sharing sent in this week from our world-wide reading group.
The Sharing for week 2: Chapters 8-21.
I’ve lived through and with all four views of God. In an 8th Grade Lutheran School class, our teacher told us that God expects us to be perfect. We never can be perfect, but He expects it anyway. I was ready it chuck it all in then!
I also came away with a skewed view of grace. I knew grace came to us in difficult times and that we didn’t deserve it. Since I’d really had no difficult times that needed grace (I believed), I thought I was stockpiling it. Imagine my surprise when I hit a truly huge time in college, opened my closet door filling with grace, leaned on it, and found it was like whipped cream! I was more than upset!
As I was growing up, my father was emotionally distant. He just didn’t know how to show loving support and acceptance. So I came away thinking I wasn’t good enough. I’m not sure how much that experience shaped my view of God then, but, although I can relate and have experienced the four types of God Paul Courtino mentions, I have grown into a different view.
Now my simple explanation of grace and mercy is that grace is God giving us what we don’t deserve and cannot earn, and mercy is God not giving us what we do deserve and have earned. My God has many attributes, and those link Him to names to express those attributes, but He’s more than any attribute or name I can attach. Those are to help me focus. Sometimes I just sit and open my heart and mind and let Him drawn me. I feel instead of think, so no attribute or name is needed.
When the Catholic Coutinho family moves into a Hindu neighborhood they must now reckon with Hindu beliefs, customs and traditions which differ dramatically from theirs. Paul learns to think fluidly outside the box as he and his family adapt.
As I read, this thought comes to mind: Jesus probably thinks so easily outside the box because Jesus spends his first years in Egypt. By this immersion he absorbs another culture, language, ideas, different style of dress and customs. The gospels continually tell how Jesus accepts others and works to include the marginalized. Jesus is comfortable with differences. Jesus is comfortable with you. He is even comfortable with me. Praise God.
What a culture shock I get when my family moves from Minneapolis, MN to Ft. Worth, TX in the 1950’s. Heretofore National Geographic provides the extent of my exposure to diversity. I vividly recall my astonishment as I see my first black person walking in front of my house. I find the process of making friends and adjusting to this new life painful. I feel as if I’m plucked from a bunch of white carnations and plunked into a mixed bouquet. Like Paul and Jesus, my parents pray and give good example. I too grow in wisdom.
Coutinho compares Jesus’ 40 days in the desert to a honeymoon with God. Not so for me. I recall my honeymoon. My new husband and I rejoice in sharing our oneness and love somewhere fun with an abundance of good things. Deprivation or hardship is not a part of our plan. I see Jesus’ time in the desert more as ‘Boot Camp’ in training for his mission. What do you think?
Now Fr. Paul asks if I’ve experienced God calling me by name. That’s inviting, inclusive and I answer. “Yes, Father Paul, God calls me Princess.” And here’s a special communion with my loving Lord: One warm day I am sitting lakeside. A gentle, cool breeze brushes my left cheek in such a special way that I look up and say, “Thank you, God, for that cool breeze. I love a cool breeze on a warm day.” At that moment I hear, “If you were the only person on earth I would blow that breeze for you.” This “AHA” moment consoles me still. I know I am kissed by God in that breeze.
I reflect again on going from charity to compassion, from practicing religion to having a close relationship with the living God. Like the author, I feel that I most often relate to God as a Yahwistic God because it is easy for me to see my brokenness. My challenge has always been to translate this awareness of my brokenness to an understanding and compassion for the brokenness in other people. At different times in my life I think I have related to God in all four of the traditions that the author discussed.
I have been trying to practice the Contemplation to Attain Love; recalling and thanking God for all of His gifts and offering them all back to Him, to see the Divine in every person, to picture God laboring over His creations, trying to bring them to perfection, and finally of seeing the creations and the Divine as one. The college where I teach has a lake with a fountain, so that reminds me as I drive to work of the author’s analogy of the fountain and the water being one as the creation and God are one. I intend to use this exercise in the future to try to draw into closer union with God.
When I meditate on the first Luminous mystery of Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan, I also usually think of his forty days in the desert after his baptism and the temptations of the devil. I liked how the author broke these three temptations down into the temptation of desire for material things, the temptation of worrying what people think of us, and the temptation of thinking we are important and of being focused on power, position, titles and things of that nature. When I reflect on my life, I can see where many times I made decisions based on what other people might think instead of praying about the decision and trying to make the right decision for the right reason.
