I must first tell you I have not been writing in this blog because I’ve been devoting my rare moments of solitude to daily prayer and writing down the fruits of this contemplation in a journal. In case you don’t remember, a journal is a bound blank book you write in. With a pen. On paper.
About a year ago the deacon at my church asked if I would help him complete the second year of a spiritual direction program that would train him in The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. The Spiritual Exercises is a scripted, guided sequence of meditations and contemplative prayer developed by the 16th century saint Ignatius of Loyola and most often offered as a 30 day silent retreat at a lovely chef-staffed facility with lush gardens teeming with flower beds filled with songbirds, but as the deacon explained it to me, he would need to lead someone through a modified version, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius in Daily Life, which would extend over the course of a school year or about 30 weeks September to June. Daily scripture reading, prayer, reflection, writing on my own. One weekly meeting with him at the church. There would be no cell for me in a remote stone-walled monastery. No confiscation of electronic devices. No silence. No solemn-faced sisters I could cajole into smiles. In fact, not even a steady sequence of ringing bells to call me to prayer. I would need to find a chisel and carve out space in my busy schedule to commit to this strict, scripted regimen for almost an entire year. Of course, if you know me at all, when he eventually returned to our conversation several months later to finalize his plans, despite all my reservations and praying he’d forgotten or found someone else, I said . . . Sure. Why not? If it will help. YES!
I smiled and said, yes. And I wish I could say, yes, I am becoming more holy and loving with all this prayer, but I don’t feel any different spiritually. I suspect I am also somewhat of a disappointment to the deacon because I do not bring him profound epiphanies or spiritual crises each week or give him much opportunity to practice direction. Yes, we have thoughtful discussions about scripture and theology and share with one another the fruits of the week’s contemplation, but my sense of mission and my conversation with God was pretty well-honed before we began, and if anything, over and over again, week after week, I bring him the same fruit: I bring him my tears of gratitude. I bring him awe and wonder and why me, God? Why choose me? Why give ME this faith, this hope, this love? I tell him about the student who crouched down behind my lectern during class and cried as he told me how he wanted to write about choosing not to join a gang but didn’t know how to begin. I tell him about the woman with razor cuts lining her forearms like a Native American feather tattoo who writes to me in her midterm bluebook I have nothing to live for but keeps coming to my class every day anyway. I wonder with him why my own children are compassionate, kind peacemakers who stand up for the lonely and rejected, who seek out the widow they had never met at a funeral we recently attended and wrap her in tiny, tender arms of consolation. How every day, when I’m asked to pray for grace and contemplate the particulars of our unfolding story with God, to imagine myself there, written into the story, I’m the one on her knees weeping.
Now the Work of Christmas Begins
When the song of the angels is stilled,
When the star in the sky is gone,
When the kings and princes are home,
When the shepherds are back with their flocks
The work of Christmas begins:
To find the lost,
To heal the broken.
To feed the hungry,
To release the prisoner,
To rebuild the nations,
To bring peace among the people.
To make music in the heart.
~ Howard Thurman, African-American theologian, educator, and civil rights leader