty – as vital as it is – belongs to a much greater struggle to master and convert our own hearts, and to live for God completely, without alibis or self-delusion. The only question that finally matters is this one: Will we live wholeheartedly for Jesus Christ? If so, then we can be a source of freedom for the world. If not, nothing else will do.

We don’t seek religious liberty for its own sake. We seek freedom to practice our faith, to grow in our faith for a purpose: So that we can live for God completely. So that (speaking in Christian terms) we can be Christ to others. Our freedom enables our own conversion, which then allows us to aid others in theirs.

The need to live wholeheartedly for God is also why religious freedom means more than the freedom to safely sit in our places of worship and pray together. It is a freedom to live our lives in all respects consistently with the Gospel. That is both a freedom, and a responsibility. And it is not a small responsibility.

I’m very excited about this upcoming monthly program at St. Catherine’s University that I will be co-facilitating with Cristina Luna Munger (with whom I am also co-teaching a one-credit course this fall on Group Spiritual Direction). It is aimed at people who have had some experience with the Spiritual Exercises – perhaps by attending a preached Ignatian weekend retreat or doing an Ignatian retreat in daily living in their parish. The program grew out of my discussions with my friend Meg Mannix, who coordinates the semiannual Women’s Ignatian weekend retreats sponsored by the Jesuit Wisconsin Province.

Please feel free to share the flyer and the link with folks you think might be interested.
susan-retreat-flyer

If you have trouble viewing the flyer here, you can find it online here.

Some people believe that the United States is sliding toward American theocracy. Others claim that the country has been mortally infected by a godless secularism.

Some of the people who hold one or the other of those views have some well-thought out reasons for their positions. Many others, however, believe it because they have read someone else’s only-minimally-partially-accurate account of something or other.

I’ve been reading a lot of commentary in the news the last two days about the Supreme Court’s decision Monday morning in the Hobby Lobby case, which involved whether a Christian family-owned closely-held corporation could be compelled under the Affordable Care Act to provide coverage for certain forms of birth control that operate as abortifacients.

Sadly, much of the commentary on many popular on-line sites is being written by people who neither read the Supreme Court’s decision nor have any understanding of the legal issues involved in the case. Whether one likes the result or not, the reality is that the decision, which was decided on statutory and not on constitutional grounds, was fairly narrow in scope and is probably a correct decision as a matter of statutory interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 statute that had broad bipartisan support and that was signed by President Clinton.

I don’t want to here get into an extended analysis of what is incorrect in the various reports I’ve read of the opinion. My primary point here is simply to suggest that before anyone either jumps up and down with joy over the opinion or wrings their hands in agony – they read the Court’s opinions and/or talk to someone who understands what the legal issues were and what the Court actually decided.

In today’s Gospel from Matthew, Jesus asks his disciples, “Why are you terrified, O you of little faith?”

Although we may not all be frightened of the same things, there are many things in this world that terrify us. Climate change. Gun violence. Wars. (You can make your own list.) We worry for the world we are leaving our children – and their children.

How do you let go of that terror? What do you look at to trust that you need not be afraid?

As I sat with the Gospel scene, where Jesus “rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was great calm,” I was reminded of Wendell Berry’s poem, The Peace of Wild Things.

When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

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