I have never thought before about Lent being a Honeymoon with God. Too often I have focused on how tough it will be to go six weeks giving up Coke or whatever it is that I have decided upon for that Lent. I hope to work on removing the obstacles that are hindering me from having a deeper relationship with God.
My experience of God must be Yahwistic. I have never seen myself as anything else but a sinner. I realise I will never be perfect but only by the grace of God am I able to strife for perfection. I realise He loves me in my imperfection. I am an imperfect being living in an imperfect world and Jesus is my role model of perfection. When I am truly perfect I shall be with Him in the eternal kingdom just like He promised.
I loved the chapter about Our Father Image. I have always struggled to see God as a Mother and had been growing somewhat envious of others who seemed to find God as Mother to be so natural. This chapter helped me to make sense of that struggle.
I grew up the youngest of nine children. My dad was diagnosed with diabetes shortly after I was born, and he was very sick for my entire life. Most of my childhood memories of him consisted of visiting him in the hospital and leaving with such a strange feeling of emptiness because he was in a coma and didn’t even realize that I was there. I grew up with the shadow of his imminent death hanging over my head. I was always told to be good, because Dad doesn’t have very long to live. So, my family and I were most surprised by his endurance. He outlived my mom by 7 years and passed away at the age of 83.
Dad was always a very quiet man. He spoke very little and although I am so talkative, I never had very much to say to him, either. We certainly were not close. He never told me he loved me and was very limited with his affection. But, he was a good father who provided his family with all of their physical needs, if not all of their emotional needs, despite his illness. And, most importantly, he was very devout and solid in his faith.
Towards the end of his life, he required much care from his children. My kids and I would take him grocery shopping every week, until he was no longer able to go to the store. Then, my daughter, Mary and I, would spend one morning a week with him at his house. We would pray the rosary with him and then we would just sit with him.
Few words were spoken during these visits, they were often silent. This made me very uncomfortable. But, what I discovered is that in the silence, an unspoken love was shared between us. My dad taught me that love doesn’t require words, and prayer doesn’t require words. We can simply be with God, and that is enough. My God is a strong, silent, enduring God whose love cannot be put into words. My God will always be a Father.
The piece that struck me about reading these chapters was identifying Who is my God?, naming how this began in childhood, and watching the ebb and flow of this part of my journey.
Since compliance, obedience, and pleasing others was a hallmark of my early years, along with not being good enough, threats, fear, and punishment, I began in the beginning with the priestly God of Genesis. In elementary school, I learned more about this God as this was the God that was taught. So I followed what I knew. In a way, being a Christian was simpler then. I’ve made the “9 First Fridays” so many times I knew that I could gain entrance into the Kingdom, with no trouble at all. The problem was that God had a scorecard; that being the infamous “permanent record” where everything is tallied. (the Deuteronomy God) Whew! I think I was spared the Elohistic one!
When I entered college, a different idea of God emerged, the Yahwistic God . That God sounded kind and compassionate, one that I had a desire to know, but based on my early experiences I wasn’t sure that I could trust that. So ingrained was the priestly/Deuteronomy ones, that I remember questioning whether or not it was “right”! Since then, I have moved back and forth, leaning towards the God with whom I can be vulnerable, weak, empty, and imperfect. It has been like peeling layers of an onion to get to the core of my being, and meeting God in a new place.
Today there are times when I am restless and not particularly comfortable with God; and there are times that I am so comfortable, or desperate, that I pour everything out and experience that God is with me. That is reassuring. Like any relationship, my relationship with God is evolving, and continues to change and grow and slip. One of the sentences that struck me in this section was “The only thing that matters is what God says to me and what God feels toward me: I am pleased with you, my favor rests on you, my delight is in you.” They offer encouragement and hope, as well as knowing that there is more stretching and growing to be done. Although I struggle to claim the gifts I’ve been given, I am grateful that God has chosen me to work in the vineyard and manifest His presence to others.
What a gift this book is! My thanks go not only to Fr. Paul but also to the Holy Spirit who has guided his hand in the writing.
