Breaking free from obligation

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Sometimes prayer feels easy and natural and I can’t wait to have some quiet time to spend with God. Other days it feels like a chore and I have to battle with myself to slow down and do it, all the while fighting off distracting thoughts and the desire to be doing something else. These days, particularly, as I am wrapped up in the “ending of my normal life” (which sounds rather melodramatic but is true) I find it hard to pay attention.

Elsewhere on this blog, I have talked about the Examen, a daily prayer recommended by St. Ignatius and a key tool for discernment. What I haven’t really mentioned is my own struggle to pray the Examen regularly, and frankly, to sometimes even be interested in praying it. It’s not completely about a lack of discipline on my part because I do pray the Liturgy of the Hours every day without fail, so I think the problem is more about motivation.

I find that the traditional formula for the prayer doesn’t quite do it for me right now, or rather, that it is too big and too broad for me. I get lost in it. These are the steps to the Examen, as directed by St. Ignatius:

  • The first Point is to give thanks to God our Lord for the benefits received.
  • The second, to ask grace to know our sins and cast them out.
  • The third, to ask account of our soul from the hour that we rose up to the present Examen, hour by hour, or period by period: and first as to thoughts, and then as to words, and then as to acts.
  • The fourth, to ask pardon of God our Lord for the faults.
  • The fifth, to purpose amendment with His grace.

Although the prayer is supposed to last only about 10 or 15 minutes maximum, I often become fixated on a specific point in my day or on my sins and the 15 minutes stretches into 20 minutes or longer. 20+ minutes of intense self-criticism – not at all the purpose of the Examen. I tend to put the emphasis on reliving the various events of my day rather than on seeing them in relation to God’s working in me. As a result, I often pray the Examen without a lot of enthusiasm, mostly out of a sense of obligation, and rarely feel enriched by it.

However, all of that is changing thanks to Reimagining the Examen by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ.

I noticed this book on the bookstore shelf and flipped through it, after having seen it advertised online. I skimmed the introduction and thought I would give it a try. The author offers 34 varieties of the daily Examen, including the traditional version. Each follows a particular theme from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises, such as:

  • Spiritual freedom
  • A particular relationship
  • Habits
  • Gratitude
  • Repulsions, inspirations, desires

I’m about halfway through the book and already my practice of the Examen has changed quite significantly. I’m sticking to the 10-15 minutes daily quota but the 15 minutes is a richly focused reflection and dialogue with God (a crucial element that was not so robust in my previous practice). I enjoy the guided instructions – they help me to keep on track and keep to 15 minutes with minimum distraction or my mind wandering off.

The fact that each day is different and, at this point, since I am still making my way through the book, new, I find that I am actually excited to pray and I anticipate it during the day. I am also finding that keeping a journal of my Examen prayer is a very helpful way to see how God is present in my life. It’s only one sentence but it summarizes that day’s experience and it helps me to keep fresh in my mind how God has been active in my life that day.

So for anyone who may want to start the practice of the Examen or for those who may currently find it a challenge, I recommend that you READ THIS BOOK.

a prayer for our world, a prayer for Paris

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God of peace, bring your peace to our violent world:
peace in the hearts of all men and women
and peace among the nations of the earth.
Turn to your way of love
those whose hearts and minds
are consumed with hatred,
and who justify killing in the name of religion.

God of understanding,
overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy,
we seek your light and guidance
as we confront such terrible events.

Grant that those whose lives were spared
may live so that the lives lost here
may not have been lost in vain.

Comfort and console us, strengthen us in hope,
and give us the wisdom and courage
to work tirelessly for a world
where true peace and love reign
among nations and in the hearts of all.

  • Pope Francis

Praised be

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Today is the World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. What better way to pray than to pray with St. Francis of Assisi? This poem of his is one of my favourites.

The Canticle of Brother Sun

Most High, all powerful, good Lord,
Yours are the praises, the glory, the honor,
and all blessing.

To You alone, Most High, do they belong,
and no man is worthy to mention Your name.

