Monday, 2 September 2013

Listening to Hope

By Brother Dan Leckman, S.J.

Statue of St. Ignatius at the Jesuit Centre, Guelph.
(Source: http://ignatiancamino.com)

This past summer has been one of the most challenging and intense I've ever had. Quite the bold statement, I know. I’m not quite sure how else to qualify the last two months of formation in spiritual direction that I’ve received at the Ignatius Jesuit Centre in Guelph. The five of us doing the program have each had very different experiences: moments that took us out of our comfort zones. But these experiences always lead us back to God’s great love.

A large part of the challenge came from the process of spiritual direction itself, which was enriching but intense. And yes, I know that part of the intensity of that experience occurred because, hey, I’m an intense person! I often didn’t just “direct” people. I shared the experience of prayer with them. Many experienced great joy in their prayer and I experienced it with them. The danger with this approach was that when there was desolation, I shared it as well. Thankfully, this summer saw more of the joy than the desolation. In fact, my experience of that joy was so strong that, last week on my facebook status, I stated that after only two weeks of directing I'll find it hard ever to doubt the real presence of God in human life ever again. Even if at times I struggle with speaking or listening to God, I will never again be able to ignore the way the Lord's glory unfolds in people’s prayer. I can't un-see the way I’ve seen God lead people by the hand into healing, strength and hope.

My spiritual life benefited immensely from the presence of so many holy people praying themselves into a stronger awareness of the Living God. During my experience directing others, I was also being directed. And during a mini-retreat of my own I experienced one of the most powerful times of prayer I'd ever had in my life.

One night I decided to pray while walking aimlessly around the beautiful farm-country of the retreat centre. The theme of my prayer: to rest in God's loving gaze, to abide in His love for me. I struggled with the imagery at first but something powerful began unfolding within me. I felt protected, taken care of. I felt connected both to the land and to God. The more deeply I entered this reflection, the more God made me realize that I was reconnecting with a sense of hope that I had had as a teenager. It was a hope that anything would be possible in my life, that I could take on the world and do my part to help generate change. When I was a teenager, that hope had been somewhat naive but such a hope now feels deeply real and trustworthy when it is rooted in God.

Oddly enough, the prayer reached its climax when I reached the Catholic cemetery adjacent to the retreat centre. Through the gathering darkness, small lights of many colours were gleaming from the tombstones. The lights seemed to go on forever in all directions. I felt God inviting me to walk through them and listen a little while longer. As I meandered in this field of lights on upon graves, God spoke to me about being light to the world alongside the millions of other people of faith shining out from the darkness. God used this moment to remind me that my vocation was humble and simple; and remind me also that God's greatness and glory are what shine through my own life. I was called not to be meek and quiet but to let the divine light burn brightly in me. I was called to shine before others who still couldn’t hear God’s voice or see God’s deeds in their lives.

Never in my life had God invited me so directly to be more confident about the gifts I offered the world. It was a moving moment of intimacy with my Lord that I won’t forget soon. It was also an experience that I shared with those whom I was directing and which helped them to their own moments of consolation. I know that spiritual direction is one way God is calling on me to let my light shine. I also know that there will be many more ways; they will reveal themselves with time. I just have to be patient, to listen, and to rest in God's loving gaze.

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