Place ✝ Time

by Ivy Clark

Place and time characterize our story’s historical meanings and social and cultural coherence. They whisper our sense of belonging and hold the continuity of our identity. As much as time feels finite, tangible, measurable and chronological, and the world relates, measures, and controls it through a numeric currency of tik-tok tik-tok tik-tok, I find time’s cadence, movements, and capacity much more fluid, circular and uncertain, as it synchronizes with the heartbeat of the Holy One, who authors time and dwells in and outside it.

As a spiritual director offering holy listening with a non-anxious presence for directees, I am drawn to place and time’s ever-changing geometry and autonomy. First is the directee’s cerebral embodiment of the physicalities of their place and time that is finite. Second, paralleled by an indissolvable dimension unbridled from the metaphysics of place and time, where the past, present and future are wholly and eternally present, open for Spiritual orientation and transcendence. These two dimensions of place and time interact and correspond continuously to each other, transmitting and interpreting, renewing and reviving meanings for the directee’s identity and story sealed in God.

Witnessing my directees’ sacred stories has been a holy ground for me. In my silence, I pray for “a listening ear that can see” (Howard Thurman). I sense that the deep in God calls me to cross the boundaries of my place and time, orienting my wholeness and sensitivity toward my directee’s journey, their identity, lived experiences and worldviews, etc. Spiritual direction, in many ways, feels like a repeated voyage of crossing over to the directee and returning to myself. God’s “shamar*”is offered and received each time I return with a deeper seeing of myself, yielding a deeper seeing of the directee. I have been on a journey of patient trust, holding my directee in the unbridled Spirit, the host that shows the way. Ivy Clark Reflection Journal Entry – Aug. 2023 2 of 2

This circular, grace-filled, emancipating and expanding experience with the parallel dimensions of space and time that ground us, and liberate us, enable us to encounter the trustworthy God, impregnated with wonder, love and action for Her children, makes spiritual direction a spacious and wildly God-centered journey for those who pilgrim it.

(*Hebrew “shamar”: to exercise great care of, to guard, observe, preserve …)

Books I am deeply savouring this summer:

• Kaleidoscope – Broadening the Palette in the Art of Spiritual Direction (I am rereading it for the second time)

• Our Unforming – De-Westernizing Spiritual Formation (by Cindy Lee) (I am rereading it for the second time)

• The Land – Place as Gift, Promise, and Challenge in Biblical Faith

• The Promised End – Eschatology in Theology and Literature (by Paul S. Fiddes)

• Inklings of Heaven – C.S. Lewis and Eschatology (by Sean Connolly)

• Shakespeare’s Shakespeare – How the Plays Were Made (by John C. Meagher)

• The Tempest (I studied it in junior high school. Now re-reading it with my deep curiosity about the illusive concept of space, time and the last things.)

Sorting Our Desires In Spiritual Direction

by Kate Laymon

“God writes his hopes into our desiring.” – Joseph Tetlow SJ, Choosing Christ in the World

“What do you want me to do for you?” Jesus said to the blind man, Bartimaeus, on his way out of Jericho. It can seem like the answer would be obvious. Here was a blind man, shouting out for mercy. And yet, Jesus asks him what it is he wants. He does not presume to know. He invites Bartimaeus to name his desire. 

There is a vulnerability in the naming of our desires, even when they are obvious. Naming our desires opens us to the possibility of disappointment or even rejection. What if God says no? What if I do follow my desire and it leads me astray? We are more often prone to protect our hearts and bury our desires. 

I learned very early to put others’ needs, desires, even preferences above my own. This was not only reinforced in my family, but in the Christian tradition I grew up in. I learned early on that Jesus served others and that I was supposed to be like Jesus. I never saw myself in the place of the blind man. I never knew that Jesus also desired to know what I wanted from him. 

I remember vividly a time that I opened myself to desire and soon found myself at the bottom of a metaphorical ditch. I cried out to God for help. And he helped me. But I concluded afterwards that my desires could not be trusted. And I concluded that God’s desires for me, must be, had to be, so very different from my own. So, I set out to try to contort myself into someone I wasn’t, but someone who I thought God wanted me to be. Someone else. 

