sharing sent in this week from our world-wide reading group.
The Sharing Sent to us this week: Chapters 1-7.
I am exploring my kind of relationship with God. When I go outside for a walk during my lunchbreak I see beautiful nature and different people passing by I don't know. I try to be open and experience in them the presence of the Divine. We are interconnected. I used to feel uncomfortable when I met these people but this makes it an different experience.
In chapter 7 I read about compassion: "when there is a need and the one who answers does not even take the time to think, that is compassion. You do not pause to calculate." It sounds like a relief to live that way but also scary (but only when I start thinking about it). Just flowing with divine compassion. Can I do that?
“Old man river, that old man river,
Now I get weary and sick of trying,
As the quotes from the above song hopefully convey, the multifaceted image of the river is a familiar and fruitful one for me. Paul Coutinho’s writing deepens and enhances the possible meanings and provides guidance and stimulus for ongoing discernment and how to continue the silent quest for the deep and search for the eternal living waters.
There is so much nourishment packed into the 7 short chapters we have read that I can only highlight some of the most salient for me. Being reminded of how Ignatius’ foundational experience at the river Cardoner was the basis on which all future graces would deepen and lead him into Divine union confronts me with the questions of how I continue to respond to my own peak experience and how to incorporate it as foundational in my decisions. I find the list of things to be questioned at the start of our journey (life, relationships, passions, etc.) very helpful. Each can fuel assessment and prayer. The reminder that the journey takes patience, courage, a good deal of surrender and can only be done together is a good one. Like almost every paragraph or sentence it can be fleshed out and used in prayerful ways. The contrast between the well and the river and the necessary cautions not to confuse one with the other and let the well become an obstacle instead of a pathway to the river speaks powerfully to me. I enjoyed being reminded of Jung’s theory of the rivers of divine love springing from the shadow. It encourages me in passive contemplation and shadow work. The Eastern perspective of unsought suffering leading to truth and freedom and being a path to the infinite God is a sound one.
Reflecting on this book is stretching my courage and understanding of prayer and church membership. It stretches my resolve to change, more my need to follow calls not yet fully embraced due to perhaps subconsciously hoping for the understanding of others. It is beginning to heal some past traumatic experiences and lack of affirmation in institutional church circles and the continual lack of accessibility of some church structures for me as a deaf person. What God is revealing and re-revealing through this book is that I am on the right path , that the “loneliness of the long distance runner “ may increase as the journey progresses, and that spiritual freedom is a constant goal requiring growth, change and adaptation.
From the very beginning of the Author’s Preface through the first 7 chapters I have come away (and happily returned) challenged, affirmed and empowered. Thanks be to God.
On Monday, September 29, 2008 I wrote in my journal -
"What in my life needs to fall away so that another life waiting
in the wings can have its turn to live?" That comment and these
other things jotted down started my reflection on the chapters read.
Disillusionment and disappointment, which are natural phenomena in our world, created for me a void and separation from God. I had experienced not the divine but everyone else's representation of what it takes to be holy and yet no direct experience of God. It is in the dying - giving up your very own Isaac to take that journey of experiencing the divine, the unexplainable certainty of God's existence - once that experience occurs, life is never the same - much like the disciples said to Jesus " Lord, to whom should we go?" Also much like Dag Hammarskjold's observation in Markings, " I don't know Who or what put the question, I don't know when it was put. I don't even remember answering. But at some moment I did answer Yes to Someone - or Somthing - and from that hour I was certain that existence is meaningful and that, therefore, my life, in self-surrender, had a goal. You just cannot go back to ordinary existence.
Abraham was blessed to be a blessing and even if his
life often looked different than that and he hung back from proclaiming
(like fear of saying Sarah was his wife or telling Lot what land he
wanted) it still was so. As he put his son on the altar of sacrifice,
his thoughts are not recorded. Too bad. Did he wonder if he was crazy
or if God was?
I am a baptized Catholic who grew up in a non-religious family. My parents are non-catholics but my mother had us all (7) children babtized because she liked the Catholic Church. My father was a wife-beating, homewrecking alcoholic and my mother never went to church because she was just full of excuses. My childhood memories are those of a home from hell! Jesus was my imaginary friend who travelled with me the long journey to school. I use to eat my bread and leave a piece for him on the table. I went to Mass and sometimes Confession and found the church to be a wonderful, quiet and peaceful place. I became involved with the church in my early teens as an alter girl and just loved being close to church or near it. I use to keep a diary. Dear Jesus, I would write, telling him about my days... as if He did not know already. The church and everyone associated with it - priests, nuns and laypeople - were my comforters and it is through them that I found the "river" that is...my experience of God. As a child my home which was suppose to be my place of comfort and protection was the place I disliked being in the most. I spent my school holidays in the convents at the age of 17. I think I told my mother that I would like to become a nun oneday, and I remembered that she looked at me as if I asked her to make me a cup of tea. I never spoke about it again! I don't keep Jesus a piece of my bread anymore because He never ate it anyway but now He feeds me with His bread of life, everyday at Mass. What a priviledge! Jesus is ever closer to me now as before and He reminds me of it through tears which rolls down my face, sometimes during Mass, during my quiet reflections and even now as I write this sharing.
This week's reading has caused me to take a closer look at myself. "Do I see a Divine connection in people?" This question really struck me because I hadn't really given it much thought, but I am and will seek a Divine connection in the people that God places in my life. I do see myself as as child of God, but I wonder if other people see God in me.
Chapter three really hit home for me because I was baptised a Catholic as an infant, attended Mass regularly all my life, went to Catholic elementary school and Catholic College (s). So I can relate with being comfortable with my "well" and being stuck in ritual & tradition. In the last three years I have become spiritually challenged and I have come to understand (as best I can) what it means to die and become anew in God. As a result, I can appreciate the traditions of my Catholic religion so much more and it means so much more to me. I am able to get much more out of daily and/or weekly Mass and it is bringing me closer to God, helping me to become one with God. To quote Fr. Coutinho, "Once you have seen the face of God, going to church becomes meaningful, being a Christian makes sense, and all your good works will be fruitful." - Amen.
