Saturday, 11 July 2015

Setting off on an Ignatian Prayer Adventure

A couple of months ago, I picked up The Ignatian Adventure by Kevin O'Brien. I read the opening chapters, then put it down to pick up a couple of other books, finish a report, and have just sat down with it again to begin the Ignatian exercises.

Right now, I'm on week 1, day 1. The process is as follows: begin with a prayer, read the Scripture passage or imagine the scene, pray, then review the prayer

Today's focus was Who is G-d for you? How does G-d see me?

I thought, Jesu, I have no idea. But that's the point, I guess.

The Scripture to pray over slowly and really feel was Isaiah 43:1-7.

Unexpectedly, I found myself shaken:

I have called you by name: you are mine.

When you pass through waters, I will be with you;

through rivers, you shall not be swept away.

When you walk through fire, you shall not be burned,

nor will flames consume you.

For I, the LORD, am your God,

the Holy One of Israel, your saviour.

I give Egypt as ransom for you,

Ethiopia and Seba* in exchange for you.

Because you are precious in my eyes

and honored, and I love you,

I give people in return for you

and nations in exchange for your life.

Fear not, for I am with you;

from the east I will bring back your offspring,

from the west I will gather you.

I will say to the north: Give them up!

and to the south: Do not hold them!

Bring back my sons from afar,

and my daughters from the ends of the earth:

All who are called by my name

I created for my glory;

I formed them, made them.

You are mine. Something said to me over and over again by my parents, a statement of ownership, of my duty to them, not love - a claustrophobic phrase. But somehow, when I read this, it was like being held. You are mine: a shoulder to rest my head against, arms to be held in, somewhere to belong, sanctuary. Home.

Then: For me? You would do that for me? Walk with me through water and fire; give anything in exchange for me; gather what was scattered; demand my freedom from whom and whatever enslaves me? You love ME that much?

I don't get it. I can't even begin to comprehend it. To me, love has been duty, chains that bind, relentless taking on the part of others (witness those who show up only when they need to bend my ear about something or just vomit their stuff as if I'm a bucket, then go), dysfunction, needing to chase for crumbs of connection (witness no small proportion of my guy friends and EVERY man I've been romantically interested in).

But this? I don't understand this. I get DOING it, yes. But I don't understand it being done for me. No one does this. No one is there like this. There's always something to pay, usually the demand, conscious or not, that I am there, endlessly caring, giving, non-judgmental, non-human - no grumpiness, anger, darkness, needs of my own, just relentless compassion and giving of my gifts. Yet You would care enough to be with me through everything, to do anything for me, without my having to run after it or earn it?

I'm not sure I can relax into this. 

As I prayed, I fell asleep, because I really can't do a concentrated 40 minutes of prayer yet; I tend to do 5 min stints during the day, or keep it as an ongoing background conversation and that may be how I structure these exercises - I'm sure Ignatius would understand. 

As I always do, I dreamt.

I dreamt that I ran into a guy friend of mine who was being reserved - fitting the pattern I have (taking after my father, of course) - of guy friends who give intermittently, so you really have to stretch the connection in the same way you stretch that last bit of butter or jam to cover your bread. He was holding a little one, and I played with her, then put my hand on his arm and he stepped back. I was hurt by it, a bit angry, but curious too. 

Then the scene changed and we were at a party. The scene above was repeated, except this time, he stepped well away, into a dark alcove. My arm, still outstretched, was suddenly held reverently, as if it were the most precious thing in the world, and my hand kissed with the utmost love. The look on my friend's face was a mixture of WTF, anger/affront - almost possessiveness - and a sudden realisation that if someone valued me that much, maybe he valued me more than he thought. The man who had kissed my arm stepped in front of me - South Asian, turban, proper moustache and all - saluted me with his talwar and bowed. My first reaction was to recoil; my second, one of gratitude and affection. I curtsied in return. 

I have no doubt this - and other dreams - will be part of the exercises for me. There is much to unpack here, but at the moment, my reaction of recoiling is what's holding my interest: recoiling at the fact that he was South Asian, and thus too close to my father for comfort; recoiling because of discomfort at being publicly treated with such love; recoiling at the lavish expression of cherishing me

It also feels tied to this song that I rediscovered yesterday - one of a lover going to his beloved, expressing his love with abandon, the lover's only goal being to reach the beloved:

mahabuuba main aa rahaa huun
Beloved, I am coming.

jo khwaab dekha hai tujhko dikhaane
The dream I've seen I mean to show you

voh khwaab main laa rahaa huun
That dream, I'm bringing to you

chup kyon main rahuun ab kyon na kahuun
Why should I remain silent? Why shouldn't I tell you?

mere dil ka sukuun tu hai
You are my heart's peace.

Id quod volo?

To be that to someone and for them to be that to me.

I need and desire that in physical form, with another human being, and I will not apologise for or diminish that. Neither would He - marriage is a sacrament where each lover sanctifies their beloved, after all - an earthly witness to G-d's love for us.

But also, to the One who would walk through the waters and the fire with me,

Who would exchange anything to free me,

Who would bring me home from the ends of the earth,

Who would gather the scattered,

Who loves me with abandon, 

And whose I will always be...

to You I say:

Mera dil meri jaan mera saara jahaan
My heart, my soul, my whole world,
Saara armaan tu hai
All my desire is you.

Mere dil ka sukuun tu hai
You are my heart's peace.

That is who You, my G-d, are to me.

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