726. Attending to hope, faith, and love

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Lately I've been revisiting what St. Ignatius referred to as consolations and desolations. Thinking about and identifying occurrences of each over the course of a day is suggested as a spiritual practice to help a person understand how God is moving in his or her life. Some instruction I've heard on this practice, however, makes it seem like nothing more than taking a minute at the end of a day to write down what made you feel good and what made you feel bad, as if God has the same work in you as would an overindulgent grandparent whose only goal was to make you happy.

It always helps to go to the source.

Here's what Ignatius wrote about distinguishing the two "movements which are caused in the soul."

On consolation:

"I call consolation every increase of hope, faith and charity [love], and all interior joy which calls and attracts to heavenly things and to the salvation of one's soul, quieting it and giving it peace in its Creator and Lord."

On desolation:

"I call desolation all the contrary of the [above], such as darkness of soul, disturbance in it, movement to things low and earthly, the unquiet of different agitations and temptations, moving to want of confidence, without hope, without love, when one finds oneself all lazy, tepid, sad, and as if separated from his Creator and Lord."

Hope, faith, and love–oh, and interior joy. Yes, please; more of those.


[Photo: taken several years ago of a statue depicting St. Loyola's "Examen" at Fairfield University in Fairfield, Connecticut (sculptors: Jeremy Leichman and Joan Benefiel).

724. The year of small things done with great intention

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About 20 years ago – or was it longer? – I took a class taught by a Protestant minister, the father of a good friend, about the devotional classics. We learned about and read from Thomas Kelly (A Testament of Devotion), Brother Lawrence (The Practice of the Presence of God), Thomas a Kempis (The Imitation of Christ), Saint Augustine (Confessions), John Bunyan (Pilgrim’s Progress), Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Life Together), as well as William Law (A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life).

Law was an English cleric and devotional writer from the 18th century. Based on the book’s title, it sounds oh so heavy, but Law lightened it substantially by crafting his book using fictitious stories following characters named Classicus, Octavius, Miranda, and more as they learn the importance of intention. A much younger “me” wrote the book’s key message on its first page: “We aren’t where we want to be because we never intended to be. Commitment of will.” The lesson of intention delivered by this book resonated with me all those years ago and it resonates with me now. I still have things to learn from it.

The book’s lesson came to me again the last couple of weeks as I read The Year of Small Things: Radical Faith for the Rest of Us, written by Sarah Arthur (who I’ve written about here and here) and Erin F. Wasinger, and published by Brazos Press. The Year of Small Things tells the story of how Sarah and Erin and their husbands intentionally became “communal friends” and together committed themselves to adopt, cumulatively over the course of a year, the twelve spiritual disciplines typically associated with new monasticism, with some adaptations for their young families. They began in August with their covenantal friendship, continued into September with hospitality and October with radical finances. Late fall and winter focused on spiritual habits, possession, holy time, and vows. Spring brought the practices of congregational life, teaching children, and sustaining creation. The start of summer brought self-care and justice.

Not all of us will move to the inner city or live with the homeless or protest unjust laws before city councils. Some of us will do just one of those things; a few of us might do several. But many of us are called to try this radical thing right where we are, facing our current battles and barriers, one day at a time. Mother Teresa is often quoted as saying, “We can do no great things, only small things with great love.” Well, that’s all we’ve got. Small changes, small acts of hospitality, small attempts at solidarity with “the least of these.” This is what our families, with help from some wise friends and our local church, attempted over the course of one year, taking notes as we went. We hope that others, like you, will not only rejoice with us but give it a shot.

Although this gem of a book claims the word “discernment” as its guiding word, I think the stories of these two families could have the word “intention” as the watermark on every page. I was moved by all they intended and how they did what they intended.

Reading the story of the Arthurs and the Wasingers, you may not – or you may – join them in committing to the same spiritual practices, but my guess is at the very least you will close the book, like me, with some response in mind. An idea. An idea that will become an intention that will become an action that might change your life and someone else’s too.


[Photo: taken of my kitchen window on a very cold morning]

696. Listening to the music

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Sunday, at church, after the service was over, we sat again, as has become customary, while our extraordinary organist played the postlude.  Instruction to stay seated is not given in the bulletin; it just started happening. Not everyone stays and listens. Many get up and move to greet the minister, chat with a friend or visitor, or go find the coffee and treats. Those of us who do stay usually keep seated where we are but some switch to a pew closer to the front, where the pipe organ lives. Sunday's postlude was the most beautiful Bach's Prelude and Fugue in C Major. I love this quiet moment, this spontaneous and organic practice of leisure, this corporate dwelling in beauty.

In my work as a medical writer I've written a little about "consolidation therapy" - for some kinds of cancer, once the main treatment is finished another course of something is given to "consolidate" the main treatment's effect and to help finish the work it started. I sometimes think of walks after a session of creative writing as a period of consolidation. The thoughts and images that had earlier rushed in at the writing desk are given a chance to gel and find their place.

It struck me on Sunday, sitting quietly in that pew with Bach ringing, that this post-service listening is a kind of "consolidation therapy." The Word that has already moved through the hymns, the prayers, the readings, the sermon, the communion table now sinks in deeper, finishing the morning's inner work in ways unseen.


[Photo: taken on a Memorial Day hike.]