You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting —
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.
~ Mary Oliver ~
‘You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves.’ If we can just dare to love, we will discover what is truly important. We will be able to distinguish the things that are truly important from the things that cry out for our attention.
Irenaeus is attributed with saying that the glory of God is the human person fully alive. How do we live to the full? Henry David Thoreau put it this way:
‘I went to the woods because I wanted to live deliberately, I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life. To put to rout all that was not life and not, when I had come to die, discover that I had not lived’.
If we live in fear of getting it wrong, we will discover that we missed out on the essence of life. We need to dare to love passionately. What I most love and value in Ignatian spirituality is that it is a spirituality which teaches us to deal with desire. Ignatius is not afraid of the chaos of daily life. Rather he is utterly convinced that God is present in all of it. If we can just bring ourselves to pause for long enough to notice, we will not be able to miss the God’s presence in our lives.
Living life with passion and with enthusiasm is no guarantee against loss and against pain. I have often found myself wondering why some people seem to have such a tough row to hoe whilst others seemingly swim through life unscathed. I do not know why this is, and contemplating this question does not seem to help me much. But I have come to know that whatever happens and however tough it gets, that God really is in the midst of the chaos. If Jesus had the courage to go through the Passion, what tribulation of ours would he shy away from? He was rejected by those he was trying to help, denied by his closest companions and put through unimaginable torture. When we are having a tough time, he is in the midst of it. We are not alone. It may be scary and it may be overwhelmingly painful but we are not alone. In God, in the mystery of Easter, we have the promise of redemption. We have the promise of resurrection.
We do not know what the next world will look like. And I find the concept of salvation as being a gateway to the next world a little abstract. I am a bit too pragmatic to live my life by that kind of idea. What will happen in the world to come will take care of itself. Rather, I put my faith in redemption because I have seen it happen in my own life. I have seen the unbelievable healing power of God at work in my own soul. There have been at least three or four occasions in my adult life where I have looked back and wondered what on earth happened. How did the place of pain grow into this place of joy?
Ignatius offers us the simple tools of discernment – notice those things which draw you closer to God and those things which draw you further away from God. Notice those things which help you to move towards greater authenticity and greater personal integration, and those things which must remain hidden and lead to fragmentation. Notice those things which lead to deeper relationships and those which foster shallow passing acquaintance. Give time, space and energy to those things which enrich relationship with God, which foster authenticity and which deepen relationships. Set aside those things which do not. Know that as you do that, you will uncover more areas of unfreedom, areas of brokenness, and areas of woundedness. Know too, that God is with you, and God wants to heal you. Healing does not mean that the wounds will disappear, but rather that through the grace of God you will come to see that the wounding is not something to be ashamed of, but rather it is the seedbed of compassion and wisdom.