Gratefulness is a practice that I know is important, but which I find a struggle. It’s too easy to get caught up in the stresses and busyness of the ordinary and the everyday. I’m hoping to embed it a lot more in my life over the course of 2017.
“Happiness is not what makes us grateful. It is gratefulness that makes us happy. Gratefulness is the key to happiness. Unless you are grateful for the gift, it won’t make you happy.”
“Gratefulness (which Br David Steindl-Rast) describes as being the same as mindfulness and prayerfulness) is like any other spiritual practice – it must be practiced!
Practice giving thanks for first things, for beginnings. When you wake in the morning, before you even open your eyes, give thanks for the gift of sight. (Br David makes a practice of praying at this moment for those who have no sight or who have impaired sight.) Give thanks for your first cup of tea or coffee – let all your senses come alive or wake up. Continue to mark out the little beginnings of each day – as you open your bedroom door and move into the rest of your house or as you open your front door and walk outside or as you put the key in your car ignition to begin your commute to work.
But also mark the endings of your day – when you arrive home and close your front door behind you or when you shut down your computer. (Too many people do not shut down their computer or log off from work – it tends to go on and on with no end or renewed beginning!)…”
One of the small delights of a New Year is wondering about who my conversation partners might be over the coming year. But, when I say “conversation partners”, I’m not just talking about the people I might physically talk with, I’m also thinking about the books I’ll read (or listen to), the films I’ll watch, and the online interviews and conversations I will listen to.
I also took some time to review all the conversations I listened to on On Being with Krista Tippett. Listening in on her conversations has been a practice of mine since her early days on Speaking of Faith, and the range and depth has been such a gift.
Here are my Top 7 conversations from her show over the course of 2016. They’re not in any order, other than they’re the seven conversations that have stayed with me, and particularly nourished my own journey and exploration.
“On Being - Taking up the big questions of meaning with scientists and theologians, artists and teachers — some you know and others you'll love to meet.”
“Human beings are moved by a dense complex of motives, both in the things we do from day to day and in our big decisions. What drives a young woman to become a doctor or a young man to be an engineer? Many things contribute: success, altruism, interest. Or what drives a woman who has smoked for years to quit or an obese man to get thin? Again, many things contribute: fear of death, desire for health, and concern of family. But they all interact in a kind of movement that eventually drives the person to act… Ignatius learned to think about those dense complexes of motives—images, ideas, attractions, and revulsions—as “spirits.”
… Consolation and Desolation
Ignatius noted that these dense complexes of motives and energies take on two configurations, which he identified with consolation and desolation. He discovered that both consolation and desolation can move you toward God or pull you away from God. Then he noted that sometimes consolation comes from a good spirit and sometimes from a bad spirit, and he noted the same thing about desolation…”
I also want to highlight Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ contemporary take on the Examen – a method of prayer Ignatius insisted his fellow Jesuits do daily. He regarded it as the most important and needful practice. Its aim is to discern the work and movement of the Spirit beneath the surface of ones life, beneath the surface of our consciousness / awareness. Change and growth occurs at the level of ones thoughts, emotions, behaviors, and motivations (desires etc). It is a practice aimed at “finding God in the diverse everyday happenings and circumstances of ones own life and living. The examen helps us journey into our depths. Thibodeaux’s book is titled Reimagining the Ignatian Examen: Fresh Ways to Pray from your Day (2015). It is a very practical and helpful guidebook. He will provide you with a diverse range of Examen outlines for your daily use.
I think its increasingly important to be able to “read the signs of the times”, but more than that, as we are pulled and pushed from/in every direction, it will become critical to learn to discern what Tetlow calls our own “lifeworld”, and God’s activity within it.
Summer is always a time to reflect for me, and each year my focus is a little different. This year, it’s been politics that has captured my imagination: politics and the interface between justice, community-building, and human thriving. I reflected a little in late December, and have continued to read and listen. Deepening inequality and injustice profoundly concern me. I’m concerned by the rise of fascism. Thinkers like Tim Jackson have entered into the conversation. Other conversationalists have been Pope Francis, Noam Chomsky, US-born Iranian film director Ramin Bahrani and his profound 2015 film 99 Homes(spoiler alert – review here), Michael Moore, and US-historian Thomas Frank (his most recent book is a stunner and is sure to be both provocative and controversial (for some) - Listen, Liberal: Or, What Ever Happened to the Party of the People? (March 2016)
Documentary filmmaker and author Michael Moore, always controversial, does a fabulous job at getting the issues out on the table in his 2009 film Capitalism: A Love Story (watch for early Bernie Sanders, who back in 2008/09 still made a lot of sense). While featuring Barack Obama in a positive light (Obama having in 2008 becoming the US President-Elect), I imagine Moore would have had a very different take of him at the close of his second term if that documentary had been released in 2017. Certainly I’ve been deeply disappointed by Obama’s two-term Presidency. So much potential for change squandered and allowed to be bought. I watched Capitalism: A Love Story for the first time earlier this week. Worth re-reading, this side of the US-elections, is Moore’s prescient“Five Reasons Why Trump Will Win” (from memory it came out around July 2016)
There have been numerous other documentaries well worth watching, e.g. 2005’s The Corporation. Or 2011’s The Inside Job. Or Enron: The Smartest Guys in the Room.
