Category: Second Week


AMDG

Definition of afterglow

1a glow remaining where a light has disappeared
2a pleasant effect or feeling that lingers after something is done, experienced, or achieved
      ” basking in the afterglow of success”

We all have experienced ‘the afterglow’ of a sunset when the sun has dipped below the horizon and the sky lights up in vivid colours.  Equally after a great experience, a wedding or a party we might bask in the afterglow of friendship and love.  If you are football fan like me, you might experience the afterglow of your team’s success, winning a trophy or an exciting game (like beating Man City 3-2, or Tottenham’s 2-0 victory over Utd).  St Ignatius also had a helpful insight about the afterglow of a religious experience.  Occasionally, or perhaps more frequently in life we might have a direct experience of God, which Ignatius calls ‘Consolation without Cause’.  There is also a type of ‘spiritual afterglow’ after this type of experience. Often we are so gripped by it that we start making plans for the future, getting married,  changing career direction,  or maybe start developing a project and imagining all the good it’s going to do….  Ignatius wisely warns us to be careful and to test these plans with someone wise who knows us, or if we are lucky enough –  a spiritual director.  He specifically mentions this in his rules for discernment of the second week. Here is David Flemings contemporary translation:

Eighth Rule.  When a consolation experience in our life comes directly from God there can be no deception in it.  Although a delight and a peace will be found in such an experience, a spiritual person should be very careful to distinguish the actual moment of this consolation-in-God from the following, the afterglow which may be exhilirating and joyful for some period of time. It is in this second period of time that we begin to reason out plans or to make resolutions that cannot be attributed as directly to God as the initial experience which is non-conceptual in nature. Because human reasoning and other influences are now coming into the total picture of this consolation period, a vey careful process of discerning the good and evil spirits should be undertaken, according to the previous guidelines, before any resolution or plan of action is adopted.

Decisions and projects that are formed in the afterglow can overstep the evidence of the experience of consolation. Over time they can lead to frustration, to losing motivation and momentum (often seen in Founders Syndrome).  It can also be spiritually undermining and leading us to doubting the original and genuine experience from God.  It can even more poisonous in that we begin to mistrust God in any future experiences. There are obvious parallels in political power often described as hubris e.g.  Tony Blair and Iraq, David Cameron and the Brexit referendum. Both successful leaders, effecting change until they reached too far.  If only they had an Ignatian Director accompanying them!

AMDG

Homily given at the Holy Name, Manchester at Midnight Mass, 25/12/2014

Jesus-and-ChristmasThe Night of Nights…..  Tonight we remember the night on which all of history turns…..  the night in which God breaks through 2014 years ago – the night that our Calendar is based on, the night which divides time to Before and After …..  Before the coming of Christ and After the Arrival of Our Lord.  The Incarnation – the infinite God becoming a finite, vulnerable baby – the craziness of a love that never gives up on us, that never gives up on humans even though we make such a mess of things….. The Night of Nights

Tonight there is a crack in the Universe – that is first noticed in Nazareth as an angel appears to a young girl –  then the crack leads a starry trail to Bethlehem that starts to attract attention from far away, in the learned scientific halls of astronomers and also closer to home in the palaces of ruthless power.  But notice how the truly powerful one – the creator of the universe –  chooses to visit us – on the edge of things, in poverty, in simplicity, far from corridors of political intrigue, far from halls of great learning.

It is in the emergency shelter of a stable that this child-God begins to open a space in the world in which God’s healing love can work.  This space – the stable in Bethlehem – will soon grow into a new sanctuary – and will spread around the world – overtaking nearly half of the world’s population.  From here the faith of 2 and half billion people is born, from this temporary shelter, great cathedrals will arise all over the world, this humble beginning will inspire great works of art, literature and breathtaking beauty.

star-of-bethlehem1But tonight is about going back to those humble beginnings in Bethlehem – and one thing I ask that you do over the next days and weeks – is to gaze upon that image of the stable, to ponder how it all started – the vulnerability, the tenderness……  A modern translation of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises asks us to enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the eyes of faith  .  We can do that beautifully in front of the crib …….  Gazing at the figures ……… enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith .  In a few moments of stillness and silence …… watch the brave Girl who said yes to God, even though to be pregnant out of wedlock was a great shame and often meant you would be stoned to death or thrown down a well …… ponder on the courage of Mary….. and then the quiet support of Joseph, that decent man who instead of abandoning Mary listened to the angel in a dream and stood by her, his faith overcoming his pride, his compassion overcoming his male ego.  As we watch them caring for each other – allow that tenderness to seep into your soul, and then that tenderness will lead you to ponder the vulnerable, baby Jesus, dependent on their care – the man who will command the waves to be still, who cures so many people, who raises Lazarus from the dead….  As a helpless baby – The Son of God born into this world.

