Sunday, April 15, 2012

A Life Review, First Week of Easter

Some spiritual traditions (in the Catholic church, the Ignatian one; in Protestantism, Puritanism) emphasize a practice of ongoing review of life.  For Puritan strands of Protestant spirituality, this emphasis produced a strong tradition of daily journaling, in which one tallies up the good and bad one has done each day, and places it all in God's hands at the end of each day.

For Ignatian spirituality, there's a similar daily review in which one places oneself imaginatively in God's presence and reviews the day--which has begun, for those following an Ignatian spiritual path, with the Suscipe prayer, putting one's entire self into the hands of God for that day.  Ignatian spirituality also recommends regular periods in which we draw aside from the daily hustle and bustle and still ourselves in front of God--retreats.

What follows is my Sunday review:

1. On the standing in need of prayer side of the review: I crawled slowly through the first week of Easter with my tried and true old companion Sloth lumbering along dolefully at my side.  Or what seems to wear a sloth suit in my soul-life may well be more despondency than sloth--a characteristic of the soul that has to do with lacking hope.  Not a very pretty way to walk through the first week following Easter!


  • the mire of political life that seems never to go anywhere productive, year after year, pulling my heart into the dumps; 
  • those recent bills for medical tests that seem to proliferate, and which remind me of the mess I appear to have made of my vocational life by not having found and kept a permanent job as a theologian; 
  • above all, the book which seems more or less finished, but needs polishing, and which, omygod, I'd rather wallow in acid these days than face another minute longer!

And so, re: the latter, I'm now having horrible dreams of the period in which I tried to finish my dissertation, and felt utterly incapable of doing so--a period that almost did me in emotionally and psychologically, since the dissertation writing coincided with my first year of full-time teaching, and (this may be the most significant factor of all), I was alone, as Steve completed his Ph.D. work in Toronto and I lived in New Orleans, uncertain what the future held for our relationship, since finding jobs in the same place seemed impossible.

And so, slothful despondency . . . . Standing in need of prayer.  Needing the Emmaus sense that Jesus walks alongside me/us.

2. And on the Emmaus side of the ledger this week: as I read this morning the powerful testimony of a Facebook friend (it moves me to tears) about the death of her aunt, a nun, at age 98, I think of Steve's Lenten project, which is ongoing this first week of Easter.  He has been working daily and steadily at a memory book commemorating the life of his great-aunt Sister Ivan, a Benedictine sister.

Who spent much of her life in the monastery washing the clothes of the sisters in her community, since Klara (her name before religious life) entered as a "late" vocation (late for the period in which she became a nun, though she was only in her 20s), and the superiors of the community judged that there was no point sending her off to college.  So she was relegated to the laundry, with a keen mind that longed mightily for an education.  And she worked faithfully there for years on end, uncomplaining, so that a memory book written by members of her community about nuns no longer living says that in a single day, Ivan, who moved slowly and worked methodically but never stopped working, performed more work than almost any sister in the monastery.

Steve's devotion to his great-aunt, his desire to celebrate her memory by creating a picture book of Ivan's life--especially for his two aunts who followed in their aunt's footsteps as Benedictines--inspires me.  He has that same trait of slow, steady, loving work to make the lives of others--to make my life--better.  Like Ivan, he never stops working, though he works so quietly and peacefully that you'd hardly know he was hard at work, unless you looked.  And I am infinitely better for both the work he does on my behalf, and for his inspiring example of love in action.

Re: the latter: it has occurred to me recently that, when we are running errands and stop for a quick bite of lunch at a fast-food restaurant near his workplace, Steve always asks for the discount that restaurants give to employees of the nearby university and hospital where he works.  And it also strikes me that he asks for that discount for this precise reason: he takes the money that he saves through the discount, and he gives it back to the staff who work at the drive-through window of the fast-food restaurant.

He doesn't tell me or anyone else he's doing that.  I watch him do that.  And then listen to him talk about how hard these folks work, at low wages, without benefits.  And how difficult it has to be to deal with the public on a daily basis in a menial job like that, where you have to put up with whatever your boss and the public dish out to you.

All this, when I know he worries (but without telling me he worries) about the proliferating medical bills that come our way due to my lack of health insurance (and, thankfully, I'm in relatively good health: it's just that any medical test costs increasingly outrageous figures in our U.S. system, for those without coverage).  All this to assist those restaurant workers, when he could well be scrimping to save every penny to keep our already stretched budget covered.

Again: I learn much from walking along the road of daily life, of spiritual life, with such a companion.  I learn about quiet, uncomplaining, constant devotion that has an eye for the needs of others, and a love that is particularly focused on those at the bottom of society.  Those most in need.

And this is a great gift to me, an Emmaus gift, which I should celebrate this first week of Easter.

And to sum it all up, this wonderful Emmaus gift from my friend Claire Bangasser's Facebook page today (Claire of the A Seat at the Table blog in my bloglist): Claire has posted the following quotation by Julian of Norwich, accompanied by the picture from a medieval manuscript that appears at the head of this posting, and which Claire has taken from Suzanne Guthrie's Edge of Enclosure blog

The mother can lay her child tenderly to her breast, but our tender Mother Jesus can lead us easily into his blessed breast through his sweet open side, and show us there a part of the godhead and of the joys of heaven, with inner certainty of endless bliss.

And, of course, the picture and Julian's meditation on the sweet mercy of Mother Jesus are meant to go together.

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