On Retreat

images-1

We’re making a retreat! For the next month our home away from home will be Sacred Heart Retreat Center in Quezon City. The long retreat is an essential part of our IBVM formation. We make the 30 day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola once during our novititate and then again several years later before we make our final vows.

What are the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola?
(the following is taken from Ignatian Spirituality – a fantastic online resource!)

“The Spiritual Exercises grew out of Ignatius Loyola’s personal experience as a man seeking to grow in union with God and to discern God’s will. He kept a journal as he gained spiritual insight and deepened his spiritual experience. He added to these notes as he directed other people and discovered what “worked.” Eventually Ignatius gathered these prayers, meditations, reflections, and directions into a carefully designed framework of a retreat, which he called “spiritual exercises.”

Ignatius wrote that the Exercises: “have as their purpose the conquest of self and the regulation of one’s life in such a way that no decision is made under the influence of any inordinate attachment.” He wanted individuals to undertake these exercises with the assistance of an experienced spiritual director who would help them shape the retreat and understand what they were experiencing. The book of Spiritual Exercises is a handbook to be used by the director, not by the person making the retreat.”

“Ignatius organized the Exercises into four “weeks.” These are not seven-day weeks, but stages on a journey to spiritual freedom and wholehearted commitment to the service of God.

First week. The first week of the Exercises is a time of reflection on our lives in light of God’s boundless love for us. We see that our response to God’s love has been hindered by patterns of sin. We face these sins knowing that God wants to free us of everything that gets in the way of our loving response to him. The first week ends with a meditation on Christ’s call to follow him.

Second week. The meditations and prayers of the second week teach us how to follow Christ as his disciples. We reflect on Scripture passages: Christ’s birth and baptism, his sermon on the mount, his ministry of healing and teaching, his raising Lazarus from the dead. We are brought to decisions to change our lives to do Christ’s work in the world and to love him more intimately.

Third week. We meditate on Christ’s Last Supper, passion, and death. We see his suffering and the gift of the Eucharist as the ultimate expression of God’s love.

Fourth week. We meditate on Jesus’ resurrection and his apparitions to his disciples. We walk with the risen Christ and set out to love and serve him in concrete ways in our lives in the world.”

– See more at: http://www.ignatianspirituality.com/ignatian-prayer/the-spiritual-exercises/what-are-the-spiritual-exercises#sthash.JrlX61n9.dpuf

Ever since I first heard about the 30 day retreat I have longed to make one. It seems like such an incredible opportunity to spend a month in prayer in such a special and focused way. I feel so grateful to have this experience.
Please pray for us while we are on retreat!
I’ll be back again in May!

images

Playing with dolls

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Last week our noviciate house had the great privilege to welcome Sr. Geraldine Kearney, sgs, a member of the Sisters of the Good Samaritan of the Order of St. Benedict, to lead us in a week long session on intercultural communication.

Given that we are a household composed of Australians, Vietnamese, an Indian, and a Canadian, intercultural communication is a vital part of our daily community life. Before the workshop, I wasn’t aware of how many layers of culture and personality are embedded in how we communicate. I also wasn’t aware of the very Canadian values and assumptions I bring to communication. I am happy to say that I learned a lot over the course of the week.

Sr. Geraldine skillfully led us through a series of exercises and reflections on culture and identity, values, assumptions, what it means to come from a high context culture (such as Vietnamese and Indian culture) and from a low context culture (such as Canadian and Australian culture), and how we exhibit all of these cultural traits through the way we communicate.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

The Play of Life

Part of the session felt a bit like a refresh on cultural studies I had done in social studies classes in junior high and high school, but it was really far more personal and meaningful than that. Each of us shared cultural symbols (I shared the maple leaf, as emblazoned on the bottle of maple syrup I lugged with me from Canada), and personal stories about our lives in our respective cultures. It was a wonderful time of bonding as a group.

For me, the best part of the whole week was the morning we spent playing with dolls. As part of a module called “The Play of Life” we created representations of particular periods in our lives (generally a time before the age of 10 years old) using plastic dolls and other decorations to act as symbols of that time. I chose the period when I was 8 years old and my parents had decided to separate. There was a surprising amount of emotion stirred up in me as I created my scene, but I was also struck by how I could look at my life much more objectively from that vantage point. As a child I really could only see myself in the situation but as an adult I can now see more clearly the roles of my father, mother, and brother and other extended family. The exercise gave me a better sense of perspective and understanding of myself and my life.