Then, last year I journeyed through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, a 9-month intensive prayer journey, accompanied by a spiritual director. Using Joseph Tetlow’s, Choosing Christ in the World as my guide, I came upon this line: “God writes his hopes into our desiring.” Read that line again. St. Ignatiaus of Loyola, a Christian mystic and saint, believed and taught in his Exercises that it’s in excavating our deepest desires that God’s heart and hopes for us will be found. That our desires are not something to be avoided, denied, or sacrificed, but that they are the very place to turn to find out who we are in Christ and what he hopes to do our in our lives. As we name our desires, we are witnessing the Christ in us. We are recognizing the Christ who lives in each of our own unique hearts and selves. 

It’s been a long hard road back home to myself. And also, a beautiful homecoming. Like falling back into an old comfortable couch. A relief. A rest. There’s a way in which we can be prodigals to our own hearts and to Christ who dwells there, even in the name of religion or right living. As we come home to ourselves, to our hearts and our native desires, Christ runs out to meet us saying, “Welcome home! I’ve missed you so! Let’s throw a party!”

In listening to and naming our desires we can come home to ourselves and to God in the same fell swoop. Spiritual direction can be a place where we turn towards our desires and perhaps dig through a treasure chest that’s been long buried. There might be a lot of dust and debris on top, but there are beautiful jewels waiting to be discovered, if only we keep digging. 

Even before I knew to begin naming my desires, my director began ushering me back home simply by sitting with and honoring the messy, flailing parts of my heart. This experience reassured me that God welcomes and embraces my beat up, broken, and bleeding heart and that it’s safe to bring my heart to God. This opened the way for me to receive the truth that God wants to know what I desire.

While Jeremiah’s words are often misused in chapter 17, it’s true enough, that our hearts can be deceitful, and our desires sometimes disordered. There are many desires that if followed may lead us somewhere we later wished we hadn’t gone. So how do we sort and discern what desires originate Christ? 

Janet Ruffing, in her book, Beyond the Beginnings, says this about sorting our desires:

“As each thing we think we want emerges, it takes some time to test out whether we really do want it or not. This interior sorting through requires listening to ourselves at deeper levels than many of us are accustomed… Honest prayer, in fact, structures our desires… In allowing our desires room to be – to become conscious, intelligent, and available to us, even to become enlarged and expanded – and in the process of praying we find that we and our desires ‘get sorted out.’”

As I’ve been turning towards my soul, listening to Jesus’ invitation it to tell him what I want, a desire emerged that’s been stubbornly sticky over the years. I’ve learned to pay attention to desires that don’t seem to go away and so I brought this one to my spiritual director recently. I noticed that as I’ve turned towards it more fully, that it seemed to fade a bit, almost like it became shy, and I was tempted to dismiss it.  Instead, she invited a deeper exploration. “What are the desires underneath this desire?” she asked. And I began to name things like agency (which is a desire to assert myself in my life), an enjoyment of continued learning, to use my voice and be heard, for healing of myself and others, and the enjoyment of adventure. Many of these are values and parts of me that make me, me. To see these deeper desires at work in me helped me see Christ’s own heart beating within mine. While I still don’t have a decision, I can now more clearly articulate to Jesus what it is I want and listen for how he may want to meet me in them and fulfill them in me.

Spiritual direction is a place where we can hear Jesus’ question to us personally: What do you want me to do for you? In my practice, I always begin a spiritual direction relationship asking some variation of this question: “What do you want in spiritual direction?” or even, “What do you want Jesus to do for you?” This is where we begin. With desire. And as we listen to desire, we begin to hear a faint but constant thumping: the heartbeat of God. Christ appears in our midst, beckoning us to get up and come. He’s calling. 

Agnostic to Change

by Polly Baker

When walking into a spiritual direction session, a phrase that has been so helpful to remember as I offer this space of Spiritual Direction is to be “agnostic to change.”   When this phrase was first offered to me, it immediately stood out and something clicked in me.  I began to think of all the times when I was offering Spiritual Direction to others that I have felt this tension in me to want to jump in and help, solve, fix, advise and become the one who pushes for change.  And, there have been plenty of times that I did jump in,  and times that I didn’t, but regardless, there was always this struggle within me.  So, when I heard this phrase, it helped clarify why this struggle and tension I was experiencing was so prominent.  I realized that I was not being agnostic to change, I was actually looking for it.

