* please see the reflection questions at the end of the article
MOVING BEYOND “OUR LITTLE RULE” by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI
Among the desert fathers one finds this story: “Abbot Lot went to see Abbot Joseph and said: ‘Father, according as I am able, I keep my little rule, and my little fast, my prayer, meditation and contemplative silence; and according as I am able I strive to cleanse my heart of bad thoughts: now what more should I do?’ The elder rose up in reply and stretched out his hands to heaven, and his fingers became like lamps of fire. He said: 'Why not become all flame?'”
Indeed, why not? There probably isn’t a better challenge that might be addressed to any of us. Abbot Lot describes us pretty well, we “keep our little rule”. We are what classical spiritual writers describe as “proficient” in the spiritual life, beyond initial conversion, staunch and solid in grace. We’re essentially good, prayerful, honest, decent, dutiful, generous, moral, and sincere persons.
But the operative word here is “essentially”. We are these things essentially, though not radically. Like Abbot Lot, we’re good, generous, prayerful, and honest “according as we are able”, though that isn’t quite true either. Deep down we know that we’re capable of more, that God is inviting us to more, but that we are fixated at a certain level of mediocrity. Simply put, there are still too many compensations, addictions, and accommodations to comfort in our lives. As well, there is the fear of moving beyond what disrupts our lives. We live faith, hope, and charity, to a point, and there was a time when that point was enough, was what God was asking of us. Now, however, we sense a deeper call and know that we are being asked to let go of many of the things, both good and bad, to which we are clinging for comfort and stability.
We reach a point in the spiritual life, and it is precisely at that point where we have attained a certain proficiency in goodness, generosity, and fidelity, where God invites us to make a more radical “leap of faith”, beyond our comfort and stability. Like everything else that comes from God, this is precisely an invitation, a beckoning, not a threat. What concretely does this mean?
Let me offer a simple, rather graphic, example: Several years ago, while preaching a priests’ retreat, I was approached by a group of young priests who asked me to join their faith-support group for an evening of prayer and sharing. During the course of the evening, they shared with me the origin and intent of their group. The priest who founded the group put it this way: “We were good priests before we formed this group. Essentially we did the right things, were generous ministers, lived in an basic sincerity and honesty, and were respected. But we compensated too much too. We drank too much, ate too much, fantasized about sex too much, complained too much, felt too-sorry for ourselves, and had too many compensations – from masturbation to drinking too much expensive scotch. One day, I simply said, `Enough! If I’m going to be a priest, why not be a more radical one!’ But I knew that I couldn’t do it alone. So I talked to two priest friends and that’s how our group started. We meet at least once a week, sometimes twice. That’s a lot of time, but it’s worth it. It’s been four years since we started and we have more sobriety now in everything. Life is more demanding, but also more fulfilling. I’m happy in a way I’ve never been before.”
He, and his group, had moved beyond their “little rule”, taken the leap of faith, become pure flame. This is precisely what Jesus asks of the rich young man in the gospels, the one who turns him down and “goes away sad.” Notice how the gospels describe this young man, precisely as a person who is proficient in the spiritual life – essentially very good, decent, honest, generous, faithful, but also as experiencing a deeper call, a clear invitation, a dissatisfaction with the level of his own generosity: “What still is lacking for me?” That’s also our question.
The poet, Goethe, in a poem entitled, THE HOLY LONGING, describes how, at a certain point in the spiritual journey, one is handed the invitation to become “insane for the light”. What is this insanity?
Jesus names it as the invitation to give up everything and follow him more radically, Kierkegaard calls it “the leap of faith”, John of the Cross sees it as the willingness to enter the “dark night of the spirit”, and the Desert Fathers call it “leaving our little rule so as to become pure flame!”
Whatever the name, the idea is this: Eventually we reach a point in the spiritual life where, precisely because we are proficient at being good and decent, we are invited, like the rich young man in the gospels, to give up our most-cherished comforts and securities and plunge into the unknown in a radically new way.
