Saturday, May 13, 2023

Principle and foundation redux

“In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some responsibility.   We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.  For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening life in me.” — David A. Fleming, S.J.

As much as the Exercises are structured linearly, each week building on the next, ultimately we find ourselves revisiting them out of order in various moments of our lives. It’s Easter season, but I am floundering in the Third Week, scrambling to find my balance.

Ignatius’ First Principle and Foundation animates his Spiritual Exercise. If you have not acceded to this, you are not ready to immerse yourself in the work of the Exercises. I may have accepted the Principle and Foundation long ago, but I cannot say that I have always managed to live in such perfect indifference. It’s a process, it’s the little things. I still do not suffer wet socks well.

Or, it’s not the little things…A few weeks back I woke up with much of the vision in my left eye gone. Light and darkness, color and movement remained, but the world to my left rippled and wavered in a disconcerting way. Shortly I was sitting in a chair in a darkened room as my ophthalmologist ran through a series of possibilities — none of them particularly comforting. When I could not read the letters on the eye chart with my right eye covered, a line from Fleming’s paraphrase of Ignatius flashed through my head: “We should not fix our desires on health or sickness…” I wondered if I had the courage to keep from fixing my desires on sight.  "Pray for the desire for the desire, then," I hear a long ago spiritual director advise.

Within an hour some of the worst diagnoses were off the table, but more tests and a visit to the sub-specialist had to follow before there would be any clarity, metaphorical or literal. I sought the anointing of the sick. I sank into the Gospel stories that wound closer and closer to the Passion. I assiduously avoided the stories in which the blind regained their sight. My sight certainly had not returned.

The specialist had a diagnosis, for which I am grateful. The prognosis is mixed. This will not progress. But I will not entirely regain what I have lost. On the left, I am like the blind man in Mark’s Gospel (Mk 8:22-25), who when only partially healed sees people walking about like trees. The right remains clear. This is the First Principle and Foundation embodied, the two desires compassing me about.

So I struggle to find that indifference, the desire not for any particular path, except that which leaves me closer to God. I find comfort in Rilke, believing that somehow in the ebb and flow of event, God is cutting deeper channels into my soul.

I believe in all that has never yet been spoken.
I want to free what waits within me
so that what no one has dared to wish for 

may for once spring clear
without my contriving. 

If this is arrogant, God, forgive me,
but this is what I need to say.

May what I do flow from me like a river,
no forcing and no holding back,
the way it is with children.
Then in these swelling and ebbing currents,
these deepening tides moving out, returning,

I will sing you as no one ever has,
streaming through widening channels
into the open sea.  -- Rainer Maria Rilke, Book of Hours I, 12