Editor’s (admin’s) note. Lightly edited copy of an email I sent to my spiritual director in advance of our monthly meeting for June. I email her every month, mostly to focus my mind before we meet, and I archive them here so I have a record of issues I’ve dealt with over time. Being able to consult them online helps keep me on track from month to month. The update, relating to the Jesuit prayer exercise known as the Triple Colloquy, appears in context below.
A note to confirm our Zoom call Wednesday from 1 to 2 p.m. and give you my monthly heads-up on what I’ve been up to since our last session. Mostly it’s centered on prayer — not so much *doing* it as wrestling with the issue of praying to a personal God and getting more familiar with Jesuit spirituality. I’ve especially made a point of trying out St. Ignatius’ colloquy [“an intimate conversation between you and God the Father, between you and Jesus, or between you and Mary or one of the saints,” as Kevin O’Brien SJ defines it on the Ignatian Spirituality website]; so far I’ve pretty well decided I get more out of other prayer and meditation techniques, especially lectio divina [which I’ll explain below], but I want to try one more colloquy before I move on.
One thing I also want to explore came up in the homily at Sacred Heart Chapel for Trinity Sunday, which I got via the associates’ email list. I’m not sure if it was Fr. Michael’s — the email didn’t say — but it brought into focus something about the way I relate to scripture. I tend to read the bible as literature, to relate to it as narrative or story more than doctrine.
In the face of mystery, we often tell a story; and perhaps it’s because a true mystery is not something unknowable; it is something infinitely knowable: we will never come to the end of learning about a true mystery. And so we talk about it; we study it; we try to understand it or find meaning in it; to find something we can identify with. Storytelling gives us a way into the mystery and a way out. It helps us to discover some truth or grace hidden in our experience – perhaps about ourselves and our lives or about the world and even about God. Telling the story can give us insight and it can also bring healing, hope and wholeness when we experience something difficult or painful.
This talk of story and narrative sounded a real chord with me, probably because it’s pretty much the English major-y way I’ve related to so many things over the years. I guess you can take the boy out of the English department but you can’t take the English department out of the boy! Anyway, it’s something I intend to journal about in future. (It gave me some new insights into the Holy Trinity, too.) The homilies and prayer requests I get as an associate help me feel connected to the Springfield Dominican sisters, by the way, and they’re very much appreciated.
Links and excerpts from my journals follow:
A. https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/2022/06/01/margarets-prayer-2/ — June 1 “Learning to pray from George Burns and a young adult novel by Judy Blume”
While I was diving into Ignatian spirituality, something reminded me of the 1970s movie “Oh, God!” starring George Burns and a young adult novel by Judy Blume about a young girl growing up in a secular, interfaith household (hence “half-Jewish”) whose prayer life consists of nightly conversations with God. This excerpt pretty well sums up what I took away from it:
[…] And that’s exactly what I’m looking for. How do you have a “pretty swell” conversation with God as a confidante, an everyday friend, (but minus, in my case, the pre-teen slang)? Well, I guess, you just talk. Like this one (excerpted in the Half-Jewish Book):
“Are you there, God? It’s me, Margaret. I’ve been looking for you, God. I looked in temple. I looked in church. And today I looked for you when I wanted to confess. But you weren’t there. I didn’t feel you at all. Not the way I do when I talk to you at night. Why, God? Why do I only feel you when I’m alone?”
In the end, Margaret never gets around to resolving her doubts. But she keeps on talking. And here, according to the editorial staff at Shmoop [a study guide for high school students], is where faith comes in.
I would love to be able to pray like Margaret. And something about secular but deeply ethical Jews like George Burns and Judy Blume resonates with me.
B. My primary focus, though, has been on prayer in general and especially the Ignatian colloquy. It’s something I started in February, and I’ve written two of what will probably turn out to be three journals trying out the colloquy for myself. I find another exercise — lectio divina — is more compatible with the way I approach life, but I want to do at least one more colloquy because I think the three questions St. Ignatius poses are important:
1. What have I done for Christ?
2. What am I doing for Christ?
3. What ought I do for Christ?
(I got them from a spiritual director named Becky Eldredge at https://beckyeldredge.com/ignatiusandme-colloquy/# — she has a book on Ignatian prayer and another titled “Busy Lives & Restless Souls: How Prayer Can Help You Find the Missing Peace in Your Life” that sounds like it’s written with me in mind. I plan to include them in my next order from Amazon.com.)
** UPDATE (6-29) ** To the three questions in the colloquy above, add” “Who am I in Christ?” It’s about the being, not the doing.
In the meantime, here are links to the two journals I’ve written on the colloquy so far:
* https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/2022/05/25/colloquy-1/ — May 25 — “Imagining a F2F colloquy with Jesus in a Zoom call: Talking back to the still, small voice of the triune God.” Here’s my setup:
Here’s one scenario for how it might go: One day I check my email, and out of the blue there’s a message in my inbox. “Jesus Christ’s Zoom Meeting.” Odd. But I’ve been doing all kinds of new things on Zoom the last couple of years, so why not this? I open the message.
The email is from firstname.lastname@example.org, and it says, “Jesus Christ is inviting you to a scheduled Zoom meeting.” I check Google Calendar, and it’s scheduled for Wed May 25, 2022 2pm – 3pm (CDT).
