May Nothing Distract Me

As I spend some time today doing final preparation for a retreat I’m giving for Marquette University Faculty and Staff next weekend at the Jesuit Retreat House in OshKosh, I thought I’d share a prayer written by Sr. Marie Schwann CSJ, who was associated for many years with that retreat house and who died last year. The prayer beautifully conveys the essence of the Principle and Foundation of St. Ignatius (one of the subjects on which I will speak next weekend).

Lord, my God, when Your love spilled over into creation,
You thought of me.
I am from love, of love, for love.
Let my hearts, O God, always recognize, cherish
and enjoy your goodness in all of creation.
Direct all that is me to your praise.
Teach me reverence for every person, all things.
Energize me in your service.
Lord God, may nothing ever distract me from your love…
neither health nor sickness
wealth nor poverty
honor nor dishonor
long life nor short life.
May I never seek nor choose to be other than you intend me to be.
Amen.

What I Wish For Myself and Others

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.

St. Paul and Active Indifference

Having made my way through Romans, Galatians and Ephesians during my morning prayer this summer, I’m now praying with the Letter to the Philippians.

Paul wrote his letter to the Philippians while he was in prison. In the passage I prayed with this morning, Paul tells the Philippians that his imprisonment “has actually helped to spread the gospel, that that is has become known throughout the whole imperial guard and to everyone else that [his] imprisonment is for Christ” and that many people have “been made confident in the Lord” by his imprisonment, so much so that they “dare to speak the word with great boldness and without fear.

As I sat with the passage, what came to mind (doubtless because I’m in the early stage of directing three people doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in the form of the 19th annotation) was Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation. Specifically the part that reads:

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Although it is difficult to embrace the idea that freedom is not to be preferred to imprisonment, what Paul realized is the truth that “everything has the potential of calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.” Paul can thus rejoice at his imprisonment. Whatever situation we are in can be a source of deepening our own relationship to God and that of those around us.

Health v. Sickness

This has not been a banner month for me physically. Although I have not suffered any serious illness, October has featured a stomach infection, root canal, quite painful tendonitis for which I’m currently undergoing physical therapy and a bad cold. I can’t think of one morning this month when I’ve woken up feeling good physically.

In moments when I grumble about the situation – and there have been more than a few of those – I bring to mind St. Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation, a meditation that is an early part of the Spiritual Exercises.

In one translation, the Principle and Foundation reads:

Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul.

And the other things on the face of the earth are created for man and they may help him in prosecuting the end for which he is created.

From this it follows that man is to use them as much as they help him on to his end, and ought to rid himself of them so far as they hinder him as to it.

For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only that which is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created.

The first three paragraphs are easy enough. But, sigh, then comes the prescription to active indifference, and therin lies the rub, at least, in this case when it comes to not preferring health to sickness.

I can quite easily give verbal assent to wanting only that which is most conducive to the end for which I am created. But I confess I find it hard not to whine when I am feeling physically miserable. Moments like this are humbling, and all I can do is hold them up to God, praying for the grace to grow in active indifference.

Active Indifference

In today’s first Mass reading, St. Paul writes to the Philippians that he has “learned, in whatever situation I find myself, to be self-sufficient. I know indeed how to live in humble circumstances; I know also how to live in abundance. In every circumstance and in all things I have learned the secret of being well fed and of going hungry, or living in abundance and of being in need.”

When I read this morning’s passage, I immediately thought of a beautiful poem written by Teresa of Avila titled In the Hands of God. As are many of Teresa’s poems, it is a long one, but it is worth sharing in its entirety. I think it does a wonderful job of expressing the “active indifference” St. Ignatius asks us to strive to achieve – the ability to accept (indeed, welcome) whatever circumstances in which we are put, God will be with us and will find a way to help us use our talents to labor with him.

I am Yours and born for you, What do You want of me?

Majestic Sovereign, Unending wisdom,
Kindness pleasing to my soul;
God sublime, one Being Good,
Behold this one so vile.
Singing of her love to you:
What do You want of me?

Yours, you made me,
Yours, you saved me,
Yours, you endured me,
Yours, you called me,
Yours, you awaited me,
Yours, I did not stray.
What do you want of me?

Good Lord, what do you want of me?
What is this wretch to do?
What work is this,
This sinful slave to do?
Look at me, Sweet Love,
Sweet Love, look at me,
What do you want of me?

In your hand I place my heart,
Body, life and soul,
Deep feelings and affections mine,
Spouse – Redeemer sweet,
Myself offered now to you,
What do you want of me?

Give me death, give me life,
Health or sickness, Honor or shame,
War or swelling peace,
Weakness or full strength,
Yes, to these I say,
What do you want of me?

Give me wealth or want,
Delight or distress,
Happiness or gloominess,
Heaven or hell,
Sweet life, sun unveiled,
To you I give all.
What do you want of me?

Give me, if You will, prayer;
Or let me know dryness,
An abundance of devotion,
Or if not, then barrenness.
In you alone, Sovereign Majesty,
I find my peace,
What do you want of me?

Give me then wisdom.
Or for love, ignorance,
Years of abundance,
Or hunger and famine.
Darkness or sunlight,
Move me here or there:
What do you want of me?

If You want me to rest,
I desire it for love;
If to labor, I will die working:
Sweet Love say
Where, how and when.
What do You want of me?

Calvary or Tabor give me,
Desert or fruitful land;
As Job in suffering
Or John at Your breast;
Barren or fruited vine,
Whatever be Your will:
What do you want of me?

Be I Joseph chained
Or as Egypt’s governor,
Davie pained or exalted high,
Jonas drowned, or Jonas freed:
What do you want of me?

Silent or speaking,
Fruitbearing or barren,
My wounds shown by the Law,
Rejoicing in the tender Gospel;
Sorrowing or exulting.
You alone live in me:
What do you want of me?

Yours I am, for You I was born:
What do You want of me?

I confess that these words of Teresa’s don’t always come easily out of my mouth. It is not easy to accept Calvary over Tabor, sorrow over exulting. It helps if we can remember what Paul told the Philippians was the secret: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.”