As I have sat with this revelation,  it has been so helpful to notice that my desire to see change within my directees is actually from a place of deep longing within myself.  I have always struggled to sit in my own belovedness just as I am, and to learn that God actually loves me without an agenda. My own journey of experiencing Spiritual Direction was actually one of the first places where I was able to receive and experience this belovedness in a tangible way.  It was one of the reasons that I wanted to offer this practice to others.

And, I also believe the idea of change is a holy one.  We are all made in the image of a compassionate and loving God, and as ones who bear this image, we long to see healing, growth and expansion in ourselves and others, and I am so grateful that I long for these things in my directees.  And I can notice and hold that longing, while also acknowledging that my role as a spiritual director is not to look for change, in fact, it is to be agnostic to it.  My role is to behold their belovedness.

As I continue to learn this practice of holding this compassionate space for others, I have found that being agnostic to change actually frees me to witness the Divine within each of these humans without any agenda, and allows me to experience God holding me in my own belovedness exactly as I am.

– Polly Baker

A Brief Introduction to the Ignatian Exercises

Ignatius of Loyola wrote the Spiritual Exercises at the time of the Reformation. In a season of significant corruption in the church, Ignatius wanted to share his life-changing encounter with Jesus by praying through scripture with imaginative prayer. This prayer journey was originally designed as a 30-day retreat experience but is now more commonly prayed in daily life over 9 months. These “Ignatian” Exercises became a central spiritual practice for the Jesuits, but in recent years have taken on new life in protestant circles, becoming an interior pilgrimage rivaling the Camino.  

 

The retreat begins with a number of weeks of preparatory prayers focused on knowing our belovedness and then looks at our brokenness and sin in the light of God’s love. Then the remainder of the journey is praying through the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection. On this journey, we are invited to see Jesus through the lens of his humanity, as a real person, and Jesus becomes less of an idea but a person that we deeply connect with, who we want to know, love, and serve. 

 

As we pray the Exercises, we begin each prayer time with the invitation to notice God looking upon us with a gaze of love. We are invited to receive that loving gaze, absorbing as much of that love as we are able. This is so important!

 

For Ignatius the love of God is central. Everything rests upon it. Ignatius knew it would be destructive to consider our sin if we are not thoroughly grounded in God’s personal, unconditional, relational love for us. We are invited to consider and experience why the Trinity sent Jesus into the world. “For God so loved the world…” As we pray through Jesus’ life and ministry we pray with Jesus seeing people, loving them, having compassion on them, healing, restoring, and freeing them. Why does Jesus do this? Love! How does Jesus do this? Love at the heart of everything!

 

Then, as we pray through Jesus’ passion, we see the love that motivated him, the love that allowed him to suffer and die for us. And in the resurrection, we experience his joy as he comes alive and goes to speak peace to and restore his friends. We experience Jesus inviting us to join him in this kind of love. Ignatiaus’ final consideration is entitled The Contemplation of Divine Love. In it, we are invited to experience the enormity and many-faceted reality of God’s love, to be overwhelmed by love, and to become “incandescent with gratitude.” Faced with this amount of overwhelming love, we are forever changed, forever invited into a love relationship with the Trinity.

 

As we pray through the life of Jesus, we pray with our imagination. Ignatius taught that our imagination was a great gift of God, given to us in order to pray in an intimately connected way. Jesus desires to share himself deeply with us, so he invites us to enter into his life in prayer as he inspires our imagination. So we enter the story and let the passage come alive to us. We see, hear, taste, smell, and feel what is happening in the scene.

 

We are invited to journey with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, be at his birth, and hold Jesus as a baby. We get to be with the shepherds as the angels come to them, travel with the Magi, and bring our gifts to Jesus. We flee with Jesus and his family into Egypt and experience their time as refugees. When we pray through his public ministry, we are invited to let the story come alive to us, be close to Jesus, and experience him. We want to see him, to know him, to see what moves him, to see what moves in him. We pay close attention to Jesus’ desires, what fills him with joy, the things that disturb him, the freedom and healing he wants to extend to the broken. 

 

We enter into all these things because, as his friend, we want to care about what he cares about and experience things from his point of view. And we discover that our experience changes us, pulls us in, has helped us fall deeper in love, deeper into friendship with him. But we are not satisfied. It makes us desire so much more, so much more of him.

