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Moving from the season of darkness into the promise of the returning spring, the lengthening days, gives us a prod to consider the old and contemplate the new, enriching the present. In our small, chapel meeting we contemplated what we had been doing and what we might do. The conversation started from an idea that examining the year was a good practice, just as examining our day in an Ignatian contemplation is.
The practice of being present in our lives, grounds itself in the truth that we are loved and blessed in God and asks the Spirit to reveal to us, firstly, a time of consolation; to enrich our imaginations with the source of this consolation. The practice moves on to invite the Spirit to reveal a time of desolation, to enlighten our imaginations with wisdom grounded in love and consolation. Then, routed in blessing, we allow the light of Christ to show us the way and rest in prayer, imagining the good.
The lengthening of the days and the promise of life and abundant light, calls us to hope. A practice that was shared amongst those gathered, was of putting a pebble in a jar when we felt particularly blessed so that on the days we felt that all was desolation we could look at the jar and draw comfort. What if on the days when we received a word of hope we were to write it on one of the stones? We could then pour out the pebbles when we were feeling low and search for the words of hope and allow them to kindle hope. What if we were to fill the jar to the brim with water so that every time we added a pebble the water flowed over?
For some of us the thought of this practice might appear exhausting. Maybe we could just make a practice of lighting a candle at the same time at the end of the day. In the dark times there is a light shining. There is a light within us and we can see the light shining all around us. We are gifted with creation and the mystery of goodness draws out of us a sense of the power of love; compassion, mercy, steadfastness. The light of creation and our creative looking embodies hope in our hearts. Our faith is that God is good; he is love. Just light a candle.
Yet, look at me; look at my lived life. Look around. Is there hope? Do not be overcome. Breath. Yes, hope is in the breath that I breathe, in the glimmer on the edge of the horizon. Beyond and very near; a gust of wind. The presence of God. Be lead. In this I can rest; God is good. He is calling me to peace, to joy. He is calling me to love.
Joy to the world? Looking within I discover dark places.
But some of those dark places are quiet and comforting, places of birth, places of security where God is knitting me together. Wherever each of us is, whatever the present darkness, there is also a darkness that comforts, a place of intimacy and secure solitude. Find joy in the comfort of solitude, in the silence of a lover, and allow the light to bring you to new birth, calling you out, grounded in security, to walk in faith. Be kind, be fully human just as Jesus our Lord is fully human, not ruled by world but in the world. Become joy in the world.
Put out the candle.
Think into this time of new beginnings. In the beginning, Eve was formed in Adam. The whole of humanity taken from one humanity sharing the breath of life with all life, from a humble micro-organism to the majestic ant. Jesus is the second Adam, formed in Mary, taking his full humanity from her. The created is God, and draws breath in humanity. In this age of reason, here is the challenge, God forms God in the dark, secure womb of a vulnerable woman, Mary. God Almighty formed baby Jesus, as he did us.
Jesus was formed, a man from a woman. Does this mean Jesus is not like us? None of us were formed in this way. How then is Jesus fully human? Is this just a story? The message is that Jesus is fully human and fully God and calls us to partake in his divinity and become fully human. The questions about Jesus conception are unsettling. Don’t walk away from them, explore the mothering of God.
Indifference to the challenge of Jesus is as deathly as a bluster that can’t allow questioning. Embrace doubt. Don’t try to come up with an answer. Truth has many dimensions and layers and is bound up in the person of Jesus. Live with the uncertainty and discover that dark place of solitude where the light might shine. Find yourself shining the light of the God of Love. Be fully human; be the hands, feet and mouth of God. You are a child of God, a little one, the word become flesh, as Jesus is in the Father so are you in Jesus.
Allow the light to challenge your assumptions of power and entitlement to respect, your sense of importance; allow those dark places of fear and loss of control to be exposed. Sin is lodged in your fear. It closes the door on the divine. Our sense of entitlement, our attachment to the world, our sense of status is our rebellion. Prideful entitlement to respect and selfish attachment to our own certainties is the path to rage. Breathe. Let go. Embrace the challenge of not knowing if you are right.
Watch the smoke of the extinguished candle rise.
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If your reactions are more visceral, putting pebbles in water, or lighting candles might not do!
Ian Adams in his book, Running over Rocks, Spiritual practices to transform tough times, suggests doing as the title indicates. The danger involved in running over rocks might be a better practice for you than gazing at water running over rocks!
This is my version of Ian Adam’s practice of Discovering Your Thankfulness.
Firstly, breathe in the joy of the day, reflecting on God’s providence, how at each moment there was a good choice to make; in an act of worship open your arms to accept God’s approval as you recall each moment. Take time to feel the times of wrong choices in the pit of your stomach, the fear or the hurt ego and clasp it. Clasp it tight as the wrong done to you or to others surfaces. Clasp it tight as you face up to problems in your family or with health, times of weakness, judging, unkindness. Feel the pull to despair and name it with groans. Acknowledge your anger then breathe and listen, letting go and asking God to enter in. He may answer in a whisper, and he may bring to mind the good Let your arms drop and open them up in an attitude of receiving, circling up to a cruciform shape receiving the silence and the comfort then run, walk, move out and live. This can be a momentary practice, done in one movement, a prayer to begin a time of activity, adding meaning to a work out. Even if you feel nothing you have turned to the light.
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In all your practices, even if everything remains as it was, you have put yourself in that place of humility. Christ is born into the mess of poverty and dies a messy death at the hands of authority. Jesus is at home in the mess.
Jesus brings us from the darkness into the light.