Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, July 31, 2009

A Day for Ignatius

I find it helpful to pause from time to time and reflect on the road I have taken to get where I am today. I recall the people, events, books, and personal movements that have shaped me. Most always these reflections turn up different names, events, and titles.

There are a couple of names, however, for which I consistently give thanks. If I think of them as stepping stones that have brought me to the place where I stand today, they are always present as the solid ground underneath me.

One of those stepping stones for me is Ignatius of Loyola. Ignatius lived five centuries ago in Spain. He wasn't trained in theology or spirituality. He came to a deep and life-changing relationship with God not through formal training, but "through the back door," through his prayerful consideration of the struggles of his own life-experience. The spiritual insights he gained from his own journey with God became a compilation of spiritual exercises still relevant today.

I am indebted to Ignatius in many ways. They are too numerous to name here. Among the most meaningful, however, I consider my desire to live into the original purpose for which I was created. I also attribute my determination to live with a radical inner freedom to his influence on my life. I'm grateful that Ignatius does more than speak of the possibility of a life given to God; by his own life, he shows that such a life can be reality.

Today, July 31, is the feast day of Ignatius of Loyola. The Church around the world has remembered him, spoken his name at the Eucharistic Table, and given thanks for him today. I have joined the chorus. Though he lived long, long ago, he continues to mentor me. So I give thanks.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

One Field at a Time

Stand by the narrow gate.

Hard pan paths
weeds, briers
rocks, sticky clay
going nowhere.


Harvest waits
first the seed
after the plow.

Too much
to do

Enter the kingdom
one field
at a time.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Never Compare Your Suffering

On retreat a few days ago the retreat leader spoke of compassion as a simple life-stance that has world-altering consequences. He talked about suffering as a context for compassion. I thought this sentence was worth remembering:

Never compare your suffering to someone else's suffering . . . because we each have about all the suffering we can handle.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Terror of the Edges

Unknowing before the heavens of my life
I stand in wonder. O the great stars.
The rising and the going down. How quiet.
As if I didn't exist. Am I part? Have I dismissed
the pure influence? Do high and low tide
alternate in my blood according to this order?
I will cast off all wishes, all other links,
accustom my heart to its remotest space. Better
it live in the terror of its stars than
seemingly protected, soothed by something near.

(Rainer Maria Rilke: Uncollected Poems, translated by Edward Snow [New York: North Point Press, 1996], 55)

I read Rilke to be in the company of someone who is willing to search his own interior world with fierce honesty. Mary Oliver pays keen attention to the outer world. Rilke knows the inner landscape. (Perhaps I admire Hopkins because he bridges the two!)

Who among us would dare to consider his/her own life as being heaven-like, a vast mystery that could never be completely known? Who could exhaust the exploration of such a life-galaxy? Yet, Rilke stands before his own immensity and says, "I stand in wonder."

As I listened to this poem speak to me this morning, I heard Rilke's relentless exploration, his preference for living out toward the "terror" of the edges of his own universe rather than settling safely at home, "soothed by something near" and known. I have the sense that at least for him, he preferred playing the prodigal rather than staying home as the elder brother, never journeying off the farm.

If I open myself to the truth of these words, where do I find myself? To "accustom my heart to its remotest space" is to find my heart in the exploration, to live most fully and truly my "one wild and precious life" (with thanks to Mary Oliver).

To live safe, protected, "soothed by something near" is not living, at least not for me. I've been there, done that. So how do any of us live out our own vocation? the mystery of our own lives? the immensity of our own being?

Surely these words have much more work to do within me. But cued by Rilke today, I approach the mystery of my own life, pause to notice its immensity, take off my shoes as on holy ground, and stand in wonder before it.

There are any number of formulas for "successful living" that I hear day to day. Many of them appear very sound, some of them highly religious, and most always they carry the promise of blessing and "success." But so often, when life becomes unsettled or too immense, those formulas stop working. Seldom do I hear folks talking about wonder and awe, and the grace to embrace the immensity of one's own existence. The grandeur of a life is not some problem to be solved, but a mystery that we step into.

The holy ground, the endless universe is my life, my being. And rather than get stuck in a place that is narrow and protected and "near," I move outward to the edges of exploration, to the "terror of the stars" at the far end of my own galaxy.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Only a Sojourner

For I am only a sojourner with you,
a nomad as all my ancestors were. (Psa. 39:14)

Something in a name gives it permanence. The act of naming (or writing) engraves a thing, representing where that person is at a given moment in time. The permanence of the name is balanced by the realization that what is typed or labeled represents only a single moment in which certain things seemed true.

When I'm asked to name a series of reflections (in this case, blogs), it seems rather flippant to attach a name to something based on where I am today. It feels like attaching a permanent label on a place in life that may be very fleeting.

At this moment, in this time, I've chosen to call these reflections, "Only a Sojourner." The heading serves as an indication of the meandering nature of my personal journey. A sojourner travels everywhere, wanders all over the map, sometimes with the realization of where he/she is, and sometimes completely and utterly lost.

In my own wanderings, though, I've learned that lost is a place, too . . . a place from which the next journey of exploration begins. So I imagine that these reflections will be all over the map, that some will appear quite "lost."

At least with the idea of sojourning in the title, I'll give myself permission to do that wandering. I won't be tied down to a particular way of thinking or writing or being. I'll explore. I'll journey. And as a heading for what may (or may not) be a fairly regular series of reflections, "Only a Sojourner" is probably the best I can do today. That heading fits the place I find myself at this moment and matches what I intend for these reflections over time.