Archive for February, 2020

A Jesuit Exercise: Conversing With Jesus

Tuesday, February 25th, 2020

Father James Martin, SJ, who hosts an online forum of Ignatian Spirituality, suggests a devotional examination of consciousness, what Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuit Order, called The Examen.

Fr. Martin suggests sitting quietly and trying to imagine one is alone in conversation with Jesus about the experiences of one’s day.

I note for my Protestant friends, who understand historically that the Jesuits were militantly opposed to the Reformation, that Ignatius wrote his Spiritual Exercises during the heated and divisive years of the early 16th century. Nevertheless, his spirituality is much appreciated by some Protestant (and Evangelical) thinkers and theologians.

One of my favorite writers emerging in the 20th-century Evangelical-Holiness wing of Christianity that produced the Christian Missionary Alliance (CMA) denomination, was Aiden Wilson Tozer, better known as A. W. Tozer.

Tozer was a self-taught theologian, a powerful preacher, a gifted writer, and a rare evangelical who expressed appreciation of the writings of several Roman Catholic mystics.

One of Tozer’s biographers suggests his openness to thinkers and critics outside of the CMA did not please many in the denomination, and some were particularly suspicious of Tozer’s “generous use of the medieval mystics whose writings delighted him so.” (1)

Getting back to my exercise in Ignatian Spirituality:

Fr. Martin’s imagined conversation with Jesus urges me to pull images of seemingly minor incidents and memories from my day.

Here are the images that motivated my reflection and my pen that morning:
1) Reading Natalie Goldberg on writing memoirs; 2) The clerk at a UPS Store who handled the package I was returning; 3) The check-out cashier at the supermarket where I stopped to buy groceries; and
4) “The Unforgotten,” a British police mystery series on PBS.

Here’s my Examen reflection: my imaginary conversation with Jesus:

Jesus seems distracted by the ballgame on TV last night. “The Dodgers left nine runners on base and lost by a single run,” he says.
I try to sound religious. “Do you think any of those players are among your followers?”
“Oh, sure,” he responds. “But they are all my brothers, even if they don’t follow closely.”
“You think of them as needing you?”
“Sure,” he says. “It’s like that show we were watching on PBS before the game came on. What was it called? The one on PBS.”
I hesitate. Jesus always seems to know everything. “The Unforgotten,” I mutter. “The one about the detectives who investigate cold cases.”
“Right!” he exclaims. “They act as my Father taught. No one is alone; No one is forgotten. Those detectives are like disciples, working to show my Father’s love for neighbors and strangers.”
Father Martin interrupts to ask me: “Whom else did you speak with yesterday afternoon?”
I ponder my yesterday, and start ticking off my encounters:
“Natalie Goldberg, a Jewish writer, teacher, and Zen devotee. She offers a variation of Ignatius.” I’m reciting and not thinking about Fr. Martin or Jesus. “Sit, walk, write, and walk some more!”
“The clerk at the UPS Store! She said, ‘We’ll take care of this for you.” I thought I saw Jesus smile.
“The cashier at the market,” I recall again. “She handed me my receipt and said, ‘Have a nice day.’ That’s what Jesus said after he forgave my sins.”
I wasn’t listening, just recalling in a new light. “And the detectives of ‘The Unforgotten’ are also unwitting disciples of Jesus: They probe and discover a kind of healing.”
Jesus spoke again: “You can’t probe if you’re not willing to serve and to heal. And, unlike the detectives, lawyers, doctors, and counselors, you don’t get any pay for yourself–only rewards that can’t be measured.”
I closed my eyes and sat quietly. When I opened my eyes, I noticed both Father Martin and Jesus had gone off to talk to someone else, and I prayed that simplest of prayers, “Thanks!”

(1) Snyder, James L. The Life of A.W. Tozer: In Pursuit of God. Ventura, CA: Regal Books from Gospel Light. 2009. –Snyder notes that Tozer at one point carried on an extended correspondence with Thomas Merton, the famous writer, and Trappist monk.
Snyder also notes that near the end of Tozer’s life and ministry in Toronto, the preacher compiled The Christian Book of Mystical Verse (Chicago: Moody Bible Institute. Cokesbury, 2009) a collection of the writings of mystics Tozer admired.

Sauntering, Aging, Dilettantism, and Contemplation

Wednesday, February 5th, 2020

Retirement provides surprising pleasures, and one is the pleasure of sauntering.

Sauntering is a kind of relaxed and joyful walking, perhaps without intention or goal.

Someone I met at college referred to casual walking as “just kicking pebbles.” I think that captures the idea of sauntering.

Sauntering is not the compulsory activity of someone attempting to reach a desired destination, be it an exotic location, a higher vantage point, or any other physically or emotionally rewarding goal.

Sauntering is not compulsive hurrying toward pulmonary or muscular health; it is not a race toward a reward or a valued result of any kind; it is simply traveling along in the delight of ease.

Sauntering is its own end.

Sauntering may be the way of deep contemplation.

Sauntering is counter to hurrying, racing, or achieving.

Sauntering is embracing, enjoying, loving, relaxing, and learning.

Sauntering may be prayer in motion.

The famous American naturalist John Muir is reported to have proclaimed his dislike of the word “hiking,” telling a companion, “People ought to saunter  through the mountains–not hike!”

While this exclamation of Muir’s is not found in any of his writings, it is reported by a mountain traveler who met Muir on the trail and conversed with him about “hiking.” (1)

I’ve concluded while passing through my aging decades that I am an intellectual saunterer. I have at times been called a dilettante. That term, however, I think is often applied in a derogatory manner to someone who persists in raising questions and is mistakenly viewed as lacking any career vision or ambition.

Contrarily, I believe the term may describe many creative people who express countercultural viewpoints, and I have come to be at ease with dilettantism as a way of life, and perhaps an expression of godly contemplation in an age of self-absorbed consumption.

The late spiritual master Thomas Merton, in attempting to define contemplation, wrote:
“It is as if in creating us God asked a question, and in awakening us to contemplation . . . answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.” (2)

Merton sounds a bit like a dilettante, Eh?

Be at ease, and pray to grow as a contemplative who saunters.

Notes:

(1) The full story has Muir saying, ” . . . in the Middle Ages people used to go on pilgrimages to the Holy Land, and when people in the villages through which they passed asked where they were going, they would reply, ‘A la sainte terre.’ To the Holy Land. And so they became known as sainte-terre-ers or saunterers. Now these mountains are our Holy Land, and we ought to saunter through them reverently, not ‘hike’ through them.”
—See full article at:
https://www.etymonline.com/columns/post/john-muir-and-‘saunter

(2) In Merton’s book New Seeds of Contemplation, cited in Robert Ellsberg, Ed. Modern Spiritual Masters: Writings on Contemplation and Compassion. (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books) 2008, p. 10.