Be praised, my Lord, through all your creatures,
especially through my lord Brother Sun,
who brings the day; and you give light through him.
And he is beautiful and radiant in all his splendor!
Of you, Most High, he bears the likeness.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Moon
and the stars, in heaven you formed them
clear and precious and beautiful.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene,
and every kind of weather through which
You give sustenance to Your creatures.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Water,
which is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night and he is beautiful
and playful and robust and strong.

Praised be You, my Lord, through Sister Mother Earth,
who sustains us and governs us and who produces
varied fruits with colored flowers and herbs.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through those who give pardon for Your love,
and bear infirmity and tribulation.

Blessed are those who endure in peace
for by You, Most High, they shall be crowned.

Praised be You, my Lord,
through our Sister Bodily Death,
from whom no living man can escape.

Woe to those who die in mortal sin.
Blessed are those whom death will
find in Your most holy willl,
for the second death shall do them no harm.

Praise and bless my Lord,
and give Him thanks
and serve Him with great humility.

AMEN

Happy Feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola!

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Today is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). I have a real soft spot for St. Ignatius and his spirituality. Even though it was only fairly recently (just over 3 years ago!) that I discovered him, his methods of prayer and discernment have changed my life, helping me to find God in all things.

Mary Ward, the IBVM foundress, had a deep understanding of Ignatian spirituality and many of the practices of Ignatian spirituality permeate the Institute’s way of life.

Check out this great video about St. Ignatius to learn more about this amazing saint!

The Abbey is on TV!

Daily Mass is now being filmed at the Loretto Abbey Chapel! Today is the first day that the Mass is being broadcast. You can watch it on Vision TV and on YouTube and see our beautiful chapel. I’ve never actually watched a Mass on tv but I’m thinking I may have to start just so I can see the sisters on tv!

For the past six weeks, we have had technical crews in and out of the Abbey, working industriously to adapt one of the chapel sacristies into a control room. They’ve installed a new sound system and new lighting. In the last week they installed rather expensive looking video cameras, one mounted just below the second floor balcony, and two roaming cameras in the sanctuary area. It has been very impressive to see how quickly they’ve worked.

Filming started on Tuesday. Two Masses are filmed each day on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday. One at 4pm and the second at 5pm. Daily Mass for the sisters has now moved from a morning Mass to two in a day for those that wish to participate! So far I haven’t arrived home in time to attend one of the Masses but I’ll try to sneak in sometime and look my holiest, just in case the camera picks me out of the congregation. 😉

 

the month is whizzing by

My goodness, it has been quite a while since my last blog post – time for an update!

First things first, I guess. I survived the assessment at Southdown. It actually went really well. While I hadn’t been looking forward to the experience, thinking it would be invasive and perhaps unsettling, it was, in fact, very gentle. There were certainly some uncomfortable moments, relating more difficult memories and events from the past, but overall I found it a positive experience. I think because it was focused on preparing me for the future – for the novitiate that is coming up, as well as for my life, in general, as part of a religious community, it felt purposeful and not an unnecessary delving into the past.

The process was definitely thorough. I filled out a stack of questionnaires and forms and I met with several specialists. To be truthful, I don’t think I really learned anything new about myself (I am pretty aware of my behaviours and attitudes), but I feel like the assessment was a confirmation of what I know and it helped to outline some useful supports for moving forward.

I think what impressed me most about my stay at Southdown was the sense of community I felt, even during that short time. The staff were all very professional and supportive, but I was really struck by the collegiality and concern of the residents. Many of them were very open about their treatment programs and offered kindly advice. I felt immediately welcomed by them, and they encouraged me as I set about filling out my forms, rooting for me as the stack began to dwindle. It was also very touching to celebrate Mass with them, men and women who recognized their brokenness and were actively working on healing. The prayers felt very real and heartfelt.

Needless to say, it was a very full four days. I don’t think I realized how draining it was until I got home. As soon as I stepped into the Abbey entrance, I was overcome by exhaustion. I crawled into bed for a nap straight away. Thankfully, much needed diversion and entertainment were quick to follow. My friend, Melissa, came for a visit from Ottawa the next day for the Victoria Day long weekend.