Some time over the next few days, take a little time out from the feasting, the telly, the computer, prize your eyes away from your smart phone and contemplate that image from Bethlehem…….  What we spend our time looking at affects us deeply – how we thing about the world – how think about our selves.

kim-kardashian-paper-cover-billboard-650Possible the most looked at image last year was that strange picture of Kim Kardashian – with her unusually shaped body – showing a little bit too much of it – and then that bizarre image of pouring champagne over her head into a glass that was balanced on her unusually shaped body……  I think you know what I mean …..  these images were looked at so often the strap line ‘Break the Internet’ was attached to it.   Talking to so many students – I know how much pressure they feel under to have the perfect body – male as well as female students.  How they are bombarded with images of ‘beauty’ all the time and how it leaves so many feeling inadequate, frustrated and unhappy.  It is like a spiritual sickness in our image obsessed world……

So be careful what you are looking at – notice if it doesn’t increase your faith , or your hope or your love it is probably slowly having a poisonous effect…. Take time away from all of that and spend some time gazing with wonder at the nativity scene – The church is open all day during the holiday period – when you gaze at the crib – what you find there is the image of pure Love – a love that is strong that as St Paul said it emptied itself, by taking the form of a servant so as to be born as a human….. the longer you Gaze on that – that love will slowly penetrate your heart ….  And you won’t feel inadequate or unhappy but your heart will fill with wonder…..

Enter into the deep down stillness of this night – to see Him with all the wonder that comes from the Eyes of faith 

And if this is your annual visit to church, or you don’t come very often, if you’re not sure about your faith, or you just like celebrating Christmas – you are very welcome …. But come again, come more often, spend less time with the Kim Kardashians of this world and the snares of our celebrity culture and more time with us and ponder Him who is the source of our joy and who can change anything

AMDG

images (3)At the heart of the Second Week of the Exercises – is making an ‘election’ – i.e. answering the question how should I lead my life.  This can be a formal election, e.g. shall I marry this person, shall I make this career change, shall I enter religious life, or an informal election – shall I recommit myself to my work, shall I tweak this or tweak that i.e. should we be more focused on the poor etc.  The type and gravity of the election will dictate the time spent on it.   We can learn a lot from this process about decision making in general, even the day to day decision we make about what we invest our time and energy in.   What is brilliant about the exercises is that it creates the conditions of inner freedom and attentiveness that allow these decisions to be made on a sound footing.

Recent discoveries about how we make decisions – for good and for bad –  are fascinating but also echo certain movements already there in the exercises, which perhaps explaining how Ignatian Spirituality is growing in popularity and seems so relevant to so many people.   For instance the research of Nobel Prize winning Economist Daniel Kahneman is fascinating.  Counter intuitively Kahneman points out how so much of decision making process is not – rational.  For instance he talks about the difference between our remembering self and our experiencing self.  For instance we may enjoy a wonderful holiday for 12 days and then something happens at the end, a big blow up row with a companion,  a delay at the airport, an accident that ruins that last couple of days is what we remember.  So ignoring our experiencing self  ’12 days of happiness and relaxation’, we write the holiday off as a disaster.  Worryingly Kahnemann says that it is our remembering self that makes future decisions.

booksSimilarly when faced with a choice to make about the future, surprisingly maybe, fear seems to operate more effectively than hope. Specifically aversion to loss seems to operates much more strongly than the benefits that can accrue if we change. This is a significant barrier to inner freedom,  and can tie us down to the past, and it works even more strongly at an institutional level than it does at an individual level.   This ‘loss aversion’ – that the disadvantages of change loom larger than the advantages of change –  and the significance of our remembering self explain why Ignatius puts such a premium on ‘magnanimity’ and generosity of spirit as we enter the Exercises.  The disposition days are precisely to allow this inner freedom to grow before the retreat formally starts.  Remembering with gratitude is particularly important, and a grace that we pray for, knowing that we cannot do it on our own.