Learning to be counter-cultural

by Rachel Inglis

Posted 24 December 2016

 

Recently I donated to a new not-for-profit organisation set up to deliver equipment for a children’s hospital in Syria. A friend asked me what I knew about the organisation and whether I thought it was bona fide and not just a front for terrorism.

These were valid questions, and I had to admit that I hadn’t looked very closely at the group. I had assumed they were OK because I’d heard about their work on the Radio 4 ‘Today’ programme.

I went back to the internet, delved a bit deeper and on the whole felt that since it was working with trustworthy partners, I could afford to trust that the group would do what it said it was going to do.

A deeper desire in me was that whilst I couldn’t say for sure that the organisation was genuine, on the whole, for me giving was the preferred option. It was about wanting to support something life-affirming, even if I was acting a bit in the dark.

 

field of wheat

 

The morning after this conversation I woke up with the words ‘the wheat and the tares’ in my mind. I turned to the parable, and read: ‘[don’t pull them up]… for in gathering the weeds you would uproot the wheat along with them. Let both of them grow together until the harvest ..’1

As I reflected on this, it amazed me that God should leave the weeds to grow amongst the wheat, so that the wheat (good) wouldn’t be damaged by pulling up the weeds (bad) too soon. Is that how God is with me, I began to wonder? Does God nurture the good in me to the point of overlooking my failings, so that the good in me grows and develops and isn’t damaged by over-zealous or untimely ‘correction’?

If that’s how God is with me, then maybe I can risk being more like that? Rather than focussing on the negative I see around me and being overly critical, how would it be, I wondered, to ‘turn a blind eye’ and appreciate all that is good and life-affirming?

It feels risky and counter-cultural.

But it kind of feels exhilarating too.

And very freeing.

 

 

1 Matthew 13: 24-30

LIVING IN MY OWN TRUE NATURE

by Rachel Inglis

Posted 27 November 2016

 

pelicans flying in the sky

 

I was given this lovely poem by Mechthild of Magdeburg a few months’ ago.

 

A fish cannot drown in water,

A bird does not fall in air.

In the fire of its making,

Gold doesn’t vanish:

The fire brightens.

Each creature God made

must live in its own true nature;

How could I resist my nature,

That lives for oneness with God?

 

The rightness of living in one's ‘own true nature’ is brought home to me when I observe my little Westie. She’s a terrier, she can only be a terrier; and so she sniffs and digs holes and chases things. She doesn’t fetch and drop play-things back at my feet, she shakes them until the stuffing is knocked out of them. I find myself inwardly applauding her whenever she behaves utterly Westie-like.

 

She inspires me to get in touch with my ‘own true nature’ and to acknowledge and enjoy it. As Mechthild asks herself: “How could I resist my nature, that lives for oneness with God?” Yet it feels like I’ve spent most of my life resisting just that!

 

In true Ignatian style, I ask myself, what are the things that help me to live for oneness with God, and what things hinder me? These seem like really good questions to ponder through Advent.

 

I’m very tempted to make The Big Gesture: resolve to do a bible study every day, or better yet, read through the bible in a year. Surely that will bring me oneness with God?

 

two people sitting on seashore watching waves

 

But no, what I suspect is, it’s in the small gestures ……………. learning to live in the present moment …………. being truly present to people when I’m with them ………………. awareness of the lovely robin that’s taken up residence in my garden, of the beauty of the intricate patterns the frost makes on leaves and grass, of the joy in my Westie’s whole being when she runs like the wind ……………. meeting Christ in other people. That’s when I feel I am one with God.

 

close-up of frost on plants

 

How to explain mystery

by Rachel Inglis

posted 6 August 2016

 

Linda* and I hadn’t seen each other for about 25 years, yet we picked up where we had left off. She hadn’t changed a bit.

As I was bustling about in the kitchen, Linda asked without any preamble, ‘So, what’s this Ignatian thing all about then?’ No, she hadn’t changed a bit; she still goes straight to the point!

