Monday 26 August 2013

Back into the Fold

By Edmund Lo, S.J.

Photo: Edmund Lo, SJ

As I have mentioned in a previous article, prayerfully examining what brings us closer to or farther away from God through the examination of consciousness (or the Examen prayer) can reveal many things about our lives. While it makes lots of sense on a theoretical level, it makes even more sense when one practices it regularly. I can attest to that.

Like many others, I prefer to have some down time to relax a bit before going to bed. A few months ago, I noticed an emerging pattern as I was doing the Examen prayer one evening. I realized that my down time activities had made me feel numb, and I was not edified by them afterwards. These were rather harmless activities: just watching funny videos. They were entertaining, but why would I have feelings of numbness and emptiness afterwards?

This was similar to St. Ignatius' own experience as he was recovering from his broken leg: he would initially found much delight in worldly thoughts such as doing knightly deeds for a noble lady, but these thoughts made him dry and unhappy afterwards. These thoughts were perfectly harmless and innocent, but they were not life-giving to him. When Ignatius reflected upon heroic deeds performed by saints, these thoughts not only delighted him, but they gave him lasting happiness and joy. This was how he began to understand the concept of spiritual desolation and consolation: desolation as whatever draws you away from God, and consolation as whatever draws you closer to God.

In other words, that much was clear: I needed to engage in some activities or practices that bring me consolation rather than desolation. This was easier said than done, and I had to experiment with different things until I found the right one. It was making origami, the art of creating things out of paper-folding. It worked, and continues to work for me because of several reasons:
  1. Peace: I find that making origami calms me down, allowing me to enter into a steady and prayerful rhythm. This is not the over-stimulation of my senses, but rather a re-focusing thereof.
  2. Tangibility: I am using my hands to physically create something, and it brings me a kind of quiet delight. The finished product certainly gives me joy, to see that a piece of paper can turn into an origami narwhal after some manipulation. The process is also plays a large role in this, as I can see my origami creation “develop” fold by fold.
  3. Creation as gift: When I make origami, I tend not to make them for myself. I prefer to make something as a gift for someone. This can range from animals for children, flowers for gracious host and hostess, or things with symbolic meanings such as giraffes– a creature that sees far and has a big heart. I suppose it is a poor-man's version of making incarnate one's love.
Some have told me that they simply do not have the patience to sit there and labour through difficult origami designs. I can empathize with that: I once threw a half-done origami giraffe half way across my office in utter frustration, as I had spent over ten minutes on a particularly difficult step without getting anywhere. That being said, patience and perseverance can be developed.

In all fairness, I am not trying to begin a “Origami for Everyone” movement; what works for me may not work for you. My invitation to you is this: to reflect on your lives to identify what activities bring you consolation or desolation. If it weighs you down and draws you away from God in a sneaky manner, change up your habits. Look for edifying ones that give you life and bring you closer to God. Sometimes it can be pious practices such as praying the Liturgy of the Hours; other times, it can be folding a piece of paper. The important thing is to find something that works for you.


  1. I agree totally. the paper giraffe is so lively. Keep up with your good work. You are in my prayer

  2. A very practical suggestion for drawing closer to the Heart of Christ. Thank you!