 

Because we have become personally connected with Jesus, when we pray his passion we are not neutral observers. No! This is our friend who we know and love who is suffering. We are deeply moved. And then, in the resurrection, we rejoice with him in a personal way. Our friend that we love is alive. He is restored to us. We are filled with joy! 

What will you experience and where will God lead you as you pray with holy imagination?

By Dale Gish www.deeplybeloved.com

Offer Empty

As I considered applying for the Anam Cara Apprenticeship, I asked a friend about her own training in spiritual direction. “It’s about me getting out of the way,” she said. “This is about what God is doing, not me.”

Do you know how difficult it can be to get out of the way? Personally, I keep tripping over my desire to be helpful to my now directee’s. 

This has me thinking about a woman in the Scriptures who was in dire need. Her husband died. Her debts were due. Her sons would soon be sold as slaves. Destitute, this woman cried for help to the prophet Elisha who offered what appeared to be a very strange piece of advice. Learning this woman had nothing of value in her home but a wee bit of olive oil, Elisha said: 

“Go around and ask all your neighbors for empty jars—and not just a few” (2 Kings 4).

When I read this, I immediately scoffed, “Empty? Seriously? How about instructing this poor woman to go around and ask all her neighbors for full jars!? And while she’s at it, for bread, spare change, and a job or two for her and her boys?” At first glance I found Elisha’s advice overwhelmingly unhelpful (which may have been the point …). 

But the prophet-of-God’s instructions were clear: what you need right now, from your neighbors, your friends, and your community, is an increase of empty. Ask them to offer you empty.

 

Enter the whole get-out-of-the-way theme my friend was talking about, because if my neighbor came to me in dire need, like this widow did to hers, I would move into action. In full fix-it (I want to be helpful) mode, I might just take over – gathering & giving whatever I could and piling it into her arms as if I knew what was best. It wouldn’t matter if that wasn’t what she asked for or needed.

Oof! I feel the weight of that last sentence. 

What if my friend is asking for the empty? Seeking specifically for it? I realize it’s a hard thing for me to offer. It takes great trust to offer empty.

Offering empty is not the same as offering nothing. The neighbors did not shake their heads, close their doors and turn this widow away. No, they gave, but they gave empty, enlarging the space for an outpouring of grace. For along with those empty jars, I believe they gave hope, they gave belief, they gave holy anticipation and expectation. They were with her in the wonder and the waiting.

If you’re familiar with the widow’s story, you know her small amount of olive oil miraculously stretched to fill each and every one of those borrowed empty jars. It wasn’t until the last jar was filled that the oil stopped flowing. The woman was able to sell the oil, pay off her debts, and live off the rest.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe we are to clothe the naked, feed the hungry & share our resources. But sometimes people will come to us in need of empty – in need of an enlarged space into which the Spirit can flow in ways we never could have imagined or orchestrated. Sometimes, what is needed is for us to pull back on fix-it mode and offer our empty – as much of it as we can possibly muster – and to do so with great faith, hope, and love. 

As the apostle Paul says, “In alert expectancy such as this, we’re never left feeling shortchanged. Quite the contrary—we can’t round up enough containers to hold everything God generously pours into our lives through the Holy Spirit!” (Romans 5:5 Message). 

Offer Empty.

Ponder: What is the difference between offering nothing, and offering empty?

Practice: Read this gorgeous poem by Christine Lore Webber about being hollowed out and emptied by God. 

Pray: Ask God to enlarge your empty, making you ready for whatever He’ll do next.

– Jenny Gehman

The Magi by Malcolm Guite

It might have been just someone else’s story,
Some chosen people get a special king.
We leave them to their own peculiar glory,
We don’t belong, it doesn’t mean a thing.
But when these three arrive they bring us with them,
Gentiles like us, their wisdom might be ours;
A steady step that finds an inner rhythm,
A  pilgrim’s eye that sees beyond the stars.
They did not know his name but still they sought him,
They came from otherwhere but still they found;
In temples they found those who sold and bought him,
But in the filthy stable, hallowed ground.
Their courage gives our questing hearts a voice
To seek, to find, to worship, to rejoice.

-Malcolm Guite

Dislodged or Detached?

By Brandon Booth – www.signpostinn.org

For millennia, wise guides have encouraged “detachment” from the world as a sure method of spiritual development. The idea has such a long pedigree that there must be some extraordinary merit to the term. But I confess that the word bothers me. It conjures up images of scraggly, starving men sitting on top of columns in the desert, or of self-flagellating monks in dingy cells. 