Hey, that’s right now. I click on the link, and follow the prompts to join the meeting.
In a moment, I see one that says, “Waiting for host to let you in.” A window opens on my desktop computer, and I see a Middle Eastern-looking guy with brown eyes, short brown hair and a close-trimmed beard.
It’s Jesus. Or my conception of what the risen Christ might look like today:
“We got a report at the home office in Jerusalem,” Jesus says, “that you’re having a little trouble with prayer. We’d like to help you with that.”
Um, I think, stalling for time. And here’s what I’m thinking: I don’t quite believe in a personal God, but it seems really, really crude for me to come out and say it to this guy’s face. Like, hey dude, I don’t believe in you. So I hem and haw and ramble on about Elijah and the still small voice. How God served up a windstorm, but God was not in the wind; and then an earthquake and a fire, but God was not in the earthquake and the fire. And finally God spoke to Elijah in a still, small voice. Isn’t that the way it works? All the time I’m rambling on about Elijah, Jesus listens intently — as if I were making sense.After some back-and-forth, it ends like this:
I’ll have to think about that, I say. Jesus doesn’t answer immediately.
“What would happen,” he says after a half minute or so, “if you don’t think so much about praying to a personal God and just do it? Just pray. Talk back to the still, small voice.”
Take it on faith, I ask?
“Why, yes,” Jesus replies. “Something like that.”
* https://ordinaryzenlutheran.com/2022/06/11/trinity-colloquy-2/ — June 11 — “Can an 11th-century legend of St. Patrick teach a 21st-century skeptic to pray? Echoes of a hymn from my confirmation”
This journal started out as part of a colloquy, but it turned into lectio divina as I got into it, following an outline I got from James Martin SJ. First, the setup:
As I try to jumpstart my prayer life, I’ve been experimenting with Jesuit prayer exercises known as Ignatian contemplation and the Triple Colloquy, in which you imagine yourself interacting with Jesus. In the first (link HERE), I imagined myself on an introductory Zoom call with Jesus, whom I envision as kind of a spiritual director; in this one, I imagine receiving another email from Jesus suggesting I try another contemplative practice called lectio divina. Since it’s the day before Trinity Sunday (and since I’m not yet comfortable with the Ignatian Colloquy), I decide to reflect on St. Patrick’s hymn to the Holy Trinity instead. My reflection, which I imagine emailing back to Jesus at email@example.com, follows:
From there it went right into lectio. But instead of scripture, I sat with an Anglican hymn attributed to St. Patrick I remember from growing up in the Episcopal Church. I’m 99% certain we sang it when I was confirmed, and I’ve always taken it as a good statement of my faith — the best statement, in fact, of my faith. It’s a lovely late Victorian paraphrase of the Old Irish poem that was sung (in another translation) when Pope Francis visited Dublin in 2018. But rather than rehashing what I wrote in the journal (other than to note that I echoed the wording of the Anglican hymn and related quotes from Luther in my own prayer), I’ll cut to the chase now, with the last two parts of the lectio:
Pray. “What do I want to say to God about the text?” asks Father Martin. Fair warning: Coming after some of the most remarkable poetry to come out of Irish antiquity, my answer is going to be quite a letdown!
It goes something like this: Thank you, God, for lovely stories like those of St. Patrick, for poetry and the rich heritage of Christianity. Help me to remember that the flawed confessors, apostles, prophets and reformers — the saintly sinners or sinful saints — who made up the church for 2,000 years are capable of profound insights as well as the bigotry, mandated ignorance and general tomfoolery that alienated me from organized religion for so many years.
Thank you, too, for the diversity of opinion in the larger church that enabled me to find a church home with a rich tradition of its own, in the theology and witness of Martin Luther; that enabled me to discover Catholic social teaching and spirituality; and to reconnect with my basic faith formation growing up in the Anglican tradition. Help me to understand the good parts of this multifaceted Christian heritage; to forgive the bad parts; to discern the good in all these insights and others yet unknown; and to grow in my faith.
Act. “Finally,” says Father Martin, “you act. Prayer should move us to action, even if it simply makes us want to be more compassionate and faithful.”
Yes, absolutely. But first steps first. I can’t help but feel that study, prayer and meditation — and, in a word, discernment — are a pretty good first step. So I’ll add a line to my prayer: Help me, O God, to act on my faith and discernment.
That’s about all. Debi and I wrapped up a book study unit on Zoom a couple of weeks ago, and we’re planning to go into another the second week in July. They’re denominational curricula on evangelism for our parish church [Reclaiming the “E” Word: Waking Up To Our Evangelical Identity and Reclaiming the “L” Word: Renewing the Church from its Lutheran Core] and so far they seem to be filling a need. I blogged about it under the headline “Proclaiming the ‘E Word’ on the Z App — walking the talk as the SARS-CoV-2 variants shape an uneasy new normal,” and I was kinda proud of the kicker in my conclusion:
[… I] think it all comes down to walking the talk. If we walk the talk, they will come.
But we’ve got plenty enough to talk about without it. Looking forward to clicking the Zoom link for our session Wednesday at 1 p.m.
[Published June 29, 2022]