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.