Is there anything better than reading old love letters? Each line rekindles the energetic flame that makes anything possible.
I revisited some of my old love letters recently. I wrote them a decade ago, from October 2001 to May 2002 — but not to my spouse. I wrote them during a year of intense spiritual discipline.
As part of a group organized by the United Church’s Five Oaks Centre in Paris, Ont., and the Lowville Prayer Centre, then based in Hamilton, I set out to follow the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. This involved daily personal prayer and journal writing, as well as regular meetings with my spiritual director and the group. Lorraine Dykman, a retired secondary school teacher and an active United Church member, is an experienced spiritual director. She adeptly guided us in an Ignatian-inspired program adapted to fit “our United Church sensibilities.”
For those of us born and bred in the United Church, praying in the way of the founder of the Jesuit religious order was a new experience. And yet Ignatius of Loyola offered a spiritual approach that we long for in The United Church of Canada — an approach to sustain faith while doing justice. He revitalized Christian faith with a return to Jesus, the source of our life in the body of Christ. As Lorraine guided us, we committed significant daily time and discipline to discover the voice of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
Ignatian exercises are grounded in intense gratitude and reverence. They bring us into a warm relationship with Jesus and his family, friends and followers. They changed my prayer life forever and are the reason why my journal of that time reads like love letters.
As we began that autumn, I was struggling to discern a heavy vocational question and trying to be a good parent to sons in their late teens. Abundant love was threatened by cramping anxiety in both circumstances. I was ripe for a fresh approach, one that would help me enter into the intentions of Jesus, intentions of love that were in me but had become obscured by daily worries. In a 1991 article in Sojourners magazine, Monika K. Hellwig observed, “Much of the reflection in the [Ignatian] Exercises is geared to an effort to share the vision of Jesus and understand what he was and is trying to do in the world and its history.” And, I would add, what he’s trying to do in us and in the church.
Perhaps you can get a glimpse of what Christ was trying to do in my life from these few phrases taken from letters I wrote at Easter 2002: “The worries of my life are nothing but tiny ripples in the ocean of your Love. . . . I want to live every moment in this new understanding. . . . Keep me open to your love and grace, and inspire me to know how to respond well to your pleasure in your creation.”
Can you imagine how this reconnecting with the risen Christ helped to restore my family relationships? How it compelled me to accept the call to become the director of Five Oaks? How it deepened my appreciation of how my teenage sons and I were all children of God?
Hellwig goes on to write that the Ignatian approach “declares that the world as we have it is not the best we can hope for, nor the world that God intends, but a badly broken and distorted one which can be restored and be immeasurably better . . . than it now is.”
In other words, prayer that is restorative to our own lives and relationships is prayer that proves restorative for the world and the church. It opens us to God’s intentions, imagining and creating new possibilities in and through us.
These days, the anxieties that threaten to cramp abundant love centre on my concerns about widening economic disparity and accelerating global climate change. Reason alone does not adequately guide us; only Spirit can inspire and sustain a faith that seeks justice — whole Earth justice. And so, reading and journalling anew, I am immersed again in the ocean of God’s love for Earth and each of us in it. God’s intention is abundance. The opportunities are endless. Restoration is possible.
Scripture suggests that everyone who loved Jesus encountered the risen Christ. We too have the opportunity to encounter the risen Christ. And our resurrection experiences are restorative for the soul, for family and community, and for Creation.
Praying and living with Christ re-kindles the energetic flame that sustains an active faith. What practices help you reconnect with that flame? May Easter bless your relationship with the living Christ, and may your faith doing justice be sustained.
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