I also highly recommend listening to Thomas Frank, here (The US Election and those who have been left Behind) and here (Thomas Frank and the New “liberal”). Neither conversation is particularly long, but both pack a punch. While his latest book focuses on the US Democratic Party, it nonetheless has real relevance in other Western countries such as my own.
Some useful insights from Rowan Williams in a little piece titled: The Gift of Christmas: Learning How to be Gratefully Dependent. Here are a couple of excerpts
“…One of the worst effects of this culture of impatience and pride is what it does to those who are most obviously dependent - the elderly, those with physical or psychological challenges and disabilities, and, of course, children. We send out the message that if you're not standing on your own two feet and if you need regular support, you're an anomaly. We'll look after you (with a bit of a sigh), but frankly it's not ideal.
And in the case of children, we shall do our level best to turn you into active little consumers and performers as soon as we can. We shall test you relentlessly in schools, we shall bombard you with advertising, often highly sexualised advertising, we shall worry you about your prospects and skills from the word go; we shall do all we can to make childhood a brief and rather regrettable stage on the way to the real thing - which is independence, turning you into a useful cog in the social machine that won't need too much maintenance.
Can we as a society accept and even celebrate the fact that there is a place for proper and mature dependence - that human beings need to receive and learn: not so that they can get to the point where they stop receiving and learning, but so that they can acquire the habits of receiving and learning in ever-new settings? Can we help children enjoy their dependency so that they don't just leave it behind but get to manage it with freedom and imagination as they grow older?”
You’ll find the whole short reflection online here.
“If we cannot love our past, we cannot accept and love ourselves and our present, because we are products of that past with all its good and bad elements.” Which, of course, is an important way of reminding us that we are the products of our past with all that was good, and all that was less than the good we had hoped for from life.”
~ William A. Barry SJ.
I’ve mentioned Jesuit priest, author, and spiritual director before. His books have been really meaningful to me at various points over the years. I most recently mentioned him in this post.
Barry has been a Jesuit Priest for over 50-years now, and in places it’s a little dated, but nonetheless remains useful and indeed, insightful, tracking as it does the changes that have occurred in Jesuit spirituality within Western Catholicism and the USA. He starts out with a great quote from Win Blevins’ 1995 novel Stone Song: A Novel of the Life of Crazy Horse, which includes these lines:
“The old way was beautiful. We turn backward to it and in taking leave we offer it our love. Then we turn forward and walk forth blindly, offering our love. Yes, blindly.”
Barry names and expounds a little on each of what he considers the “traditional marks of Jesuit spirituality”:
The recovery of the meaning of the fifteenth annotation, found in the “Introductory Explanation” of the Exercises.
The variety of prayer forms
Adaptation to the Individual
The Role of Desires
The Discernment of Spirits
The Account of Conscience.
Reminding me, in parts, of Al Roxburgh, he makes these statements: “…What’s the problem [the Jesuits / Catholics / Christians in the West, are facing] our cultural maps no longer are accurate…What’s the solution? Our spirituality is a … means of finding the way of the risen Jesus in our time. What time is it? A time of crisis for our world…”
You’ll find the PDF (scanned copy of journal) here. Barry’s essay comes in at 39 pages plus the cover and some additional pages. Additionally he quotes a section of the Rule of Life of the Anglican Society of Saint John the Evangelist, which you will find online (PDF) here. It is also a useful read and something to think about at the beginning on a New Year.
Our religion is not working well. Another year has ended—a new year begins—in which suffering, fear, violence, injustice, greed, and meaninglessness still abound. This is not even close to the reign of God that Jesus taught. And we must be frank: in their behavior and impact upon the world, Christians are not much different than other people.
The majority of Christians are not highly transformed people, but tend to reflect their own culture more than they operate as any kind of leaven within it. I speak especially of American Christians, because I am one. But if you are from another country, look at the Christians where you live and see if the same is true there.
Let’s be honest: religion has probably never had such a bad name. Christianity is now seen as “irrelevant” by many and often as part of the problem more than any kind of solution. Some of us are almost embarrassed to say we are Christian because of the negative images that word conjures in others’ minds. Young people especially are turned off by how judgmental, exclusionary, impractical, and ineffective Christian culture seems to be. The church seems hostile toward most science (the objective outer world) and thus unable to talk about its inner dimensions with any authority. As we saw in the recent U.S. election, Christians overall showed little prophetic or compassionate presence.
Most Christians have not been taught how to plug into the “mind of Christ;” thus they often reflect the common mind of power, greed, and war instead. The dualistic mind reads reality in simple binaries—good and bad, right and wrong—and thinks itself smart because it chooses one side. This is getting us nowhere.