I felt such gratitude as I read what was so simple yet profound. The stories encouraged me to think back and recall how God was made real to me through his human instruments throughout the years.
The little story about Grandma and the little girl was precious. The tattoo story validated my thought that regardless of the turbulence around me, there is a sacred place within that remains unscathed, no matter what. I really liked the well/living water analogy. I have thought many times that if people could internalize what is truly occurring in liturgy, there would be standing room only. There would be no obligation, duty, etc…it would be the highlight of their day.
Considering the comparisons between charity and compassion is giving me much to ponder. I think God will become bigger to me when I am able to see Him in all people and circumstances.
I’m not afraid to die and face God’s judgment but I do it with shame for the things I’ve done. However, I believe Him when He tells me I have been forgiven. I regret having sinned because he has been so good to me in so many ways. As I read this section my belief in a merciful God is reaffirmed. My God has grown.
He is taking me through the desert and has come for my beloved Isaacs; first, Louis, my husband for 60 years and then, both of our sons within two and a half years. Like Abraham, I have experienced a new way of living and my God has grown.
My well of religion has been my Catholic faith. It has taken me to the river of divine love and divine life where I have been stretched to see the face of the Divine in those He has sent to help me. It has led me to search harder for that river while emphasizing that I am a child of God. Again, my God has grown.
The description of my shadow especially affected me for there is much about myself that I do not wish to accept. It is difficult to believe that it is here I can more easily experience the presence of the Divine. It’s much easier to gather the pebbles of my good deeds than to look at my dark side I remember Psalm 139, “even the darkness is not dark to Thee...for darkness is as light to Thee.” As I explore that shadow, I find my God has again grown.
Father Coutinho has helped me remove my arrows of pain by assuring me that as God affects my life and motivates and touches me, He is therefore real for me and the doubts that sometimes plague me are assuaged. He is real. He is mine. And He has grown ever bigger for me.
Until I got to the last 2 chapters of this section, I was just sort of nodding with agreement and confidence and saying, “Yeah, that’s what I’m talking about!” When I read chapters 6 and 7, I started to get nervous…found myself being challenged to radically change my ideas about truth, freedom, charity and compassion.
The story of the “Pizza Mass” really touched me as I had experienced something similar on a smaller scale. My father who was a daily communicant at the time, refused to share a meal in a hospital cafeteria with his 3 young grandchildren because of an old argument with their mother. At the time I was filled with self righteousness, that he could have just shared the Eucharist with strangers, but could not share a coke with my children. As I was reading this story, I was challenged to ask myself when I had failed to make the Eucharist so much a part of myself that I went from celebrating Eucharist to being Eucharist.
So far, as I read, I would say God’s becoming bigger means this for me
I feel like I need to go back and read Chapters 1-5 before I can begin to absorb the upcoming chapters. I want to get in touch with the “Eastern Hemisphere” within myself so that my experience of God will not only be bigger, but more whole.
As an avid reader who usually plows through books, and a compulsive writer who needs to write down all of my thoughts about everything, I thought that reading this book and writing this reflection would be a breeze. I couldn’t have been more wrong! I am finding this experience to be very challenging as I pause to reflect on and examine my life. I think this is exactly the intention that Paul Coutinho had in mind for his readers.
The image of the well and the river touched me deeply. I have so many wells in my life in which I have become lost and struggle to find my way out.
I grew up in a very traditional Catholic family. My childhood consisted of daily Mass, daily rosary, weekly Mother of Perpetual Help Devotions, monthly confession and endless novenas. While all of these things are good and wonderful, and I still continue with them, I definitely let them become my well. I was trapped inside of my well of religion and rules. I was stressed by trying to remember to say my novena every day before 11:00, and then having to start all over again when I would near the end, because I forgot to say the prayer before 11:00 on the 7th day. I began to wonder, did God really care what time of day it was when I prayed or what words I used when I prayed? I was tired of the guilt I felt because I didn’t seem to feel as moved by saying the rosary as my sisters obviously did. I was stagnant in my well and could not grow. So I prayed to God and I asked him to help me to become more open, to free me from my rigidity. And God heard my prayer.
God sent me a guide to help me get started on coming to know Him in a new and refreshing way. My guide gently coaxed me out of my well and into the river of change and helped me to really begin to know God. He started by teaching me that I needed to spend some time in silence, alone with God, so that I could hear him speak to me. This wasn’t easy, because I am a chatterbox who loves to talk! But, little by little, as I quieted myself down and gave God a chance to speak, I learned so much about him.
The most important thing I learned was that God loves me. He loves me right here, right now, the way I am, and I can’t do anything to please Him, all I can do is find him and enjoy him. It’s not always easy to put down my jar of pebbles, my offerings to please God, but when I do, God always rewards me with the joy of finding Him.
So now, I find God everywhere in my river. I find God in my daughter, when I hold her on my lap. I find God in my husband, when he holds me in a tender embrace. I find God when I listen to my children sing in the church choir. I find God when I sled down an icy slope with my children, feeling the wind rush past us as we all shout and scream with delight and end up in a heap at the bottom of the hill, breathless, while we gaze in gratitude at God’s beautiful, blue sky. I find God as my family and I lay on the beach at night admiring the moon and stars. I find God when I run in the cool of the early morning and see Him in the birds, squirrels, trees and flowers.
I found God in a rose, discarded on a busy city street. I found God in the sweet smile of a baby. I found God in a homeless woman, begging for money. I found God while ambling along a labyrinth, and strolling along the lakeshore. And, I find God when I slip into an empty, silent church and kneel in adoration.