You have so many people writing such wonderful accounts of the effects it gives them that I am going to make this Sharing very short.
I love the titles of the chapters, especially this last one. ‘Having a Honeymoon with God’. How wonderful it would be to take such a honeymoon for ever but since we are a total mixture of body and soul I shall have to wait! I’m ready to go anytime but I have no choice but to wait on God’s will. In the meantime, I happily take my part in the role of helping to make the Kingdom come, Oh, doesn’t daily Mass make it possible? How could I live without it?
I do live a busy life because I find it difficult – no, impossible – to say ‘No’. When I find myself drowning in bits of paper covered with lists, I take time off and give it all to God through Jesus for a full 24 hours. It is a foretaste of the longed-for honeymoon and biggest refresher I know.
This book really hits home. The weeks reading touches
many places. Perhaps it is my perception of God that is the real problem.
It seems saying this that perceiving God as other rather than seeing
that God lives in me and I in God limits my freedom. Yet each description
of God as Yahwist, Eloist for The God of Deuteronomy has some bearing
on the journey.
You are mine, I think I can savor that for another week.
Thanks for the opportunity, I loved reading everyone's reflections.
Wow! What intense, deep reflective, touching chapters! God is speaking to the core of my soul!
My God as a child was definitely a combination of the "priestly God" and the "God of Deuteronomy". You did not ask questions. You went to church, said the rosary, went to confession weekly, if not you were sinful and God would punish you. The LAW was the only way to go!
At 18 I entered the Convent and was a nun for 24 years. The same was true then. You had to abide by the rules and there were not personal choices to allow for a personal experience with God.
At the age of 37 I came to the U.S. on a year sabbatical ( I'm still here after 30 years!) This was the beginning of a new chapter in my life. A whole new vision, a light in the darkness, some hope amidst despair. My image of God started to be more the "God of Brokenness".I knew God loved me and accepted my weakness and struggles.
I agree with Freud's notion of "the father-God projection" My father was a very rigid, strict man, had high expectations, nothing was good enough. God had been the law-seeking, punishing God.
For me the"Yahwistic God and the"Elohistic God" developed into my experience of the Triune God that combines judgement, love and continuous presence in my life that give me comfort and strength on a daily basis. I also love the Creator God that connects me to nature. God at work continuously creating me, the human race and my surroundings.
Only in the past few years, however have I been able to seek and find my own God and feel somewhat freer from my baggage. Reason for my reflection and sharing of this book. I really need to keep on working to make place for a bigger God! The challenge continues to be to transcend from a fearful and punishing God to a loving and accepting God.
I so enjoyed this next segment for so many reasons. I could comment on many of the chapters but will limit myself to those most poignant. I really love that the chapters are short and I approach each one with the thought “what kernels of wisdom will be contained herein?” It is an exciting read for me.
Chapter 10 dealt with a peaceful response to someone incapable of being loving or kind. We have all had “test” people in our lives and I am no exception. Through prayer, I was given the grace to understand that no one is capable of cruel speech or actions unless he is very unhappy within, not in harmony with self. By grace, I was able to sincerely pray for the individual after each incident of criticism, put downs or whatever, and then do deliberate kindnesses. This confused the person totally and freed me immeasurably from negativity penetrating me. Only God could have enabled me to not retaliate. I must confess, however, never once did I consider that person a “divine being” as suggested by Fr. Coutinho; my description would have been “a difficult unhappy person”! So there is still room for improvement in me! Nonetheless, I am grateful that I was given the grace to remain tranquil in every encounter.
Like Father Coutinho, in Chapter 17, I was exposed to a lot of fear-based,
unhealthy theology in my formative years. Some years later, I attended
a parent-support group anticipating guidance for my family. No so. It
was help for me. One sentence I will never forget that has empowered
me to overlook and forgive anything that was less than affirming was
this: “They (parents, teachers, priests, nuns and family members
) were doing the best they knew how to with the knowledge they had at
the time.” There was also a song (addressing one’s inner
child) that spoke volumes to me, the words of which were these:
As the psalmist says “we are fearfully wonderfully made”
I am truly touched reading everyone's reflections; how I wish we could meet and share more deeply! Again I struggle with what to share, everything is so meaningful.
