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Thursday, December 29, 2011

Homily for Unwrapping Your Gifts (Draft)

          Ignatius of Loyola in his Spiritual Exercises really want us to come to the understanding that we are a gift to ourselves - a gift from God - to ourselves, and that we are to share who we are, share our stories, with those around us. The gift of Ignatian spirituality is that it is a God-affirming-of-us spirituality and a world-affirming spirituality. The Exercises conclude with two thoughts: "love is to be expressed more in deeds than in words," and "the one who loves communicates with the one who is loved." This communication takes shape by way of sharing whatever goods the lover has - family, friends, wealth, learning, virtue, and so on - with the beloved. And so too the beloved shares similarly with the one who loves.
          We need to remind ourselves that lovers share. Lovers do not take, leaving the other bereft. What we offer to share first is our liberty, which leads to the generosity of a great-souled person. Although liberty is a gift from God, our communicating is the very action whereby the potential, which is ours, is actualized in our sharing. We therefore start with sharing our liberty and by doing so, we find that we make ourselves more fully available to our beloved. It is helpful to remember that a gift is not actualized until it has been shared.
          I'd like to suggest some practical steps to share yourself to God and with others.

Ignatius and the composition of place

          A grounding exercise in the 30-day retreat is the Nativity scene when a person is to imagine the setting of the birth of Jesus. We are to examine the movements and conversations of Joseph and Mary, the inn-keeper, shepherds and the visiting Magi, and every scriptural and non-scriptural person who shows up in the scene.  infant Jesus  We are to imaginatively immerse ourselves in the scriptural scenes before the real true heart of the prayer takes shape: the conversation, which is a turning towards one another in openness. Conversations entails more listening than it does speaking. Conversation means that our whole being is oriented toward another person.
          I want to tell you a short story that I read in Mitch Albom's book, "Have a little faith," to illustrate this point.
A little girl came home from school with a drawing she had made in class. She danced into the kitchen where her mother was preparing dinner.

"Mom, guess what?" she squealed, waving the drawing.
Her mother never looked up.

"What?" she said, tending to the pots.

"Guess what?" the child repeated, waving the drawing.
"What?" the mother said, tending to the plated.

"Mom, you're not listening."
"Sweetie, yes I am."

"Mom," the child said, "you're not listening with your eyes."

          Ignatius wants us to use our senses in our prayer. Senses feed our intellect and heart. They provide necessary data that we use to make judgments and interpret events. Our imagination needs this sensory and sensual data because the imagination will unite all parts of our being: intellect, heart, emotions, physiological and psychological movements so the imagination can bring meaning to the world. Through all of this, we come to understand more fully what we need and desire. Once we get a handle on this, we then tell God what we need and desire and we ask for it. Hence, this conversation becomes the cornerstone of our Ignatian-style prayer.
          Give yourself a gift today of lingering with your senses. As you walk outside, take a look around at the obvious beauty of this place, but make sure you also go a little deeper. Look higher up in the sky and lower onto the forest floor to notice those details that are often overlooked. When we contemplate some image, it is always a tiny detail, not the whole corpus, that speaks to us uniquely. Just as we contemplate Christ in a prayer session, we keep our focus upon him and when we catch a particular detail, it is then that he brings up to us the stuff of our lives, the stuff of December 29th, 2011. Christ wants to bring greater meaning to our life's events.
          So walk around with obvious attention to what you see, but also honor your other senses. Smell is a favorite sense for Ignatius for it evokes meaningful memories. Go outside and smell the salt air and the home cooking of our chefs. Taste the salt that is in the air. If you see a particular berry or leaf that you life, don't just look at it. Pick it. Twirl it around in your finger, and if it is not poison ivy, rub in against your cheeks. Feel the cool air on your cheeks as well. Listen, as the girl asks her mommy, with your eyes, and ears, the nose, and mouth, and skin. Immerse yourself. Refrain from making judgments, just allow yourself to feel alive. And don't forget to breathe - deep, slow, sustained breaths. Let there be nothing quick about your breaths. Just breathe in deeply and slowly and breathe out with the same sustained effort.
Do you realize?
          A contemporary rock band called The Verve wrote a song a few years ago that I really like to sing. It is called, "Do you realize?" The question they ask you to consider is this: Do you realize - that - you - have - the most beautiful - face? When was the last time you heard someone say that to you? Do you believe it? Do you believe that you are truly beautiful - to God, to yourself, and to others? All parts of you? with your weaknesses and strengths, your beauty and warts, and those good life choices you' ve made and even those ones you regret and haven't allowed yourself to receive God's forgiveness. Can you allow yourself to truly believe you are beautiful?
          The way I always begin my prayer is to place myself before God to merely let God gaze upon me. I ask that God see me, feel me, hear me, and to know what I am feeling. I ask that God behold me, just as Mary would have gazed upon her infant son when he was born, the way your parents gazed upon you as a newborn. How does God respond? God looks upon me with wonder and awe. God wants you to know that he gazes upon you the same way. You take his breath away and he can't do anything but be astonished by who you are. God wants to tell you that you have such a beautiful face and he holds it in his memory.
Story of an amazing woman in Jamaica who lovingly gazed upon her daughter.

          Most of us are not good at taking compliments. We have to receive these words and thoughts from God. If we begin our prayer in this way, knowing that we are cherished to the core, something wonderful will happen in our hearts that allow us to open up to God. God will be holding us and coaxing us to tell him everything that we are feeling - the positive and negative emotions - the whole gamut of who we are because we are our feelings and our choices.
                Prayer is revealing who we authentically, genuinely are to God, and letting God reveal something about God's self back to us. We have to let God know everything about our emotions so God can feel what we are feeling. We are not to judge our feelings, but merely say, "I'm feeling peaceful because....," "I'm feeling anxious because..." "I'm feeling afraid because..." We just are to tell God that we have these feelings. When we spew forth our 37 complicated, over-lapped, unexpressed feelings to God, we can rest in the fact that we told someone who really wants to know how we are feeling. God can do something with these feelings when we name them. Speaking of these allows us to answer two questions God will ask us: "What do you need?" and "What do you want?" God acts through our desires. God's puts them there and wants us to develop them. These are the gifts that are to be actualized. These gifts make us distinct from another person and acting upon these desires are where we find God's will, which is always expressed in the immediate present. It is in the now. God will ratify, affirm confirm his will for you uniquely as you express your desires to him.
          Once we tell God what we need and ask for what we want, we can sit back and enjoy the rest of prayer. God is always generous and is always laboring for your own good. God wants to grace you with his presence and shower you with his affection. God wants to spoil you rotten. Rest content because you will know God hears you and considers how to give you the very best. It is at that point, we become concerned with God's well being. We turn to God and say: Since you, O God, have given me the grace to see me, feel me, hear me, and feel what I am feeling, give me the grace to see you, to hear you, to feel what you are feeling. This is the mutuality that Ignatius writes of at the close of the Exercises. Love is mutual and is to be shared between lovers.
          Before I get to the meditation, I'll close with a quote from Richard McBrien:

If love is the soul of Christian existence, it must be at the heart of every other Christian virtue. Thus, for example, justice without love is legalism; faith without love is ideology; hope without love is self-centeredness; forgiveness without love is self-abasement; fortitude without love is recklessness; generosity without love is extravagance; care without love is mere duty; fidelity without love is servitude. Every virtue is an expression of love. No virtue is really a virtue unless it is permeated, or informed, by love.

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