It isn’t always joyful to find God. There are times when it feels very dark, and the tears flow and threaten to flood my river. There will always be more wells, deeper wells, which will try to trap me and hold me back from God. But I know that God is always with me, and He won’t let me drown. So, I will continue to plunge into God’s river and float whichever way the current leads me, knowing that God will always be with me no matter how the river bends.
Funny! I’ve read the first seven chapters of How big Is Your God? three times, and I have written two reflections already, and here I sit, a third attempt in front of me. I think I know why. During my youth I’ve let teachers who wanted to keep me humble with various versions of “Don’t think you’re so smart!” convince me to try only the things I was pretty sure I could do because I wasn’t that smart. So, when I asked God for help, I asked a small God to help me do what I figured I could do anyway.
This time my writing is to appear on a website. I will need more than a small God to get me through this, but let me get back to the problem that got me wanting that bigger God. When I volunteered for that confirmation position, I did it like I usually do, without thinking about any consequences. Then I found out we’d have two hour lessons practically every Sunday and outings and meetings with parents and sponsors and rather quickly I came up with reasons to renege. First, after forty-one years of teaching my house is filled with cartons of teaching materials that’d have to be moved if any relatives would visit after our fiftieth wedding anniversary celebration in January. Then, at my venerable age, things take longer. A lesson might take fifteen to twenty hours of preparation. My grandson is proof of that. “Grandma, you need to get in shape! Let’s race. You run and I’ll walk.” I ran. Dustin walked, and Dustin won. I could go on and on.
Finally, I asked, “Lord, what do you want me to
do to let you be you in my life?”
First off, the title hooks me. Vignettes of my life appear like a power point presentation as I ponder its meaning. I progress from the fearsome, gonna-get-me God to the Lord of limitless love I now know. Before even I open this book I like it. I wonder too…how big is this author’s God.
I enjoy opening the book and finding a DVD. Immediately it’s viewed. I laugh and share it. Fr. Paul’s story about a 91 yr old lady’s scruples wherein she stresses over her sin of saying “dammit” when she spills some milk and God’s humorous response vividly illustrates a personal, intimate God. God is present, cares and is funny. It's refreshing to acknowledge that God has a sense of humor and gifts us with the same. My God is growing. From this petite tale I get a grace that reminds me, “Pat, don’t sweat the small stuff. Guilt, get over it.”.
Paul Coutinho immediately engages me as he shares his story. He tells what it's like to be a Christian Indian boy living among the Hindu Indians and how this gets him to thinking and feeling outside the box as a youngster. I feel as if I’m reading a letter to me. His questions include me and create a dialog. I’m encouraged to answer. And I want him to challenge me. I like his style.
A real eye opener is when Paul Coutinho compares the Western and Eastern understanding of truth. He thinks on both sides of the spectrum . This is affirming to me because that’s how I think but never before could articulate. On page 17, Coutinho explains that the Western understanding of truth is a philosophy; a set of beliefs that I can think about and know. Eastern understanding of truth believes an experience can be truth.
Here’s a story that exemplifies this East/West comparison to me:
At age 14 I’m electrocuted. My Western truths are challenged because, contrary to what I’ve been taught, I’m not instantly in Heaven, Hell or Purgatory. I’m in my bedroom and now outside my body. I see the supernatural light. It obliterates walls and ceiling. I can see my body beneath me getting shocked. I think, feel more alive than ever. I hear beyond my room. I choose to make that all important ‘PERFECT CONTRITION’. I say, “Oh my God, this is it. I’m dying.” I begin to pray. My body falls to the floor. I’m disconnected from the offending lamps. I’m reunited. I heal quickly. Believe me – My God is definitely bigger now and I’m still just a kid.
I actively begin my journey to know God better and this book is proving to be an effective tool. It provides a clearly defined structure within which I can operate freely. How? With questions that force decisions, challenge me and make me think. He gives ‘how to’ directions. The author gives specific exercises that enable me to bear fruit – i.e., Take my will to prayer, meditation, contemplation. I do this and really feel the grace of consolation. Here’s a thought provoking question . Do you know Jesus? I know about Jesus but do I recognize him on the street, in a store, at home?
I feel that my involvement with this reading group
at this time is Providential.
Two things in the reading stood out to me. One was the story about the grandmother giving a Christmas present to a homeless child and the child asking if she was God. The woman replied that she was a child of God and the girl said she knew there must be a connection. If we are truly practicing our faith and growing closer to God, it would seem that people will see that connection. I think I still have a ways to go.
The other thing that stood out to me was the author’s distinction between charity and compassion. In a way, I believe that this comparison parallels what I have experienced in my spiritual life. You can do acts of charity and it is good to do them. But, until they become a natural part of who you are-making you a person of compassion, they are isolated acts, no matter how noble or good they are. Just as I can “do” a lot of spiritual things, but until they become incorporated into who I am, they are isolated actions, no matter how good they may be.
First I thought, what a silly title. My god is
the biggest, best, all encompassing God of all things. Then I started
to read. My God is the biggest but what about me? When and where do
I let this awesome God into my life? Is he limited to an hour on Sunday?
Maybe during a random few minutes during my day when I actually pray
directly to him?
After Father Thomas's Mertons death in 1968 I was reading his book on prayer and found a statement that when we found a quiet place to pray we should understand that there is no way that we could relate to God because He was infinite and our human brains couldnt grasp that fact. At least that is the perception I got from what I read.That thought puzzled me because I felt that my initials were carved in Gods hand.So much for the power of positive thinking.
An infinite God can only be made bigger if we diminish his subjects. Shakespeare tries with " a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,signyfying nothing." On the other hand Darwin tries to diminish God by Natural Selection. How Big Is Your God? gets me right back to Father Meron's description.And I can live with it.