Like one of the "sisters sisters" I was a good child, trying to please my Elohistic God of Law by being as perfect as possible. Although I now accept my parents loved me, I did not always feel love. I resented the warmth and love experienced by my siblings in spite of and because of their imperfections, their brokenness. But I was, and still often am, so determined to win God's approval as well as that of those around me, that I mire myself in the temptations to be respected and to have authority. I've followed the rules, isn't it my turn? The God of Brokenness wants to touch and heal me in that place of hurt I've been afraid to admit exists. I was so happy to read all four experiences of God are okay, good, necessary; it is what I was hoping for while reading those chapters. What and where I have been is okay, but my God is so much more and that can make me so much more than I have been.
My grace struggle (for awhile now) has been surrendering to the God of Brokenness, suspecting, even certain, the surrender leads me to the next step of transcendence, the Divine fills me and I become immersed in God.
I sing in church choir. It occurred to me once in prayer that my experience
with God is like singing. Easy enough with just God and me, not so easy
when singing with other. But the beauty and dimension of harmony is
so worth it. Interconnecting with humanity may not always be easy but
it is so worth it to all of humanity.
What a surprise this deceptively simple little book is! I have again read and re-read this week’s pages and still need more time to process it all. So much to reflect on, but I will keep it to one profound experience I have had this week.
I am doing the on-line retreat at the same time as reading this book. Weeks one and two of the retreat asked me to look at my past, “my story” and review it all. That is painful as my family (of origin) is fractured today and I am at the heart of that break. Now Couthino asks the probing question, “Who is the God who was introduced to me as a child?” Again, that look back has been painful for me all of my adult life.
But something amazing happened. As I prayed through these memories and questions, all I could feel was warmth. All I could remember was the love and the warmth of growing up in this big, crazy, Irish Italian Catholic family. The shame was gone. I know the dark stuff is there, but I have spent enough time with it and now God has been drawing me to memories of love and goodness! When Couthino talked about the relationship with one’s father in the first six years, I wept realizing that my Dad was so very tender and loving when I was a small child. Yes, it all changed during adolescence and young adulthood, with all 6 of us, but God wanted me to know the love was there and it formed me.
Who is My God? I like to think my God is an Yahwistic God. I try to empathize and relate to the outcast and the alienated. I fear though that my God is more Elohistic than I would like. Unfortunately, I'm I bit of a perfectionist and I often beat up on myself (and others) from time to time if "perfection" isn't achieved. Pg 44 - There I am putting things at "right angles" ensuring that order is maintained. I constantly strive in my life to avoid chaos without recognizing that chaos is part of life and valuable experience can be gained from it.
Temptations "What people say and think about us." Fr Coutinho asks the question "How often do I remain silent in the face of injustice, when my relationship with God demands otherwise?" This question speaks very powerfully to me in my current circumstance of being deployed to Iraq.
The US is clearly in the role of "occupier" here which could be compared to say the British occupation of India. What particularly disturbs me is the way the American's treat what are termed TCNs (third country nationals). These, mostly men, residing mainly from Nepal, India and Pakistan perform the jobs that the military used to do during deployments (food service, house-keeping, bathroom maintenance, laundry, etc.). I have been sickened when my fellow soldiers and airmen ridicule, crack ignorant jokes and denigrate their humanity. I have spoken out at a couple of the most egregious episodes; however, I could do more but for fear that my "comrades" won't accept me. This situation clearly calls for a strong, principled stand to denounce this injustice.
Chapter 21 (HAVING A HONEYMOON WITH GOD) Reading this chapter 21 and chapter 20 really touched me in a profound way. I have been having this ongoing battle in my life with these problems/temptations.
Being tempted by material possessions, worrying about what people think or say about me and dealing with being someone important or having a position of importance in my work place. In the past five years these things have had very little importance in my life, but my family and friends cannot understand why I feel this way. My friends and family talk about having new cars , fancy clothes and going out to eat, spending their money on material possessions that do not bring them happiness.
On my job I have been talked about for the way I dress or rather for
the way I do not dress and even though I received a bachelor's degree
last year in business administration I have no want or desire to move
up using my degree/experience, I am quite happy working were I am, because
this is were God wants me to be at this time. My family wonders why
I don't want to move up and get more money. Money always seems to be
the root of the evil.