Spend some time to reflect and write in your journal responses to the following questions:
- What does it concretely mean for you to take "a more 'leap of faith', beyond your comfort and stability"? Do you experience this as an invitation or a "should", a beckoning or a threat? What does God/Jesus think of this?
- What concrete steps have you taken or are taking to continue growing after the retreat weekend? What does God/Jesus think of this?
- How have you considered lifting up in prayer or connecting with anyone from your small group or someone else who attended Veritas ? What does God/Jesus think of this?
p.s. - If you find that you're "should-ing" on yourself or feeling guilty you're not doing more since the retreat, try listening to this song in the presence of God or a dear friend.
LEAN ON GRACE
From his lived experience, St. Ignatius recommends that we begin a spiritual journey with grace or to lean on grace.
As Veritas nears, take some time to:
- Get in touch again with a key experience of grace or connection with God lately. Perhaps my dialogue with God below may be a good trigger.
- Let yourself rest in God or settle in God's tenderness with the "Peace of God" video below.
- Please email your responses to these questions to me. They are the same ones posted in the beginning of this preparation process:
- What gets in the way of your journey closer to God and your deeper self? (Simply name these obstacles and describe as best as you can)
- Who or what helps you on your journey deeper/home towards God & your true self?
Godspeed & God's peace,
Tri sj & the Veritas Team.
A Conversation with God (MY DeLIGHT)
God: I'll see you every morning [for prayer], right? I look forward to simply be-ing with you.
Me: I'd like that. But you know how unfaithful I have been and can be.
God: I know. I'll help you.
Me: Yes, thank you! What if ... I don't show up?
God: I'll be there, waiting, always ...
God: Yes. Simply being with you in my delight!
Me: Thank you, LoooOooove.
p.s. (from God): If you show up elsewhere, I'll be there too, MY DELIGHT!
VULNERABILITY as the doorway to DeePER love & forgiveness
Use Ignatian Contemplation to imaginatively enter Lk 7:36-50. Try either the recorded guided contemplation or the prompts below.
Click here for a great interview of Brené Brown "On the Courage to Be Vulnerable."
Afterwards, spend 7-10’ to reflect and write in your journal responses to the following questions:
- What resonates or challenges you about Brené Brown's talk or in your prayer? What might God want to show you?
- How vulnerable have you been to God in the past week or two? To what extent do you allow God to see you as you are?
- How have you felt spiritual consolation (drawn towards God) or desolation (drawn away from God) in the past week? Is there a pattern to these movements?
“A Pharisee invited him to dine with him, and he entered the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. Now there was a sinful woman in the city who learned that he was at table in the house of the Pharisee. Bringing an alabaster flask of ointment, she stood behind him at his feet weeping and began to bathe his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them, and anointed them with the ointment. When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, that she is a sinner.” Jesus said to him in reply, “Simon, I have something to say to you.” “Tell me, teacher,” he said. “Two people were in debt to a certain creditor; one owed five hundred days’ wages* and the other owed fifty. Since they were unable to repay the debt, he forgave it for both. Which of them will love him more?” Simon said in reply, “The one, I suppose, whose larger debt was forgiven.” He said to him, “You have judged rightly.” Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? When I entered your house, you did not give me water for my feet, but she has bathed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. You did not give me a kiss, but she has not ceased kissing my feet since the time I entered. You did not anoint my head with oil, but she anointed my feet with ointment. So I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven; hence, she has shown great love.* But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” He said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The others at table said to themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” But he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” – Lk 7:36-50
Grace to ask:
Ask for the grace desired (such as greater openness to tenderness, vulnerability, or forgiveness)
Key Points to Imagine and Consider:
- Jesus breaks social convention, allowing the sinful woman to touch him and show such intimate and public expressions of love. Notice his willingness to receive despite everyone's "should'ings" ... observe his compassion and kindness to the woman ...
- Notice how Jesus regards Simon and others in their self-righteousness. How does he engage them?
