What is truth?

The image of light dispersed by a prism has been with me for a few weeks. It struck me as a powerful metaphor for different spiritual traditions.

We sit on the refracted side of the prism (the rainbow side). Each tradition explores its own colour of light. Each tradition has developed a set of rules which allow the followers to get to a more or less true approximation of resonance with the actual frequency of that particular light path.

Not all traditions are equal and not all facilitate the real resonance of all to the same degree, but all are striving to the same end.

Some traditions encapsulated more frequencies of light than others, and so do hold a greater part of the whole, but none – not one – holds everything. Not one holds the true nature of unrefracted white light – that is a gift from God.

I had an email conversation with an acquaintance today about Centering Prayer and the Ignatian tradition. Each sits in a slightly different space in the spectrum. Each helps followers to come to greater resonance with that segment of the spectrum i.e. each helps people into deeper relationship with God.

When we find that sweet spot of resonance in a particular tradition it is so exciting – and it is so tempting to begin to proclaim that you have found the way to others. To those who are sitting in the same section of the spectrum your words may be both encouraging and genuinely helpful. But to those are operating in a different zone your words may be more disorienting and destructive than anything else.

The experience of resonating in the white light is perhaps what Christians call contemplation and Buddhists call enlightenment. Those who live from that space are always characterised by humility. They understand the gift of the tradition which led them to that place, but they know that it is not the only route.

 

Praying for grace

There is a very useful practice in Ignatian spirituality: each prayer period begins with praying for a particular grace. In the context of the Spiritual Exercises these graces are clearly defined, but as we go about living our daily lives beyond the Exercises it is helpful to  try to articulate a grace which is directly relevant to where we are on any given day.

In recent years I have discovered that the idea of praying for the grace is incredibly powerful at those points in our lives where we find ourselves to be stuck in some way – that kind of interior ‘stuckness’ which we find difficult to shift. At those times we are usually stuck because although we may be able to see where we want to be, a part of us is unwilling to give up an aspect of where we are now. At these times being able to sit with ourselves in honesty before God, to hold both our desire to move and our desire to hold on and to pray first for the grace to desire to let go we will begin to notice the willingness to let go emerge. And as our willingness to let go grows, we can begin to pray for the grace to actually let go.

The amazing thing about this way of praying is that the end result never seems to look quite as we expected it to. There is always an element of surprise. The interior place beyond the stuckness is usually not quite what we thought it would be. Some elements which we thought we had to let go of are still there and other elements which didn’t seem to be a problem are either absent or have been rearranged. I have yet to meet anyone who can successfully will themselves through such places of stuckness, and I think this is, in part, precisely because whilst we usually have some inkling of the problem, we don’t have the full perspective.

Somehow praying for the grace frees us from trying to control the outcome. We can let God be God and allow ourselves to be surprised. It isn’t something magical, and it isn’t something that we can control. All we can do is to be willing to admit our stuckness; to hold it before God and ask God to show us what we need to see. Over time, it will become clear what grace we need to pray for. And as pray for that grace over time things begin to shift and freedom emerges.

The challenge and invitation is to be willing to admit our stuckness and to let go of trying to dictate the nature of the outcome.

On suicide

This is one of those posts I did not envision when I started my blog, but I think I need to put it out there. It is a topic we don’t normally talk about, and I feel it is important.

In the last week I have had conversations with two unrelated people who have been faced with having to deal with the attempted suicide of someone they cared deeply about. And I have been struck again by how little we talk about suicide, and yet most of us will have to deal with it one way or another.

The first time I really encountered suicide in a personal way was several years ago. The person had been a colleague – someone for whom I had a great deal of affection and respect. We hadn’t had contact for a few years prior to her suicide, so I had no real insight into why she would have made this choice.

Her death brought the complexity of suicide into my world. I was forced to think about what death by suicide might mean in faith terms. Historically the church would not bury someone who had committed suicide on consecrated ground. And this choice certainly goes against the idea of the sanctity of life. So what then for my colleague? In considering her death I discovered in myself a sense of compassion – I did not know what had precipitated her choice, but I could not help but feel tremendous sadness that she could not see any way through.

Thinking about the meaning of suicide in processing the death of my colleague helped me a great deal, when just a few months later, one my relatives took his own life. This time the reasons for his choice were a little less opaque in retrospect. But it was no less shocking.