I have known for along time it really only matters what God wants for me, what he sees me doing and were he wants me to be in my life. I feel so much closer, to God and I would like to continue on my honeymoon with God and be closer to him and becoming more and more like Jesus here on this earth now.
Celebrating the love that God has for me and the world, knowing this love is there for all of us. As Fr. Paul said God wants pour everything into our relationship and we do the same and commingle until we are one with Divine.
Thank you for letting me have this opportunity of reading this wonderful book I truly feel I am growing closer to God.
"When you are compassionate you will experience God everywhere, good things happen". But is it really a good thing when I am in a lifeboat and I let go of my loved ones to save a lot of children who are closet to me? Is everyone really my family? This is a difficult example for me. In a living relationship with God I turn off the switch of choosing to help, my ability to respond is total? Can I do that? I probably do not choose to turn off anything, there is no choosing anymore because I feel connected to anyone. You just do what the situation asks form you. Live in the moment.
Today the bicycle of my son was stolen, he was very sad.
I tried to be there for him, not to calculate the loss or condemn anyone.
It staggers me how I can know something forever yet be stunned when I read such as Coutinho’s observation that it is God’s presence “that makes a tree a tree” (65). Limited to my five senses I put God into parameter too, and concluded that if he is present then he literally stands inside something or someone. Manifestation defines also as expression and sign, ergo the divine imprint on all that is.
Notwithstanding the individuality of our concepts of God, somehow I overlooked that he would work his Biblical writers too at their respective levels of personality and perception. I embrace the Yahwistic God although in childhood I abandoned him at the altar after Mass and then went about my daily business. I held paradox that he set us here at birth and told us to behave, yet watched from a cloud every move we made, which moves were possibly preplanned. I am sure I heard a divine chuckle when I figured that one out.
Enlightenment eventually came to this soul too long wandering the land of the lost, that when Jesus said we can do nothing by our self, he meant just that. Imagine: “You and God become one, like the rays of the sun and the sun” (65)!
The chapter on "Moving from Charity to Compassion" challenged me to consider the question of whether or not I am "so present to life that life chooses you (me) - you (I) do not choose life." As I consider the last several years of my life I see a definiate shift from Charity to Compassion, but I acknowledge that I am somewhere in between the two. This chapter is challenging me to move more towards compassion...more towards God.
I enjoyed reading about having a "living relationship with God," and it, along with "The Four Ways of Relating With God," helped me to better understand my personal growth over the last several years. While I have probably experienced all four ways of relating to God, I personally relate most closely with "The God of Brokenness - the Yahwistic Experience."
As a father, the chapter, "The God Who Is a Projection of Our Father Image" impacted me and has caused me to consider how my daughter may view God because of her relationship with me. Wow, what a responsibility, I had never really considered it.
After I read our second section, the story of the two sisters and their report cards struck a sharp cord in me. I acutely identify with the sister who turned in the good grades, great grades, and received no hug, only the expectation of working hard and being known as "bright." The awareness that she does not really find her place but is always thought "talented and capable" scares me. I recall my childhood and ponder why. I identify with this discontented girl and I see some personal images. I had never thought so truthfully about the pattern of my internal behavior. What I see is not joyful.
Then, I hear Isaiah "You are Mine" and I feel warmth and
acceptance. Has God called my name, my very own name? Sure, He has and
the time He called and l answered the path was so clear, the task so
joyful, the new friendship so healing, so enlightening, so simple for
me. How does this happen to an almost 50 year old woman? Father Rohr's
childhood God was a monstor. Mine must have been a taskmaster. The God
of my nearly 50's is Love, perfect, intelligent, accepting, kind, also
demanding but only that I shine brightly for Him. I pray I will walk
with this God a little more frequently.
Last week I wrote about how my well had turned into a dark cave harboring a vengeful God so I was surprised and a bit relieved that Father Coutinho had a much worse image of God when he was a child. Like the Indians we Filipinos were also forcefully converted to Christianity hundreds of years ago when the Spanish conquistadores came to our shores with a Bible in one hand and a sword in the other. Our religious education, at least during my time in school, was very rigid. Think fire and brimstone and you get the picture. My father was also an army officer and I grew up in an army camp. He was a strict disclipinarian but unlike the father of Father Coutinho's friend my father was not abusive. He didn't earn much but we never felt deprived, and we more or less knew that he loved us dearly. It's now clear why my God was the God of Deuteronomy.