Are you willing to look at how DEEPLY thE INCEPTION OF GOD's LOVE has taken root in your life?
Use Ignatian Contemplation to imaginatively enter Jesus' Baptism. Try either the recorded guided meditation or the prompts below.
Afterwards, spend 5-7’ journaling to reflect on how things have gone in your prayer:
- What feelings or insights were more noticeable in my prayer?
- Could I enter the delight of God or Jesus, or my own sense of being called “beloved”? How or how not so?
- Have I felt spiritual consolation (drawn towards God) or desolation (drawn away from God) since my prayer time?
“It happened in those days that Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized in the Jordan by John. On coming up out of the water he saw the heavens being torn open and the Spirit, like a dove, descending upon him. And a voice came from the heavens, “You are my beloved Son; with you I am well pleased.” - Mk 1:9-11
Place yourself in God’s presence by quieting or centering yourself through breathing. Ask for the grace desired (such as a felt experience of God’s love, resting in God, hearing the unique name God has for you, peace, etc…
Let the details of the passage stir your imagination. Put yourself into the story: see the people, hear the dialogue and engage in the actions (what do you see, hear, touch, smell?). Let the story come alive as if you are there, experiencing what is happening. Stay with a point until you are satisfied and ready to move to the next.
You might imagine being in a line of 50 people going down to the river Jordan to be baptized. You are directly behind Jesus. Notice what he looks like, how he looks at you and others, how he relates to you. Imagine you hearing what he hears: God calling him “Beloved” in such a intimate and tender way that only God can. Imagine hearing something similar when you come out of the water after being baptized (submerged in water): God calling you by a unique name in such a intimate and tender way that only God can. Imagine too, that Jesus, who has gone before you looking at you deeply and calls you by the same unique name, with intimacy and tenderness that only God can.
REFLECTION QUESTIONS on INCEPTION
1. Does your experience of watching the movie trigger any insight about yourself or your relationship with God?
2. What does “coming home” mean for you? What risks does that involve?
“Do you want to go home? Do you want to take a leap of faith, or become an old man, filled with regret…?” This question in the beginning of the movie fuels its plot. Dom Cobb, the main character played by Leonardo DiCaprio, is a fugitive from the US where his children live. He takes up the challenge of a lifetime to come home to them. His first name, Dom, literally means “home” in Latin (as in domestic). At the end, a Customs Agent says to him, “Welcome home.” The movie can be seen as a going home: Where are you going? With whom are you at home … and coming home to?
3. What gets in the way of your journey closer to God and your deeper self?
It turns out that the success of the mission undertaken by Cobb’s team involves going deeper into his own unconscious negative emotions (fear, guilt, loss, etc.). Without realizing the full extent of what he says, Dom remarks: “Downward is the only way forward.” As his team enters the psyche of their subject more deeply, and Cobb going deeper into the truth of his life, they encounter greater projections. These projections can be understood as defense mechanisms constructed by one’s ego to avoid the pain of confronting certain truths about oneself. Likewise, in our own journeys toward God & truth, we face our own projections or inner resistances. Since your own Caritas experience, what projections or inner resistances do you find keep getting in the way as you grow spiritually?
4. Who or what helps you on your journey deeper/home?
As Cobb journeys down to his psychic basement, so to speak, Mal gets more malevolent. She represents his worse projections, the ghosts of his self. However, Ariadne (the architect played by Ellen Page) reassures him: “If we’re going to succeed, you’ll have to forgive yourself, you’ll have to confront her, but you will not have to do it yourself.” She is willing to go down deeper levels with Dom, to help him face his projections and “let go” in order to complete the mission. (Interestingly, Ariadne is named after the woman in Greek mythology who helped guide Theseus through the labyrinth and defeat the Minotaur.) Likewise, our spiritual growth involves allowing another to see deeper into ourselves, in ways that can trigger great resistances from our frightened projections. As we allow ourselves to be more fully seen, greater growth can occur. Since your Caritas experience, who or what has helped you consistently grow or journey deeper within?