When we think of the meaning of suicide, it is important to remember that the reasons that people take their own lives are many and varied. These two instances certainly taught me that. There is a gamut of emotion around the way in which it is done, the reasons for it, how it is discovered and so on. But I think, as people of faith, it is important to think about what it means – how do we think God responds? I suspect God is far more understanding than some of our older traditions may suggest.

In a similar way our responses to suicide may be widely variable. In families this can be particularly evident. Two people with a similar relationship to the deceased may experience the suicide completely differently. In conversing with suicide survivors it is really important to allow them the space simply to be true to where they are emotionally.

There are no right answers and no correct responses. There is only prayer for grace and compassion.

Praying our way through the Paschal mystery

In the Spiritual Exercises, the grace of the Third Week is ‘sorrow with Christ in sorrow; a broken spirit with Christ so broken; tears; and interior suffering because of the great suffering which Christ endured for me.’ [203]

The invitation is to be with Christ in his pain: To stay awake and pay attention to the tremendous suffering. In the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises we explore the idea of being a companion of Jesus. Following him as he goes about his public ministry, and talking to him on the way. Here in the Third Week, we enter into a new kind of companionship. Companionship when the chips are down.

All too often we can trip over ourselves and miss an important aspect of the Passion. If we focus too much on beating our own breasts because we have been so sinful, we fail to pay attention to Jesus in his suffering. The point is to be with him, to accompany him in these dark days. To feel the sense of loss at his death, precisely because we have lost a precious companion.

But the death of Jesus is followed by his resurrection. The grace of the Fourth Week is to experience joy with Christ in joy. That resurrection joy is the joy of redemption and transformation. It is inextricably linked to the pain of the Passion.

A spiritual director of mine once said, we can cry our way through the Passion because we have all known pain, but we cannot create the resurrection joy for ourselves. In other words we can fake the emotions of the Passion, but we cannot fake the joy of redemption.

The invitation then, is to be with Jesus through the mystery of Easter. To pray for the grace to be present to whole movement from Holy Thursday through to Easter Sunday. In the Roman Catholic church, the Easter Triduum is a single liturgy with three parts – starting with the commemoration of the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, through the reading of the Passion on Good Friday culminating in the celebration of the Easter Vigil. There is an entrance hymn for Holy Thursday and recessional for the Vigil, but no entrance and exit music in between to show this linking of services.

Be present this Easter to the movements as they happen. Notice where you are, pay attention to what the disciples would have been doing, and follow Jesus. Dare to engage with Passion and to encounter the possibility of redemption.

A life of faith

What does it mean to live a life of faith? Living a life of faith is more than simply admitting allegiance to a particular belief system. It is more than regular attendance at some form of communal worship. To have any real meaning, faith must be a significant factor in life, rather than just a hobby which happens to provide a social circle. I know that many people focus on the hereafter. It is a very Christian idea that professing faith in Jesus is start of salvation. It is our entry into heaven. I understand where that thinking comes from, and certainly there was a time in my life when my faith was a bit like an insurance policy. At that stage my faith life had a fairly minimal impact on how I lived my life, and I was not sure whether God existed or not, so I figured, practising faith did not cost me terribly much but it could have very serious consequences in the hereafter so on balance I was better off continuing as I was, attending Mass on Sunday and doing a quick five minutes of prayer just before I fell asleep at night. To me, that kind of faith now seems a little pointless.

After making the Spiritual Exercises, my faith shifted from being something important but peripheral in my life, to being central. Relationship with God became my primary concern. Having practised faith in this way, supported by having a daily prayer time for more than a decade has borne wonderful fruit in my life. I have learnt an enormous amount about myself in the process, and I know that this practice has shaped and changed my interaction with others. It has changed the value system I hold within my life. Not necessarily in terms of what is important to me, but the ordering of those significant things. I have come to value my relationships with others far more than my personal achievements for example. In this way faith is shaping my daily reality. To me, this is a life of faith rather than any particular declaration or assertion of beliefs. The reason I continue to believe is that it continues to provide the best framework for my experience, and through practising my faith, my being has been enriched beyond anything I imagined possible. In this way it has a profound impact on my life on a daily basis. What happens in the hereafter will take care of itself.

What is faith to you and how does it impact your life?