About this time last year I was facing a crossroads in my career, a crisis that threatened my ability to support my family. In desperation I called out to Him and He answered in the most wonderful way. I felt a sense of profound peace and calmness I've never felt before. I felt that whatever happened, He would not abandon me and my family. And He didn't. The crisis was over in a month. That experience left me wanting more. So I went about it the way I was taught, by praying, hearing Mass regularly, surfing through devotional websites, even signing up for a Bible study correspondence course. But it wasn't the same. Ken, another reader, got it right when he said it was like punching a spiritual time clock. I don't need the time clock. I need the Timekeeper, the Boss.
This book made me realize that I too am a child of God. In spite of everything that is wrong with me I am still His child. I am entitled to His gifts just as much as anyone else. His gifts won't stop me from sinning because I am not perfect like Him. But that does not really matter because I am still His. Like someone once said, His grace won't make me sinless, but they will make me sin less. These are heady thoughts that have been going through my mind over and over the past few days. I've always been His child but it was me, with my cloudy well, my image of him as a petty and vengeful God, and my internal arrow of rigid and unbending religious dogma that kept Him at arm's length. I pray that this book continues to remove the blinders over my eyes so that my God will get bigger and bigger in my sight. I used to regret being named Emmanuel because I know that name means "God is with us". Now I pray that like the grandmother in the first chapter of the book, I can start living my life so that others may see even just a little bit of Him in me.
Compassion … being so present to life that life chooses you, you do not choose life. We are so used to complaining about how hard our lives are, the difficulties that life’s circumstances present, the “hand that we are dealt” that we often miss the fact that God is there with us. It takes practice to be “present to life” because of our busyness, living our lives. We must learn to become aware of the life that is around us and see ourselves as part of it all, and then, to realize that God is there, too.
In reading Fr. Paul’s description of the four ways of relating to God, I could identify with all of them. How thankful I was when he said that they were all good. In working with the RCIA, we encourage inquirers to think about their images of God. As humans, we need images to form our relationships. It becomes a gift when we share these images and discover all the many ways God relates to his people. It helps us to see how big our God is.
I don’t often think of God as working on anything…he’s God! But the idea of God working to help us see ourselves as He sees us is wonderfully humbling and encouraging to me. Along with our images of God we need to develop an image of ourselves to build this relationship. It’s so easy to see ourselves as not being worth the trouble, but to know that God’s view of us is something worthy of his efforts gives me hope.
I was struck by the concept “Compassion is when you are so present to life that life chooses you- you don’t choose life”. To be compassionate is to experience God everywhere. God has revealed to me that to experience God and all of the glorious things that He has planned for me I must be present to life. I must live in the moment at hand and resist living in the past or dreaming and worrying about the future. The great I AM is here with me right now calling me to know Him and love Him. To live life to the fullest taking in both the joys and the sorrows while covered by His compassionate protection and His loving grace.
I relate this to the time that I got mono-vision contacts and I was having a lot of trouble getting used to them because the left one was for close-up and the right one was for distance. I kept trying to figure out which one to look out of to see to read or drive. I was totally frustrated and I called the ophthalmologist and spoke to his nurse. I told her that I kept closing one eye trying to tell which eye was supposed to see what. She immediately told me to stop because I was confusing my brain. This confused me further and I asked her what I was supposed to do and she remarked “Don’t do anything just be”. I know that if I could only learn to “be” I could experience the Divine and the peace that Jesus offers to me.
It is quite a discipline to try and narrow down the focus of what touches me, but I will give it my best effort. I loved the beginning of this section where Fr. Coutinho speaks about the difference between charity and compassion. It is so easy to think that by doing charitable acts we are somehow a “good person”. Compassion costs so much more, and demands so much more from the heart for it means you must lose a part of yourself in the pain of another. And when you let someone in to that degree, there is a cost, and a deep blessing for both.
I was very touched by the images of how we relate to God presented in the next few chapters. Although I could see my manner of relating to God in every one at different points in my own life, I knew that I spent my childhood in the pathway of the Law and have spent most of my adult life in relationship with the God of Brokenness. I am so aware of the broken parts of myself, and am in a ministry that works with those whose physical hearts are broken. Often, there is such underlying emotional pain, and I find myself drawn to address that too, both in them and in myself.