26th Avenue: The Cabin in the Woods (a snapshot of life at age 8)

Throughout this noviciate, I am continuing the interior work I began during my candidacy year, particularly with respect to my mother’s struggle with alcoholism (and my own struggle with her alcoholism), and I think that playing with dolls will actually be a very helpful and creative way to do that work. I’ve been asking God in my prayer to show me how I can look back on some of my past experiences (and that assumptions I’ve made as a result) in order to see them more objectively and then to release the power they hold over me. I think playing with dolls may be a key part of the answer.

Praying with our life stories at the end of the week

Sr. Gerry left us with the gift of transformation (butterflies!)

Discovering Noviciate Life

Hello again!

I’m returning to my blog after a little hiatus and a very long journey. It is now going on 6 weeks since I arrived in the Philippines and I began the first year of my noviciate. The past 6 weeks of relative disconnection from the outside world have been a great blessing. The time has allowed me space to transition to the noviciate and to be present to new experiences.

CIMG4189

(a floral welcome to noviciate life!)

As I think back on these past weeks, a major theme stands out for me: discovery and adaptation.

Discovery

Each day holds something new to discover. On the first day I arrived (January 1st, which was auspicious, I think) I was confronted with a whole lot of new at once: new country, new culture, new climate, new environment, new community, and new way of life. Since then I’ve been slowly unpacking all of the newness.

CIMG4204

(St. Michael’s House, IBVM Formation House in the Philippines)

Prayer. The most beautiful and life-giving discovery I am making is in my prayer life. The time and dedication to prayer during this part of formation gives me the opportunity to pray without interruptions (not to say that I don’t get distracted in prayer!), but also to take time to pray in the ways that I know give me life and help me relate to God. In particular, I have been able to return to a daily practice of Ignatian contemplation (scriptural contemplation) and it has been so beautiful and grace-filled. The first time I sat down to pray using the method of Ignatian contemplation, I felt like I received the most loving welcome back from God. Already in this short time, I can feel my relationship with Jesus (because it is Jesus I speak with during my prayer) flourishing and deepening.

Community. Another life-giving discovery I am making is within the community here. I am living with 3 other novices – 1 from Australia and 2 from Vietnam. Our novice director is also Australian and our assistant novice director is Indian. We are a truly an international community and I am learning so much from everyone. We share our respective cultures through meals and celebrations together, and we share our life stories and vocation journeys during times of reflection. I am discovering a world far beyond the world I knew in Canada and my heart and mind are expanding.

P1080913 (640x427)

(A gathering of members of the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and the Congregation of Jesus for our Mary Ward Week celebration)

Spirituality and Religious Life. I am also discovering the person of our foundress Mary Ward through reading and reflecting on her prayer life and at the same time discovering the heart and soul of the IBVM. I am learning more about discernment in the Ignatian tradition, and experiencing the First Exercises of St. Ignatius of Loyola. I am learning about the vows of chastity, poverty, and obedience and discovering their beauty.

CIMG4211

(The garden outside our chapel doors)

I’m also discovering things that create challenge.

Poverty. I’m discovering that poverty is everywhere. There are many homeless men, women, and children in Quezon City. There’s a slum a short distance away from our house. The causes of poverty are varied and complex. It often feels overwhelming because the poverty is on such a large scale. And yet, the spirit and generosity I have witnessed among the very poor takes my breath away. My heart yearns to find some way to contribute to reducing their poverty and to stand in solidarity with them.

Environmental Pollution. I’m also discovering that Quezon City is very dirty. Pollution is widespread. The air is polluted from the exhaust from the cars, buses, and jeepneys. The waterways and streams are polluted from garbage and sewage. The ground is littered with piles of rubbish. Again, the causes of the rampant pollution are varied and complex, and it will take a lot to create change. I am concerned for the current generation and future generations of Filipinos.

CIMG4242

(Painting of Our Lady of the Philippines, Manila Cathedral)

Adaptation

I could come up with a list of ways I have had to adapt that would potentially be as long as my list of discoveries, but when it comes down to it, I have one main method of adaptation: surrender. I am learning to surrender to the newness. To surrender my expectations and my biases (which is proving challenging!), to surrender my need to always be physically comfortable (on the hot days I find it impossible to be completely comfortable), to surrender my desire to have control (over knowing the schedule of the day, over what I eat, over relationships with friends and family that are now long-distance relationships, over being able to fix the problems I encounter, etc.), and to surrender to experiencing whatever it is that God wants me to experience in the here and now of the day. This quote from Mary Ward’s spiritual journal summarizes well what my experience has been like so far: God is with me, and I have freedom to speak to Him, and to ask of Him all I would have or know.

All in all, the past 6 weeks have been fruitful and full of the grace of God. I am happy to be here, open to learning new things and to deepening my relationship with God. I hope to post more regularly now and will delve into some of these issues in more detail in the future.