Rob Marsh SJ is a friend and former colleague of mine. I learnt a good deal of what I know about discernment and about spiritual direction in the countless conversations we had over the four years we lived in the same community.

His latest piece in Thinking Faith is well worth gently savouring (You can find it here: http://www.thinkingfaith.org/articles/discernment-good-bad-%E2%80%A6-ignatian)

It is a timely reminder for me not to get too distracted by trying to ferret out the reasons why I have gotten caught. To simply turn my attention and allow that to lead.

We find it so hard to simply turn towards the light. But that is the invitation.

Over and over and over again.

The truth will set you free

I found myself reflecting this morning on the phrase ‘The truth will set you free’. As South Africans watch the political landscape shifting, and we see a thoroughly corrupt system falter it is a useful counterpoint.

It slightly sickening to see the dramatic shift in allegiance of those who are politically expedient, trying desperately to align themselves with the new seat of power. I am sure many have good reason to fear.

I’m not sure any of us have access to the truth. But we all have the capacity to choose honesty or not.

Not long ago I was tempted to cover over a mistake I had made. It would have been easy to do, but the long term consequences if the cover up had been exposed would have been substantial. I had to step out into the light and expose my omission, and take the short term discomfort. The short term cost turned out to be significantly less than I expected, it could have been far more serious.

But I get now, in a way I didn’t before, how people can make unbelievably bad choices. If I hadn’t had a real perspective of the long term consequences I could well have made the unethical choice.

I pray for all of us in South Africa in these days. I pray that we will all commit to greater honesty. I pray that we will learn to tread the tricky path of holding people accountable for their actions and rewarding honesty.

The power of the pause

Pause and notice the God who is with you…

Ignatius of Loyola makes a simple suggestion in one of the additional instructions he gives in the Spiritual Exercises. Where it appears in the text suggests it is an after thought; one of those things that perhaps he automatically did himself and just forgot to mention earlier on.

Pause for the space of an Our Father and notice how God our Lord is looking at you.

Some people do have a mental image of a face with a facial expression they can describe. Some people can name a qualitative sense of a feeling – God is looking on me with compassion, God is looking on me with concern, occasionally God is gently amused. Some people notice a physical sensation of God’s presence.

Don’t over think it.

Just pause and notice….

And notice what you noticed.

Don’t worry about what it looks like – what did you notice?

The power of that little exercise is that it can be done anywhere at any time. Immediately we are brought into the awareness that we are not alone, that God is indeed here, now. That God is indeed, real. And that God is present and responsive to me.

Let’s not pick on the one who is more vulnerable

Perhaps the greatest pain in our world at the moment is the profound sense of alienation. What if we take xenophobia as a symptom of the depth of our fear of not belonging?

Since I stumbled across James Alison’s presentation of the work of Rene Girard and the power scape goating in 2003/2004 it has provided a powerful lens through which to view the tensions in society.

The mini takeaway version which will suffice here – we all suffer the anxiety of not belonging, but when I stumble across someone who appears to belong less than I do, and the group to which to which I am desperately trying to belong also perceives that person as being more problematic than me. As long as they are around to pick on and remain clearly different, I am safe. So those who most insecure are often the ones who are most violent (physically, verbally, anonymously) to those who appear to be even less secure.

It is a tragic vicious circle.

How do we move through it? By acknowledging our own insecurity.

How often have we heard a version of the ‘gospel’ preached which is really about defining who is in and who is out? Let’s not settle for a gospel which perpetuates violence against someone who is seen as ‘other’. The gospel does demand everything but not because it asks to conform to some image of belonging. It asks to face the our sense of isolation, to own our own pain, and to dare to be vulnerable.

Do we dare to kneel before a God who is unconditionally loving and requires we face the things we most fear?