Finally, the part that really took my breath away was the chapter called “Prayer, a Pathway to Freedom and Love”. When Fr. Coutinho spoke of that last moment of the Spiritual Exercises, I was transported back to the final moments of my 30 Day Retreat, when I had a depth of prayer deeper than any I had ever experienced. It also made a connection for me with the Exercises that I have never made before. I remember those hours of prayer when “I looked at a tree and saw God, experienced God”. More miraculously, when I looked in the mirror and saw God. It was exquisite. One of my favorite moments in Liturgy, and one that is often said privately by the priest is when the few tiny drops of water are added to the wine, and the priest says “Through the mystery of this water and wine may we come to share in the divinity of Christ who humbled himself to share in our humanity”. I am struck by the realization that we are that water, a few drops added into the cup of wine. And in that moment, it is no longer possible to tell the two apart. The water is consumed into the wine. I realize now why I am so drawn to that moment – it is the moment when I realize that what Fr. Coutinho writes is my experience: “God brings everything God has and pours it into the relationship, and I bring everything I have and pour it into the relations, until we commingle, and become one with the Divine. Wow! Sweet, miraculous mystery of union with a God who mingles with the likes of us!
Last week, God gave me the grace of freedom. He called me to be free of what other people might think of me, to be free of my judgments of myself and others, and to be free of my worries for my family.
I want and strive for a Yahwistic God, but I think I have more of an Elohistic God. I am judgmental of other people, and I realized through the readings that my judging others is mostly a reflection of how I am judging myself. My father was a very forgiving man when it came to most things but not so forgiving when it came to others. They are the things that my God won’t forgive, and they are the things I judge others for and that I can’t forgive myself for.
I want my “experience of the Divine in everything [to] deepen” and I want to “remain in contemplation, a prayerful state of being, even in the midst of living life.” I have a hard time leaving my children for more than a day or a night. It is because I am too attached to them and worry that when I come back they won’t love me as much, it is because I am worried that people will think me a bad mother, and it is because I worry that if I am not there, then something will go wrong. These worries have stopped me from doing a few things, including going on spiritual retreats. It is good that I love my children, would like to be considered a good mother, and want to be important to my children, but it is not so good when these desires keep me from answering a call from God. My husband (who is reading along with me and receiving infinite graces as well!) and I are planning on going on retreat in December.
The thing in this week's reading (chapters 8-21) that especially touched me was in chapter 16 - Disposable Images of God
Fr. Coutinho asks what God we were introduced to as children. I wasn't raised in a religion but picked up an image of God as angry, mean, and impossible to please, and I thought of myself as bad. That made sense because life was going so wrong, I thought God was punishing me - my parents divorced when I was three, I had had two stepfathers by the time I was seven, one abusive and the other distant. I was diagnosed with a degenerative eye disease after college, and my marriage of one year dissolved.
Fr. Coutinho then asks how and when that early image of God changed for us. For me, it changed when I met a Jesuit and read of a God in his homilies who was so good as to be almost unrecognizable. On the basis of that, I took the Creighton University online retreat. During the retreat, I got to know Jesus and had an experience of God as having a serious stake in my happiness, unbelievable as that seemed. The image thing is still a work in progress for me.
What wonderful chapters we read this time! I was very affected by Chapter 10. I like the idea of my words and feelings and behaviors changing for the positive. I realized that I have been thinking negatively in some areas. So I started the 2 minutes a day changing a thought. I find now that when a situation arises I stop and try to do the 2 minutes of changing a thought and get myself away from the negativity. It is a learning tool and a challenge to do. I know I want to change a thought and be a changed person!
This book says God Is Divine! So did I find my answer? Not yet, but I think it is coming. In my search for experiencing “The Divine” these chapters are bringing more and more explanations. I appreciated the ideas that guide me closer to the Divine. But I don’t just want words, so, as I pray, I am trying to get beyond naming God and I am trying to experience the Divine as the Divine. I am trying to just be with God. I am trying to feel this and know this in my heart.