“Detachment” makes me feel that my spiritual life should be one of “less” and “less” until it’s so rarified that I’m not even a spirit playing a harp on a cloud but the cloud itself. Hardly the spiritual path I want, or indeed, what I think most of the ancient sages intended.

Instead, I think they were seeking a path to something more, not less. Detachment is not the goal, but a means. 

I think of Abram being called by God to “leave” his land and his family and “to go” to a land that God promised to show him. We might say that God asked Abram to “detach” from the world he knew, but I think there is a better word. Abram was called to “dislodge.” 

“Dislodge” comes from an old French word that means to “dis-encamp.” It has the sense that one is already on a journey and has made a temporary camp. Sooner or later we need to “dis-lodge” and strike out on the next stage of our adventure. Why? Because there is more to explore!

So, I can find the strength to detach because I’m not leaving my home, only a temporary lodging place. My true home lies ahead of me, not behind. To cling desperately to this particular lodging is the truer loss. It prevents me from experiencing the more that God has for me. To be sure, letting go of anything is a loss, and all losses need to be honored and grieved, but I need to let go of whatever I’m clutching right now in order to open my arms and embrace what is new and more. 


A Both/And Life

In the fall of 2020, my daughter Ale, son-in-law Clint, and I hiked the trail to Fern
Lake in Rocky Mountain National Park for a couple days of camping. The trees
were alive and green then. But a week later fire swept through that area, destroying
large swaths of the forest. This fall I hiked back up there by myself. And one thing
stood out to me: the flowers. Before the fire, the canopy of leaves above shadowed
the forest floor and there was not enough sunlight to sustain many flowers. But
now, in the midst of dead trees and ash, beautiful hillsides of flowers flourished.
This reminded me of one of my favorite Bible verses, Isaiah 61:3, written hundreds
of years before the birth of Christ. It promises that God will send One (Jesus) who
will give beauty for ashes.

And so, I chose a picture from that hike to represent what 2022 has been to me. As
I continue to process the losses of recent years—fighting cancer, losing my
husband, and the challenges of Covid among others–my life sometimes seems
“ashy”. There are times of loneliness and of wondering where I belong. I have days
of frustration as I try to handle practical life details (not my strong suit!) that my
husband would have taken care of easily. And yet, unforeseen beauty is emerging.
I spent three weeks in Ireland, England, and Paris this spring. There were moments
there when I felt like I was in a dream! I have had delightful opportunities to take
on new ministry challenges. In January I will graduate from the Anam Cara
spiritual direction apprenticeship that I have been in for the last two years. I have
experienced personal transformation and learned deep lessons in how to be
lovingly present to others as they process their lives. And I have had many
wonderful times with family and friends that I love. I am learning to live a
“both/and” life. Life is both very hard AND such a gift. It is both full of pain AND
abundant joy.

As we move into 2023, I pray each of us may find beauty growing, even in the
places of loss!

– Jo Newell

O Emmanuel

O Emmanuel

O come, O come, and be our God-with-us,
O long-sought with-ness for a world without,
O secret seed, O hidden spring of light.
Come to us Wisdom, come unspoken Name,
Come Root, and Key, and King, and holy Flame,
O quickened little wick so tightly curled,
Be folded with us into time and place,
Unfold for us the mystery of grace
And make a womb of all this wounded world.
O heart of heaven beating in the earth,
O tiny hope within our hopelessness,
Come to be born, to bear us to our birth,
To touch a dying world with new-made hands
And make these rags of time our swaddling bands.

– Malcolm Guite

from: Sounding the Seasons: Seventy Sonnets for the Christian Year

Life: a reflection

You never start out thinking it will be like this
You imagine something cleaner; something easy
You think, “we might have some hard times”
But overall, you assume that life will be simple.

And then it isn’t. Not clean or simple or easy.
You think, “we might not survive this.”
You wonder why it’s this way.
You scream at heaven, but get no response.

This is your life, not clean or simple or easy
But it’s yours, nobody else’s
They couldn’t endure it, much less find the joy in it.
They will never understand the sorrow or the heartache

They will never know the beauty or the grace either.
But you will, you do, it’s all yours; all of it
Yours to have, yours to hold, yours to bear
This life, this sorrow, this gift.

-J. Hunter Frye