I was especially touched by two things in the reading (author's note and chapter 1-7) - the distinction in chapter 7 between church-going and religious experience, and the story about the dying man afraid to meet God. Chapter 2 mentioned a man who was afraid to die. The man had made 45 spiritual retreats, yet still had a negative image of a punishing God. I identified with this poor guy - I grew up with a frightening image of a God who was always smiting people and who expected perfection. I knew I'd never be good enough for him.
When I joined the Catholic Church years later I was an agnostic at best, and going to church didn't really change that. I liked the companionship and learning about Catholicism, but there was no structure for getting to know God personally - I didn't even realize that was an option - and eventually I stopped going. A few years later, I became interested in the Jesuits, decided to take Creighton's online retreat, and began to work on an experiential relationship with Jesus/God through imaginative prayer.
Though most of what I had learned about God growing up had been scary, everything I've experienced of him since the retreat has been surprisingly better than I could have imagined. It's a constant struggle to trust my experience, though, and I'm still scared of dying, but now I'm also hopeful too.
I have been a Catholic for 67 years and sometimes have felt stuck in my childhood religion! The book thus far has given me a real sense of freedom to explore my spirituality at a deeper and more personal level. I know I need to be stretched to places where I usually feel uncomfortable.
I feel that God is calling me to look at myself more honestly and to go to " the desert" by experiencing more solitude, rather than getting caught up in my business. God is telling me that the desert I need to embrace needs to be an experience that becomes part of my life. To face "the naked truth of who I am" as Coutinho puts it. Specifically for me it is to surrender my control and trust God more to keep leading me ......How big will I allow my God to become? This is my spiritual challenge. How much am I willing to let the Reality of my relationship with God effect me?
I was touched by the woman in chapter 2 who had three days to live and changed from being afraid of God's judgement to wanting and could not wait to die. A powerful story. I believe I have at times made God that small....
I loved the difference that Coutinho points out in practicing compassion and practicing charity. I had never made that distinction. I always thought that charity came out of compassion. Coutinho 's example makes it very clear how compassion is more of a living relationship with God "that keeps us continually connected with the rest of humanity...." WOW! This language speaks to my soul!
The first thing that caught my attention and started me to think was the Ignatian concept that Paul mentions in his note…that “your God is not my God, and my God is no one else’s God.” This opens up all kinds of possibilities and opportunities for freely developing my own, personal image of the One who created me so that He could love me.
When I awoke Saturday morning after having read the first chapters this thought was on my mind. Allowing my image of God to grow, to enlarge, to become bigger in my life can be a frightening proposition because it means letting Him permeate, get involved in everything that I do. I know that is what He wants to do and what I should do. But I just don’t know what that will bring with it. It’s not-knowing that is frightening. That too brings its own challenge…to trust that this God’s love for me will make everything OK.
I can see that this way of thinking can produce significant change in one’s life, and I thought I was pretty comfortable with my faith. Why did I ever decide to do this? And then I re-read the story of the lady who could not wait to die so that she could be with God. To live a life that leads to this kind of joyful anticipation in the face of death is a challenge for all of us.
“Charity” vs. “compassion” and the idea of totally surrendering control of a situation opens up another new way of thinking how God wants to be actively involved in our lives…are we ready to allow Him to do that?
As a mother of 19 and 21 year old college students, I felt very sad to read the story of the pizza Mass and I hope that my daughters would never react the way the students in the story did. My girls have seen their dad and me practice charity all their lives. They have also witnessed acts of compassion, and I can only pray that they witnessed enough of those to have an impact on their lives. Thinking back on those acts of compassion myself, I can hardly remember the details. I can, however, remember the faces of the people I helped, and the honor I felt in doing so. I need to always remember that, and never hesitate to act in a compassionate way. Putting aside our needs, without a thought, in order to serve another, brings grace and blessings beyond measure.
I smiled when I read in Fr. Richard Rohr’s introduction to How Big Is Your God? that “The human ego hates a genuinely new experience. It hates to change and is preoccupied with control.” I thought – oh that’s me! I like to know what’s coming. I need to know what to expect. I want to be prepared. Yet in reading this book, I’m taking a journey and I don’t know where it will lead me. One of the graces I am receiving in reading this book is the courage to move forward without knowing where I’m being lead.
Fr. Coutinho says that we start by questioning. Am I looking to meet a “big God?” Am I afraid to meet God? Yes and yes. I want to meet God and I’m afraid to meet God - because I know I can’t comprehend God. Like most people, I’m afraid of the unknown. I suspect that whatever is the nature of God, that God would understand that fear. I believe that God will use the smallest opening in those fears, the smallest bit of willingness to be open – to break through to us – on the level that we can accept.
Fr. Coutinho asks if we read books on faith or go on retreats to be spiritually nourished or to be spiritually challenged. I think it’s both. I want to be challenged because I know that’s how I will grow. However, there can’t be growth without nourishment. I need to believe first that there is a Divinity and that that Divine Being loves me. If I believe that, then I can be open to new challenges. I say that I believe that God loves me but I’m not sure that I know it in my heart. I think this book will challenge me to answer that question. I know how I want to answer that question.
As I am studying to become an interfaith minister, I have been exposed to many and varied ideas about God and religious practices. I don’t believe we can limit God to any one religion and I believe that there are many paths to God. I am so excited and happy to have those beliefs reinforced by this book. I think that religious practices and rituals can help one to find a path to God but that it’s only with the heart that one can encounter God. I think (!) I’m generally logical and reasonable, but I am continuing my journey with this book by following my heart.
It is interesting to me how directly this book is written -- and how directly it strikes my heart. From the first chapter, when Coutinho asks if we are willing to experience a bigger God, I started to be aware of how tightly I hold on to my small world of worrying about money, about what people think of me, about my future. I started to watch my thoughts more often and realized that if I were to experience a bigger God, I would have to not only bring my attention to the present in a more conscious way, but I would also have to let go of small minded judgments and see things with the largesse of God's love for us. As though I were on retreat, I am trying to live every day with different eyes, different thoughts.
