d r a f t
Editor’s (admin’s) note: Lightly edited copy of email I wrote in advance of this month’s appointment with my spiritual director, giving her a heads-up on what I’d been journaling on since our last meeting and, more to the point, helping me focus over time by archiving the emails with my journals on this blog.
Hi Sister —
Here’s my monthly email to let you know, in advance of our Zoom session Tuesday, what progress I’ve made in my spiritual journey and suggest things I think I ought to work on. As always, it’s not a hard-and-fast agenda, and we can go in whatever direction you think would be most valuable. But prayer is still high on my spiritual to-do list.
It’s been on my to-do list for several months now, but it took an unexpected turn when the war in Ukraine broke out:
Last month I started to give the Ignatian Colloquy a try — is that the right word? the type of prayer where you imagine yourself in an F2F conversation with Jesus — and spent several days reading up on it. (That’s the way I approach pretty much *everything* — study it, try it out, evaluate it, study it some more and try again. I learned it as a management technique called Plan-Do-Study-Act, or PDSA, and I taught it at Benedictine, but I’ve found it carries over to my spiritual life too.) I even journaled about the colloquy, and published it on the blog Feb. 23. But the next day, the Russian tanks moved into Ukraine and … I got distracted, and I haven’t yet gotten around to actually doing a colloquy.
That doesn’t mean I didn’t pray, though. I haven’t been this shaken and worried about an international conflict since the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962.
So I journaled about that, in a post I headlined “Thoughts, prayers, wisdom from the Talmud and ‘the enormity of the world’s grief’ in wartime” (the quote is from a Talmudic paraphrase). Link here [to come back to this page, you’ll need to hit the “back” key]:
I really wrestled with this one … started it March 2 and didn’t feel like it was ready to uplink for a week. I can’t really sum it up — suffice it to say I was wrestling with: (1) an interview with Fr. James Martin in America magazine headlined “Praying for peace in Ukraine—even when it feels useless”; (2) a column by a lifestyle writer for the Times of Israel headed “Praying Myself Into Action”; (3) and a Jewish sage who fled Jerusalem after the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE and certainly knew something about the enormity of the world’s grief. They all fit together somehow — although I’m not exactly sure precisely how — and it was all swirling around in my head. I’ll just give you a couple of quotes.
The first is from Fr. Martin. I’ve liked him ever since I read The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, and this interview answered one of my longstanding questions about prayer, and not just in wartime:
I do believe God hears our prayers and responds, though sometimes the response is not through a sudden turnabout of events but by turning our own hearts: softening them, awakening in us a sense of compassion or even a righteous anger over injustice. So I think God both acts and also moves us to act.
And this, a little later in the interview:
Remember that this is one way that God “works,” by moving hearts to action. How else would God act in the world?
That’s one of the things I like most about Fr. Martin. His spiritual exercises always end up with a call to action.
Also wrestling with prayer and action was Rachel Sharansky Danziger, a lifestyle columnist for the Times of Israel in Jerusalem, who normally writes about her family, her religion and life in Israel. Of the war she wrote:
There is blood on the ground in Kyiv. There are women birthing in metro stations in Kharkiv. There are elderly people hiding in their basements, children crying and explosions above their heads.
We pray for God to extend His hand and help them, but it is OUR hands and legs and hearts that are required, it is our “hineni” – our “here I am” – that history awaits.
The Hebrew word, hineni, means “here I am.” But it means more than that. It’s what Abraham, Moses, Samuel and the prophet Isaiah answered when God called them. I’ve been thinking about it anyway as we get into the final stages of our formation classes for Dominican associate candidates. What does it mean to say “here I am?” And what do I do once I’ve said it?
I don’t have a good answer to those questions, but I was struck by one of last month’s lectionary readings —
It was for the 5th Sunday after Epiphany (as the Lutheran church, and apparently Vanderbilt Divinity School, count the weeks of the liturgical year), from the 6th chapter of Isaiah:
6:1 In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty; and the hem of his robe filled the temple.
6:2 Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew.
6:3 And one called to another and said: “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory.”
6:4 The pivots on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke.
6:5 And I said: “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips; yet my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
6:6 Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs.
6:7 The seraph touched my mouth with it and said: “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.”
6:8 Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!” […]
I have no idea exactly what that means, or how it would fit into my life, but I’ve got a strong feeling I ought to sit with that passage and see where it leads me.
I’ve got you down for 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 15. Looking forward to it!