JUMPING TO THE (WRONG) CONCLUSIONS

by Rachel Inglis

posted 27th September 2017

 

“Your hair will go grey this holiday,” said my friend of a few months as we were at the airport ready to embark on a 5-week holiday together around South-East Asia.

I’d recently endured an acquaintance who regularly commented on my ‘advancing age’ and behaved as if the 18-month difference in our ages gave her a massive youthful edge over me. It suddenly occurred to me that maybe my new friend and I didn’t know each other quite as well as I’d thought.

I took a deep breath and asked ‘why?’ She replied that my stylish new short haircut was ideal for our forthcoming holiday and that my hair would be much more manageable than hers. I asked her to repeat what she’d said, ‘your hair will be great this holiday ….. why?’ I explained. We had a good laugh about it, and she was grateful that I’d asked her what she meant rather than letting it stew. Warming to her subject, she imagined how difficult the holiday could have become if I’d been hurt by, and then resentful about, her comment. Yup.

Years’ later as I began to guide people through the Spiritual Exercises I remembered this incident when I read Ignatius’s injunction at the start: “that both the giver and the maker of the Spiritual Exercises may be of greater help and benefit to each other, it should be presupposed that [each] ought to be more eager to put a good interpretation on [the other’s] statement than to condemn it. Further, if one cannot interpret it favourably, one should ask how the other means it….”

In my experience, miscommunication is the commonest cause of rifts between friends and acquaintances, far more so than crass out-and-out rudeness. Currently, I can think of three I’m aware of between people who I suspect would get on really well if they had the courage to ask what the other meant by it. I’m also grateful to an acquaintance who told me he’d been hurt by something I’d said to him. When he repeated what he’d understood me to have said, I was mortified and explained what I had meant.

It’s often struck me how much smoother our relationships might run if Ignatius’s simple advice were followed and we asked how the other meant what they said before jumping to conclusions.

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?