Another piece of his writing that affected me deeply is the story of the students and the ordered pizza. What was shocking is that I would probably have done the same. It felt like cold water being splashed on my face. I live every day seeing people on the street begging and sick, talking to themselves. I hear news stories of people treating each other terribly. And I have become inured. I can go to Mass and Communion on Sundays and still go home to do errands ignoring the call for more help in the Soup kitchen below the Church. And, these young people can hear that someone they are in contact with once a week to deliver their pizza has been stabbed and be so dulled to the preciousness of each human that even after the sacrament which Jesus gave to remember that depth of God's love for us, they are able to go about their business as usual. Would I have offered to go the hospital rather than eat my pizza? I'm afraid I would have done the same. How is it that I/we are offered such deep gifts by God and we miss having the relationship with God that would inform us of how to see and experience our brothers and sisters in this world?
The beginning of Fr Paul’s book encouraged me to read the book in a spirit of openness and question myself as I engage with the writing. One question that came up for me was concerned our motivation in prayer and worship. I have done a number of retreats over the years which have been a great source of blessing to me and I think I have glimpsed the love of God. I have a fairly contemplative nature and perhaps I often seek the presence of God as a source of comfort. But perhaps he is challenging me to move out of my spiritual comfort zone and be more audacious in my spiritual life.
I liked the analogy of the well in chapter three. It seems to be saying the institution of the church and the rituals of our faith are a means to an end. We must never lose sight of the essential which is our personal relationship to Christ.
I was particularly struck by chapter five which speaks of God as an experience not a Theology. I have done a lot of theological reading and have some theology training. I am now finishing off some formal training to teach religious education. I find these subjects stimulating and fascinating. But I can identify with the contention that God is an experience not a theology; our faith is not real unless it is lived. It is really how we live our lives that matters, how we relate to our neighbours. It is certainly more important to live the love of God than talk about it. I found the explanation of the differences between eastern and western thought here also relevant and thought provoking. In eastern thought something is real if it affects me. Truth is that which touches our lives and changes our life.
I found chapter seven a very affirming chapter. Over the last few years at times I have been tempted to think perhaps I should be less open, less involved and maintain more of a professional distance. I think this is especially the case when we are involved in any form of pastoral work. But the following of Christ, which makes us vulnerable and challenges us to live on a deeper level, also brings its immediate rewards. We experience interconnectedness with life which brings us out of a solitary existence and we experience the world’s joys as well as sorrows.
God's becoming bigger for me then means trying to live a more Christ centred life trusting that He will give me the grace to face the situations he places before me and He will give me the emotional and spiritual energy to live an authentic life.
The first 7 chapters seemed to fly by, with a lot
of food for thought - some familiar, some new. There were two items
that gave me cause for deeper reflection.
I went to a retreat earlier this year and the director told us we are human 'beings', not human 'doings'. It occurred to me that charity is an action, a 'doing'. Compassion is a 'being', a way the divinity of God grows in me. This first section challenges me that as I let go of the limits that I place on God, or my understanding of God, I must also surrender the limits I place on myself to respond to God and the Divinity within me. The grace is renewing the knowledge of God's love for me and realizing I can let go of those fears, anxieties and the helplessness that makes me think and feel small. The challenge is to let the grace of the Divine transform me and become my personal experience. Although everything has touched my heart, the picture of the well leading to the river of life took away my breath as I imagined myself diving in, becoming totally immersed in the living water, almost becoming a part of it.
I always knew I had a dark side because this is where the anger, arrogance, the false sense of pride, and everything else that I don't like about myself comes from. Hence I was surprised to read that it is here where we more easily experience the presence of the Divine. At first that did not seem logical because in my youth it was my dark side that got me into a lot of trouble, pitting me against my parents and school authorities, sometimes even putting me on the wrong side of the law. And then it hit me. I started the Online Retreat a few weeks ago and I'm rather slow so I'm still reviewing the photo album of my life. I now realize that He was there when my dark side was wreaking havoc with my life. He was there pulling me back, stopping me from going over the edge. He was there, watching me take a few steps in the wrong direction before tripping me up. If He wasn't there, I wouldn't be where I am today. For that I am truly thankful. But why did I not experience His presence then?
Blame it on the well or rather, my perception of the well. From kindergarten all the way to college I attended the best Christian schools in my country. But it always felt like religion was being shoved down my throat. And so for me the well turned into a dark cave harboring a vengeful God, a God who only loved me when I was good and would strike me down whenever I screwed up. And I screwed up a lot. I tried to be good not because I wanted to be good but because I was afraid of the consequences of being bad. Sometime in my youth I must have decided that there's no way I could ever please God, so I simply said to hell with it and let my dark side run riot for a few years.
Even today as I slowly find my way back to Him, the well is still just a well. I visit it every week, wait for the keeper of the well to dip and retrieve his bucket, and take the water he ladles out. It feels good but the feeling doesn't last long. Pretty soon I'm looking forward to my next visit to the well, like a junkie craving for his next fix, and in between visits my dark side tries to rear its ugly head again. Fr. Coutinho talks about an internal arrow whose pain prevents us from living fully. For me, religion the way I've come to know it, is that arrow. That sounds really bad and I apologize to those of you I may have offended by what I just wrote.
But things are looking up. This book is making me realize that I'm not the only one who sometimes finds religion to be a stumbling block instead of a stepping stone. This book is helping me to see beyond the well. I pray that His Spirit opens up both my heart and my mind and makes me receptive to the grace that this book and the Online Retreat is offering me. I must admit though that this book combined with the Online Retreat is turning out to be an overwhelming experience. My head is spinning. But I take that to be a good sign. Yes, Fr. Coutinho, I want to, I need to be spiritually challenged.
