The Daily Examen, in which we identify the ways we have turned towards or away from God, can also be done for a year. Reviewing 2011 is not a task I relish such has been the upheaval but I know that doing so will help me see where I am spiritually.
This time last year we had been through a process of discernment that had been confidential. January brought that into the open, when Neil announced that he was investigating whether he was called to the Ordinariate.
I found this public stage very hard, for two reasons. Firstly there was a kind of grief at leaving Christ Church. In some of my first posts on this blog I tried to articulate something of how important these people had been for us.
However there was also something more problematic going on. This move affected aspects of my identity. Being an Anglican was part of it. God was calling me to a place where I would have to give up something that I had been for over 25 years. More than that He was asking me to give up a house I loved, the security of Neil’s freehold and a guaranteed income. I really like security. I am not what you would call a risk taker. Here God was asking me to do this. I said “No” and I entered a period of resistance.
My days on my course gave me time to reflect. Our work on discernment came in the spring term and matched perfectly where I was. Here I was able to pray and meditate feeling God’s presence, while at home I turned away. For a while I felt like a spiritual yo-yo. Now I move towards God, now I move away. When I was able to look with clarity at our situation I received insight from God. When I focused on what this change would cost, I shut him off completely. There is an Ignatian term for this: Movement of Spirits and I was a walking model of it.
Some of my resistance came from the new environment we found ourselves in, come Lent. I don’t do change very well. The warm welcome we received was wonderful but on occasions I felt ambivalent. I was aware of the “No” fighting with my “Yes”. When the “Yes” to God had the upper hand I was very grateful for the response we got. When the “No” was, I felt I was taking a generosity I did not disserve.
A time when I felt close to God was when we were together as a group on Friday evenings. Being in this group felt good. The time together, working out a little of what God had called us to confirmed this feeling. However any time I was away from the group, my fears and concerns came crowding in.
In the run up to Holy Week my course again mirrored my internal spiritual process. We began looking at Christ’s Passion. During prayer-times I was aware of an invitation to ‘ascend the hill of the Lord’, the hill being Golgotha. The emphasis when contemplating this in the Spiritual Exercises is to be with Christ as he suffers, in the same way that we might sit with a friend who is dying.
I was conscious on Good Friday of God’s invitation to me and conscious of side-stepping it. For whatever reason, I was not prepared to sit with Jesus in his suffering. I let it pass, feeling detached from what was going on. Some of this was over-load. We had been on an emotional roller-coaster ride and I struggled to cope with more. Some of it was about my ‘No’. A large part of me didn’t want that discomfort.
As a result, in the summer term I chose Christ’s Passion for my theory assignment (A small part of this can be read in my post “Thoughts on the Passion”). Peter Fenessey described the experience for someone at this part of the exercises like real hunger. When a person is dying of hunger, they feel very hungry to start with but this then subsides. When the body is very close to death hunger returns, this time all-consuming. Sometimes we have to face the things that stop us responding to God’s love and the ‘old self,’ (us without God’s grace) kicks up a fuss, but then goes quiet. When contemplating the Passion, the ‘Old self’ is faced with the prospect of dying, at least in part. Seeing Christ suffer shows us the cost of following Christ. We have to let go of much to follow to Gethsemane, through Golgotha to the tomb. I could see this mechanism working in me. God had called us to something new but to go there I had to let go of much that I put my security in. My ‘Old Self’ kicked up an all-mighty fight at the prospect and this could be seen more strongly as our move got closer.
Clearing and packing a house we had been in for 11 years was draining. Moving to a first floor flat meant everything had to be carried up two flights of stairs. We had so much help but by the Sunday of our move my knees had given out and my back was threatening to do the same. Being physically low, I had no resources to stem the flood of accusations that came from the ‘old self’. Why did I allow this to happen? How would we cope with the upheaval? Look at everything I have given up. Why hadn’t I JUST SAID “NO”? Moving into a building surrounded by scaffolding that made the flat dark and cold, with builders from 7am to 5pm didn’t help quieten the riot going on inside. My prayer life stopped. I felt cold during mass. I had put up a wall and there was no way God was going to get over it. My ‘Old Self’ had won.
Except that God wasn’t going to give up on me. I still felt good when I was with people from our group. I didn’t enjoy mass but I did enjoy being with these people afterwards. For my course I had to do a spiritual autobiography, the writing of which helped me remember the goodness God had shown me in the past. Talking to my spiritual director helped me see some of what I had been through.
Autumn brought a change. I returned to praying and found Mass easier. The start of a new term on my course gave me time each week, where I could look more objectively at the situation. I began noticing that things that we wanted do for years just started happening. There seemed to be more space for family and study. Spending half term with friends, gave us a few days to sort through some of what has happened.
I can’t even pin point how or when the change took place. There was gradual letting go of my “no’ and a growing awareness of God’s presence. I began to see his work in our life. Advent was a time when this blossomed. Behind the wall I had built God was waiting patiently. I re-discovered the God who loves me and yet again it took my breath away.
Looking back over a year, which has been a battle I can see that going through this, has brought a new awareness of God. He never left me, just waited for my rage to burn itself out. When it did, I turned to face Christ, who gazed on me with love and I am more able than I was to gaze back.