I didn’t realize that this book was going to be such a teaching tool. I have been involved with the Spiritual Exercises for several years now and Fr Coutinho’s explanation of the Contemplation to Attain Love touched me in a different way than I have experienced previously. I may just have to go back to my retreat notes and see what happened for me in this area during my retreat. I know I felt God’s love, but I must not have experienced it as the Divine. If I had I don’t think I’d be searching so hard now.
Have read up to the part allotted for the 2nd sharing. Thought provoking! Each story evoked an immediate response from me but am also conscious of the need to mull over, brain storm, lateral think and to arrive at my final take on the ideas presented but most important of all what action then!!
Here are my initial thoughts on chapter 9 because it stirred up a
storm within me.
“The Tao that can be named is not the real Tao.”
The story of St. Peter and Marilyn Monroe on the tightrope to heaven over hell was hilariously delightful and shows the folly of carrying any image of God a bit too far. “Let those who think they stand take heed in case they fall.”
Equally delightful is the description and analysis of the 4 images of God in the Pentateuch and their influence on the Christian Gospels and our everyday life and prayer. The 4 ways of experiencing God are the Priestly (pleasing God), Yawhistic (God of brokenness), Eloistic (God of perfection) and the Deuteronomic (pathway of the law). Fr. Coutinho gives reflection questions to determine which is our personal God. It seems to me that we may have identified with all 4 at various times in our development or our background, early family history and church teachings may have made one more preponderant in out belief and behavior. Both the author’s experience with the Hindu tradition and the teachings of the Christian mystics make the same point. Spiritual growth happens when we are constantly experiencing and transcending the images until we reach the Divine with no images. That is because any image or metaphor of God is at best a partial fit and limits our ability to experience other aspects. We are reassured that whatever way we relate to God is good. More importantly once we recognize out way of relating we can find ways to deepen the relationship and integrate the best of all 4 images. Then we begin to transcend them and move deeper into the river of divine intimacy.
Fr. Coutinho gives examples of how associating with his Hindu neighbors, listening to a young Hindu student and making an intensive Buddhist retreat all helped him better understand his Catholic faith and chosen way of Ignatian spirituality. Like Ignatius he was drawn into the river and essence of God. This resonates with my own experiences beginning with a course in comparative religion in college and continuing through reading such authors as Ticht Naht Hahn (“I will help you empty yourself like your Lord Jesus Christ”), William Johnston, S.J., Thomas Merton and various readings on mindfulness in spirituality and psychotherapy
Fr. Continuo’s discussion of the Contemplation to Attain the Love of God or as some would say, The Contemplation to Learn to Love Like God, intrigued me and reminded me of my own experiences in which it did deepen my relationship with God and lead to more personal freedom. His emphasis on how St. Ignatius says the gift of self retuned to God becomes divine leading to the Divine deepening in everything and it helping the person remain in the contemplative prayer state of being in the midst of everyday life rings true and encourages me to continue awareness of the images currently effecting my relationship and the need to prayerfully transcend them. The way in which Fr.Coutinho weaves together his own life experiences, the Eastern perspective and Ignatian spirituality is marvelous and a blessing to us all.
These chapters were so deep that I read them twice to try and absorb
them more completely. I could look back on various stages and see how
I have related to God in all 4 ways. However, as I raised my children
I felt it was very important to keep them connected to the Yawistic
image of the Divine. This week as I was reading the chapters on God,
my son who is a Freshman and about to be confirmed found himself dealing
with issues that were affecting his schoolmates or teammates. For instance,
he received an email from a Christian classmate that he felt was basically
hate mail against a group students who had expressed support of two
gay students. He sent a post back asking not to receive such hateful
posts and telling the friend that he didn’t believe God wanted
him to persecute others in His name. He tried to show a God that loves
all his children to a group of young people who believe in a God who
not only wants them to follow all the rules, but who will give them
brownie points for forcing others into line. Another teammate is joining
his church and believes he must give up all outside activities to give
glory to God. This led to a conversation here at home about how God
can use our activities in many ways. We talked about how my other son
is taking his “Varsity Football Status” over the local grade
school to give a 4th grade boy a little extra attention through a mentoring
program at school — a different way of giving glory to God. Anyway,
this week gave me many opportunities to see how God is working in our
lives and to help my son see how people’s visions of God affect
their decisions and actions.
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