I finished my initial reading on my porch before daybreak with the rain trickling down and the breeze rattling the leaves. There were no husband or sons lumbering around the house, yet. What an immense gift of time! During the reading, I smiled, cried and wrote a friend an apology. I read so fluidly I had to consciously make myself jot a few notes. The quiet, the awareness of God and the understanding of compassion was a tremendous gift of grace for me. I am never up this early with such clarity and contentment.
In my notes, I wrote down several images from the start. Fr. Rohr's images are poignant and beautiful and spoke to me. The image of the bleeding fellow with an arrow wounding him beside the road stands out for me and sends a personal message to me. In one way the fellow is hilarious asking all those questions, so reminds me of me. On the other hand, "Goodness, could he just not make everything so complicated, relax, and receive the gift of life!" I will keep that in mind as my world awakens as I dearly need to do.
In a weird way I felt that I needed to or need to defend my faith. I kept waiting for him to move towards a more Catholic view. It was very disturbing to me. It seems as though he says however you see God that IS God. Are you ready? Am I really known by God as one of HIS? I am having to ask myself these questions. It is keeping me in the quest.
Eucharist and Pizza. Funny how people don't even see it as food when it is SO much more, it is everything and people see it as an obligation. God has made Himself available to us daily to know love and serve Him and His Father and we toss it back like gum or candy (not even real food).
I feel that I have more of a theology than I should. I do disagree with Paul using Jung's definition of reality. GOD IS -- My lack of a relationship with him doesn't change that. It is just my loss. If I don't have a relationship with my wife or daughters, are they not real? They are real, I am just missing out. I like where he is going but disagree with how he is trying to get there. Like Mother Theresa, even when I don't feel Him there, I know He is and this helps me to try daily to reach out to Him in the hope that I will become open enough to hear His voice clearly.
Don't think, just DO. I don't know the scripture exactly but I remember one of the disciples saying "Don't worry about what you will say... the Holy Spirit will guide you in what to say" I think this is maybe where Paul is going with the idea of charity vs. compassion. When we let our minds get in the way of GOD we usually refuse to act. I have and continue to do this too much in my life but I am getting better. I try desperately to open my heart daily to the guidance of the Holy Spirit and act as IT guides me.
I just keep seeing LOVE. He loves me like a brother and son.
A couple of weeks ago I asked in my usual unorthodox
fashion, "Lord, show me if I'm on the right track here." He
always answers and usually through the written word since working with
that is one of his great gifts to me.
So far, God’s becoming bigger to me means believing in infinite possibilities. I started reading the book last Tuesday and the first thing I read was the dedication. It really spoke to me as a mother. Later in the day after I had read the author’s note I read Dennis Hamm’s daily reflection on the readings. I was really struck by the very last thing he said about how Mary’s greatness as a mother “consists not in her biological relationship to Jesus but rather in her openness to God.” As a mother, I struggle with various worries about my children and when I worry, I make God very small. I have found myself often thinking, “I can’t do that; I’m a mom.” The thing is, I used to believe in infinite possibilities when I only had to worry about myself. Now, when I most need to believe, it is so much harder! But as a mother, the best gift I can give my children is to believe in infinite possibilities and be open to whatever God is calling me. Chapters one and two affirmed this call from God to give my husband and children to Him and like Abraham, trust that by doing God’s will I am doing what is best for my husband and children.
In the third and fourth chapters, I asked myself the question “Do I know God?” I have a weekly schedule and every week I make myself a list of tasks to complete during the week. The first thing I have on my schedule is prayer time and so every morning I read the bible and reflect. I also go to Mass every Sunday. However, I rarely take the time to listen for God speaking to me throughout my day. I have become so stuck on keeping my routine and completing my lists that I haven’t been taking the time to enjoy my life. I’ve been forgetting to find God in everything I do and not just when I’m praying. So I haven’t been allowing myself to know God as well as I could. In chapters three and four, I felt God was calling me to pay more attention to Him. In chapters four and five, I felt God was calling me to live my life more fully and reject negative feelings that keep me from doing God’s will and being close to Him.
At first I didn’t quite get the comparison between charity and compassion, but after meditating on chapter seven for a while, I think I understand. I realized that the difference between charity and compassion is that charity is something you do that doesn’t require you to feel anything whereas compassion requires you to feel. I have to be able to feel what someone else is feeling and then respond to that person’s suffering by reaching out to him or her. It means that I have to allow myself to be vulnerable and that I have to allow myself to care about other people. It can be expressed in the simplest way (ie. a hug), but it can’t be measured because it has to do with how much I feel for another person rather than how many things I do for them.
So this past week I think that God was calling me to be more open to and trusting of Him, and to live more fully, love more deeply, and believe in infinite possibilities.
Initially, I was a bit frustrated with this book. I found myself wanting more - more explanations, more depth, more examples. But then I read and re-read these 25 pages and asked God to show me what I need to see. What I began to understand is that this is a book of the heart, not of the head. I had to slow down and read it carefully and ask for the Grace I need.
The searing question in the first chapter touched me, “When people come into my life, do they see a Divine connection in me?” What a humbling question! As I read and re-read these first 25 pages the grace that flowed for me was the realization that this is not a question for me to answer on my own.
Typically, I would determine to make this happen – start a program, pray more or better or harder, always promise to do the right thing, look harder outside myself, work really hard to connect with the Divine. I am a planner and a thinker. I love nothing more than checking items off my to-do list!
But God said to me in these pages, “throw away the list!” I think God is calling me to just submit myself entirely to God and let God do the “work”. Coutinho says that the Divine gifts cannot be earned. I was struck in my reading by how often I make “gods” out of my projects! Often I have felt that unless I am DOING something to build up the kingdom I am not getting it right. But the grace in these pages is the sense that I really only have to be open to accepting God’s love and allowing myself to experience it and everything else will flow from that.
I do want to experience this “bigger” God. I am trying to sit with these 25 pages and resist the pull to read the whole book and figure out how to get there in 160 pages!