Always amusing, Melissa’s enthusiasm and spontaneity boosted my spirits instantly. Over the weekend we escape the city – day trips to Cobourg (yes, I go there quite often but I hadn’t really looked around – they have 2 British stores full of yummy treats!!) and Niagara-on-the-Lake (Whirlpool Jet Boat Tour, an unusual restaurant, and Cow’s, among other sites) and a trip to the Toronto Zoo (which crazily, doesn’t have elephants!). And, happily for me, Melissa was able to stay longer into the week so we had a chance to spend more time together than expected. It was great to catch up! I’ve missed her a lot since moving here.

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My next post will be on a guest we’ve had at the Abbey for the last week or so. Sr. Cyril Mooney, IBVM from Calcutta, India has been visiting us, and giving presentations on her work in Loreto schools in India. I attended one of her presentations today and will write about it tomorrow!

Thinking of her

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Today is the 12th anniversary of my mom’s death. It’s hard to believe that 12 years have gone by. At times it feels like she was around just yesterday. And then, at other times, it feels like it has been waaaaaay longer than 12 years since I’ve seen her and heard her voice.

I still miss her a lot. I wish she were here in person to talk to. I miss listening to her tell stories (even if they were the same stories I’d heard so many times before). There is consolation in prayer, knowing that I can reach out to her and speak to her in my heart, but I do miss the bodily her.

****

I’m an avid listener of CBC Radio 2 in the morning (it helps get me out of bed). One morning I heard a song by a PEI singer-songwriter named Jenn Grant that made me think of my mom (I think it was the reference to tiger lilies blowing in the wind). And then I found out that she wrote it after her mother died a few years ago. This is what she had to say about it:

“That song reminds me of my mom. A lot of this record [Compostela], because my mom died right before The Beautiful Wild came out….

Basically she passed away and I went to Spain. And it was a really hard trip because I was just crying all the time in Spain. And we’d go for dinner and I’d go to the bathroom, I’d be talking to my mom in the bathroom stall and balling my eyes out and stuff, and getting really bad sunburns. But she really wanted me to go there, in the hospital she kept saying to all the nurses, ‘My daughter’s going to Spain,’ I’d be like, ‘Oh my god I don’t want to go anywhere!’ But then I had the whole putting out of that last record and then touring it, and then more time on my own where all of this stuff was kind of percolating, and I dealt with my feelings and the experience and had the whole experience of losing someone that you love so much.”

http://music.cbc.ca/#!/blogs/2014/10/First-Play-Jenn-Grant-Compostela-plus-track-by-track-guide

So this song is for Jenn Grant’s mom, and for my mom too:

 

Sickness and healing

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(Photo: Conversion on the sick-bed / by A. Chevalier Taylor, From the Votive Chapel at Wimbledon / http://www.heritage-history.com/?c=read&author=pollen&book=loyola&story=conversion)

I’m just getting over a bout of pneumonia. I came down with some kind of cold or flu on Boxing Day when I was in Calgary and it turned my Christmas vacation plans upside down. I ended up staying 5 days longer so that I could recover enough to travel. I was shocked, a few days after I returned to Toronto, to feel the symptoms return. I went to see a doctor and found out that the illness had developed into pneumonia.

Consequently, I spent the entirety of this past workweek at home in bed, recuperating. I can’t recall when I’ve ever been this sick. It was very discouraging. Generally, I am quite a healthy person and I felt like my body had betrayed me. I was worried because I had already missed time at work for being sick and stuck in Calgary and I felt anxious about taking even more time off. So it was not with joy that I took to my bed.

I received wonderful care from the sisters though. Sr. Marianna was my nursemaid for many days, bringing me tea and freshly squeezed orange juice, and making sure I was okay. I was offered a space in the infirmary if I felt I would recuperate better there (I chose to stay in my room to have easy access to my books). Meals were brought up to me. Kind words of encouragement were offered. On Thursday the nurse came to check on me and gave my lungs the all clear. I was so relieved. And grateful.