I found myself burbling as I tried to explain Ignatian spirituality and what drew me to it. Sure, I was trying to make tea and coffee and think about dinner later on, all while rescuing her from the attentions of my puppy who was attacking shoe laces and feet. But why was I so incoherent?

Then I recalled a visit from a friend, whom Linda also knew, so I told her about that.

 

 

Sarah had arrived feeling desolate and very, very far from God. I asked her tentatively if she’d allow me to guide her through an imaginative contemplation of a Gospel story of her choice. This was a new way of praying for her, but she said she would like that. So, I gently took her through the passage, encouraging her to imagine the scene – the weather, the landscape, the sounds and smells she could sense – and to see where she was in the scene. Then to listen to the conversations and notice the body language of the people, whether she said anything and what Jesus was like. At some point during the prayer I noticed a tear rolling down her cheek.

As the prayer drew to a close, she said, ‘it’s amazing, I realise that God wasn’t far away at all!’ I could see that something profound had shifted in her. I was reminded of a phrase attributed to St Augustine: ‘God is closer to me than I am to myself’.

In answer to Linda’s question, I could have said something like: Ignatian spirituality sees God as actively working in the world and aims to help us understand and identify his actions in our lives and in the world around us.

But that just tells me about God. What changes people is experiencing the God who is close by, who waits for us to open ourselves just as we are to the mystery of who God is. That is what transforms.

 

 

*not her real name

How do I express God’s love to people around me?

posted by Rachel Inglis

28th May 2016

 

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God’s love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

1 John 4:7-10

 

In what ways do you express the love of God to those around you?

 

This was one of the reflective questions posed when I was listening to Pray As You Go recently.

I felt quite challenged as I pondered!  I realised it would take me at least the whole day to answer this simple question. 

These are some of the thoughts I came up with, which are really what I experience from others who express the love of God to me:

  • Smile at strangers
  • If someone comes to my mind, give them a call, or, if they’re far away or have busy lives, send a supportive email or text
  • When I meet someone in the street, be prepared to stop and listen
  • Meet a friend for coffee and chat
  • Listen to people when you meet them (Note to self: I mean actively listen)
  • Affirm them as your friend, as a valued human being with unique gifts
  • Be patient with those who try my patience

In what ways do you express the love of God to those around you?

MINDFULNESS

by Rachel Inglis

Posted 1st May 2016

 

I meet all sorts of people when walking the dog that I don’t normally meet. Well, that’s mostly because I’m now up and out much earlier than I used to be during Life Before Dog.

 

Recently I bumped into someone I hadn’t seen for a while. After she’d admired my new puppy, she said she had to get on as she would be ‘late for meditation’. I was intrigued. She’d told me a long time ago that she wasn’t a person of faith and so definitely not interested in church. Yet she was going to meditation. Meditation has been practised by people of faith for centuries – not only by Buddhists, but by the Desert Mothers and Fathers back in the 2nd Century, as well as contemporary Christians including modern-day hermits and solitaries.

 

I had been approached recently by a staff member of a college campus nearby to ask if I would offer sessions on Mindfulness to students. The main reason was to help with their stress levels as exams approached, but I suggested that the practice might actually help with their ongoing life. Ordinarily my practice – retreats, quiet days, one-to-one spiritual direction – attracts people in the second half of life and those approaching retirement. So I’m delighted, if a bit nervous, to be connecting with young people under 30.

 

I’m not an expert on Mindfulness, however, I have been practising a Christian form of it for almost 15 years, ever since I first encountered Ignatian Spirituality. It’s what I would call a ‘prayer of stillness’. It is about becoming aware of our body, our breathing and our senses, all of which help us to stay in the present moment.

 

Whilst many people will practice meditation and mindfulness as a practical aid, for many it can be the start of connecting with a sense of Otherness, Mystery, Ground of Being – which I would call God. As an Ignatian, I believe that God can be (and is!) found in all things. I also believe that God is a God of infinite patience, and walks alongside us at our pace.

 

So I’m delighted that my local acquaintance - who wouldn’t walk into a church - is going to meditation. Who knows where this will lead her?