I spent two hours reading the Introduction and assigned pages, and writing down statements that had meaning and/or challenge for me. What a delight!
After attending a Lutheran school and a public high school, I attended a public college. I quickly realized that I needed to have a personal relationship with God. If I was questioned about some idea or belief, “because my Pastor said so” wasn’t going to make it! Even in the introduction I experienced God’s words to me: “…invites you on a journey where you know something for yourself…something so good, broad, and deep that it keeps you from wasting time on anything negative, self-protective, or reactionary – it is not something but Somebody!” I’ve been on a journey a long time and now sense God drawing me closer and deeper.
I also appreciated: “The human ego hates a genuinely new experience.” I’m struggling with a pastor and staff which believes any change is good and positive, and any non-change is bad and negative. The difference here is that this genuine new experience “leaves you out of control for a while and forces you to reassess your terrain, find new emotions, and realize your life coordinates.” Here is a purpose for change and it leaves one out of control so God can effect change. The former is a means of controlling.
“Ignatius believed that our experience of and relationship with God is unique, and so your God is not my God, and my God is no one else’s God. One God, but infinite possibilities.” How I wish people of faith would adopt this belief! We become so bogged down with denominational stuff that we miss so much of what God has freely laid out before us. I don’t know how many times I’ve told frustrated Christian friends that God did not create denominations, humans did, and anything created by humans is flawed. So allow the organizational good to help, but don’t let it be the end of all.
So I’m pondering the questions. Am I looking to meet a big God, a God without limits? Do I have the will to experience the Divine – in all its wondrous and infinite possibilities? Do I have the courage, patience, and a good deal of surrender for the journey? Do I have the will to give up whatever is asked of me in order to meet a bigger God? What is my well? Is it helping me to the river, or have I stopped to worship the well?
There were 4 items in the first 7 chapters that really spoke to me:
1) God is an experience (page 14). Just like the sugar the holy man in the Himalayas was dispensing. How can I experience God more fully?
2) Divine gifts cannot be earned. They are not our privilege, but our right (page 13). Wow, I never thought that we actually have a right to experience divine gifts. I just need to open my heart to be able to discern them when they come.
3) Understanding of Truth (page 17)
There's that word experience again. How do I "clear" my mind in order to truly experience. I have made a number of attempts to practice Yoga. I always end up getting frustrated because "I can't turn my mind off" to really experience the moment.
4) Charity vs. Compassion (Ch 7)
I'm one that's terribly afraid to give up control. Fr. Coutinho tells us that Compassion is about acting without concern for who is in "control" of the situation. I need to be able to respond even when it is not "convenient" for me to do so. I really want to "connect" to others and this seems like a prerequisite along the transition from charity to compassion.
The first thing that struck me was Coutinho’s ability to forgive. He told the story of how, 400 years ago, the Jesuits had “converted” his people by offering them a choice between believing or dying, and gave them all a Portugese name at baptism! And yet, despite that history, Coutinho is a Catholic and a Jesuit too! His own example of faith and forgiveness has to be based on his own experience of God and is a challenge to me to do likewise.
And this is what the rest of this first section of reading is about - the validity of our own personal experience of God if our relationship with Him is to grow, and how we might practice doing that. In other words, how we can transform our small, often religion bound faith, into the reality of an unbounded God, undeterred by what Coutinho calls our “clingy ego” which feels threatened by this.
On page 6 Coutinho says “pray in the stillness and silence of your heart and you will be seduced by God” – how beautiful is that? His belief is that waiting upon God is the only way in which we can truly get to know Him and make a genuine relationship with Him. And this resonates particularly with me because I was a Quaker for many years, and experiencing God in the silence of Meeting is seen by them as the foundation of each individual’s faith, not needing to be shored up by ritual, creeds and liturgies – God in the raw you might say! The fact that I am now a Catholic does not, I think, detract from that, but rather adds to my “knowing” through my participation is the sacraments and Eucharistic Adoration.
The story that spoke to me most personally in this section was that in Chapter 5, which is about the faith and happiness of a tribal people enslaved by a cruel and sadistic master. I have seen this for myself in Ethiopia, though there the people are enslaved more by poverty and lack of resources and opportunity. Despite this I saw many who were still able to find happiness in their lives and the children (many of them orphans and living on the street) who could still play and sing and laugh. Their needs were basic – shelter, food, family and community, but unlike people in the west, their “wants” list would probably be similar. They intuitively knew what was important – living in the present moment and being faithful to God, through whom they could experience an “interconnectedness with the rest of humanity and the whole of creation” (page 25).
Getting to the heart of the matter, personally experiencing God in our lives and acting on that reality, seems to me to be what this journey is all about, and as Coutinho says (page xviii) “it will take courage, patience and a good degree of surrender.” I would add commitment to that list because the “surrender” part is the thing I will find most challenging. I can easily get “distracted from living fully (with and in God) by “the pain of my own internal arrow” (page19) and as so often, give up because the journey seems too hard. I need to pull out the arrow and “stop my useless questions”!
Un-oh! What has God gotten me into now? I hope that I’m up for this.
Upon reading the “Grandma” story I turned the question into “What awareness do I have of how God works in and through me?” It is when I reflect on the experiences of the day that I am grateful for the opportunities God gives me to share His life with others. I can only hope that they receive that life. I would like to grow in my noticing that God is with me as I move through the day, not just when I think about it later.
Having been raised a “cradle Catholic” during the 1950’s I could identify with the story about fear of meeting God. If I remember correctly, “fear of the Lord” was considered a virtue! As my relationship with God evolves, the fear moves through different stages from fear of being judged as bad or wrong, to fear of being good enough, to a fear of accepting the limitless love that God freely offers. Most days I understand it in my head; it’s getting to my heart that is taking longer. It leads me to ask questions such as what am I holding on to that I allow to get in the way of God’s movement in my life; and then, what do I get out of holding on to those things? So I recognize that I am a work in progress and “trust in the slow work of the Lord” who reveals more of who I am each day, so that I might experience Him more fully.