Today is the first day that I have actually had much energy, and it feels fantastic. Although I’m being mindful to not overdo things, it feels so good to follow a more normal routine today. I finally did my laundry! And sorted my mail! Things are looking up.

At first while I was sick and stuck in bed, I fixated on feeling awful. Every symptom took on an exaggerated quality and I couldn’t find any comfort. I couldn’t focus on anything to pass the time other than mindless tv watching and sporadic light reading. After a couple of days, I was able to focus and felt a desire to tackle some reading that was a bit more thoughtful. My candidacy director gave me a copy of St. Ignatius of Loyola’s autobiography shortly before Christmas. I had read it a couple of years ago when I first discovered Ignatian spirituality but I had forgotten a lot of the details. I spent a day delving into his account of his life and it reawoke my admiration for him and for his spirituality.

He was an incredible man – so self aware and observant. Holy, dedicated, always striving to know God’s will in a given moment. I love that he developed the Spiritual Exercises from his own intense attempts (and they were intense!) to understand God’s will and to know God deeply. He recorded all of his insights and developed a powerful set of prayer exercises to help one come to know God, discern God’s will, and to make decisions. I used the Exercises during my vocation discernment, and it led me to the freedom I needed to make the decision to apply to be a candidate with the Lorettos. Using his Examen prayer, I am able to look at my day more closely and see God’s presence. His method of scriptural contemplation helps me to see Jesus and talk to him as naturally as I do to my friends.

Anyway, as I read the autobiography, I recalled the First Principle and Foundation of the Exercises:

The human person is created to praise, reverence, and serve God Our Lord, and by doing so, to save his or her soul.

All other things on the face of the earth are created for human beings in order to help them pursue the end for which they are created.

It follows from this that one must use other created things, in so far as they help towards one’s end, and free oneself from them, in so far as they are obstacles to one’s end.

To do this, we need to make ourselves indifferent to all created things, provided the matter is subject to our free choice and there is no other prohibition.

Thus, 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.

Of course, being sick, I was fixated on the part about not wanting health more than illness. I don’t like being sick. I hate being sick. It’s inconvenient, it’s uncomfortable, and sometimes it’s gross. But often a person doesn’t have much control over being sick, and that’s what I felt St. Ignatius was telling me in that moment. I am sick, I can’t force myself to not be sick, so I just have to be sick. And try to find God in this time of illness. This freed me up to be patient, to be sick and not grumble or feel anxious about it, to just be sick and be with God as I rode it out. A very different experience for this girl! (A big thanks to Iggy!)

*****

I expect to write another post about Mary Ward soon. When I finished the Ignatius autobiography, I started a new (to me) biography of Mary Ward. Reading is in progress. I’m sure I’ll have lots to share about her when I’m finished.

A Festival of Lessons and Carols

Only in the last five years or so have I become more aware of the amazing choral tradition in the Anglican church. My love for this kind of music began when I started attending performances of The Messiah at an Anglican church in Ottawa and has grown to include a deep appreciation of the Festival of Lessons and Carols. So beautiful! I haven’t yet been to this celebration in person, but I hope to one day. And for now, I listen online. Here is last year’s broadcast from King’s College, Cambridge.

Merry Christmas!!

A Christmas Must Have

For me, Christmas just isn’t Christmas without Boney M.

When I was growing up, my mom would always bring out the Boney M Christmas LP when we would decorate the house or set up the Christmas tree. It became my Christmas anthem. I know all the words to all the songs and just hearing the opening strain of “Mary’s Boy Child” lifts my spirits. Since her death, this album means even more to me. It brings me closer to her during Christmas, a time when I miss her a lot, and it brings me hope. All those disco and beat-driven Christmas tunes build a bridge between us and I know she is still with me, dancing at my side.

Malcolm Guite

Blog for poet and singer-songwriter Malcolm Guite

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