The minute I saw the river on the cover of the book as I eagerly removed its wrapping, I knew I was in trouble – the best kind of trouble. I had the sudden urge to buckle a seatbelt! The river has always been a powerful image for me, but has been particularly powerful this week for me as I pray with Creighton’s Online 19th Annotation. One of the ways suggested in the material for this week was to stand by a river, and “pan for gold” as I ponder the moments of my life. I sat for a long time looking at that cover, of that beautiful blue river winding its way through the land into a huge body of water. And so, the first grace was affirmation of what was already happening in my own prayer, and almost a whispered voice in my ear saying, “Pay attention Mary”.
I was totally moved by the author’s note where Fr. Coutinho talked of how an Indian priest got a Portuguese name. To simply take the story at face value, one could say that the Church did a terrible thing to these people – forcing them to be baptized or die. And yet, from that well-intentioned but terrible act, God was able to give a great gift to the people of India, and that gift is very evident in the life of the Jesuit who gives us this book. God’s goodness, largesse, prodigal love simply will not be thwarted, even in the face of our gravest sins. How comforting! Only a really big God could work such miracles.
I have always believed that every religion, every spirituality is a facet of a God far beyond our theologies. And so, I was very drawn to the story of the tribes of people who suffer unspeakable horrors at the hands of their captors and yet are able to sing and dance. They can do so because of the images of the divine that are tattooed on their bodies. No human can touch what they believe is the indelible mark and care of their God, and that gives them great joy. We are marked by God in sacrament in our tradition, they are marked by tattoo. All are loved intimately by a God who reaches into our lives and makes us understand that love in our own unique way. What an incredible grace to really believe that God is having a lifelong, intimate and personal conversation just with me…just with you!
It’s hard to not share every single insight, every moment, but I will end this sharing with the way I began – with the river image. Fr. Coutinho mentions it many times in these first pages. As I have prayed this week by the shores of the river of my life, I have reflected on all the winding twists and turns my river has taken. I have remembered the calm flowing times, and the white water rapids. I have stood in it and panned below the depths to see that there is really much more gold than I tend to focus on! And I remember again that I must continually come back to this shore, and be baptized again and again so that I can hear the voice of God calling me Beloved.
I love the book, and this unique perspective. I listened to the CD (which I highly recommend) and I realized that two weeks after moving back to NY to help with my frail elderly mother, I need to find some folks to pray with. I suddenly became aware of the loss of my praying community back in Pittsburgh, and I know I have to find one because although I spend time every day in prayer, my life is also about sharing that faith in community. This is a way to share faith with others who span the globe. Another incredible grace captured within 25 pages of this wonderful book! Thank you God for this lovely gift!
I learn best by experience and two of the stories from this week’s readings spoke to my heart the strongest.
The story of Grandmother and the homeless little girl both delighted and challenged me. The child’s ability to see God so clearly in the Grandmother’s actions brought life to the words of Jesus when He said that we would have to become like little children if we want to see the Kingdom of God. I believe that all of us are born knowing God because we are uncomplicated and pure in heart. The grandmother’s act of kindness challenges me to be more aware of the people that God has placed in my life so that I can be a blessing to others. I can think of no better goal than to be instantly recognized as a child of God because of my actions.
As I read the second chapter God revealed to me that the past five years that I have been alone since my boyfriend died has been my time in the desert. I can now see how He removed all of the distractions so that He could reveal himself to me and draw me closer to His loving heart. So far it has been one of the hardest yet one of the most rewarding times that I have ever experienced, and I still have so far to go. To be willing to give up whatever is asked of me so that I can meet a bigger God is still hard for me. I am not sure what my “Isaac” is. I remain hopeful that as I read on that I will receive the grace to sacrifice whatever it takes so that I can become all that God created me to be.
The story of the Samaritan woman is one of my favorites because I am much like her. My life has been a mess upon occasion and I have put my trust in relationships and other things of the world, but I know that I hunger for something more. I want the “living water” that Jesus offers. Like the Samaritan woman I am amazed that God would want to speak to me. To know that I still have a chance to know God gives me hope. I am finally ready!
I attended the seminars Fr. Coutino gave in St Louis at the Jesuit Institute in July. I left there questioning “The Divine”. He spoke so often of “The Divine” and the more he did the more I questioned this. I chose to read his book in hopes of learning and experiencing “The Divine”. I believe there is no higher power than God, thus He is “The Divine”, but why is it that I don’t reference or name Him in that way?
After reading I questioned: do I want to know the naked truth about me, not the worldly me, but the me that is a child of God seeking the Divine? I have experienced God and I have seen the face of God. My faith, my religion, Cursillo and my SEEL [Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life] experience have all enhanced this. I don’t believe that I am afraid of meeting God in death, but I haven’t been presented with that experience obviously. I find that I take death for granted and keep thinking that I will have time.
How interesting the story was of the man God called to come, the man was so excited, yet he didn’t just go. He had to do his own things first, thinking he was going to please God and then go. I know God calls me to be with Him and it is challenging to just be and even to take the time to just be.
I was touched by the story of the tribe and without any knowledge or
religion or God as we know it, they prepared themselves to die for the
Divine. Where and how does that develop? Obviously God is touching these
people and they know The Divine and don’t
Onward I go in the book to find my answers.
Loretta from Montana
The story in chapter seven, about the Hindu woman who came to give blood to Fr. Paul's mom was very touching. I thought this woman was truly compassionate in sharing herself with his sister and sharing her blood with his mother. She did not hesitate in giving herself in such a profound and thoughtful way, she made no excuses, she just came and gave what she was able on this day. God show us every day that we must except the unexpected and prepare our selves for all he has to offer.
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