Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Ignatian Prayer Adventure - Reflection 2

This video on spiritual freedom is part of the Ignatian Prayer Adventure (see sidebar).

I think we all struggle with what Ignatius called "disordered attachments." Ignatius tells us that we should not allow ourselves to become attached to one preference over the other where they distract us from our engagement with God, from, as Jim Manney says, "becoming the loving [people] God created [us] to be."  Among the examples he gives are health and sickness which is, of course, the one that hit me right between the eyes as I watched the video presentation.

I think that perhaps I am coming to understand this concept of disordered attachments for the very first time, after years of confused attempts to do so.

Since early December, I have been highly focused upon and utterly flummoxed by matters of health.  After my initial surgery, I faced several weekly procedures which I had been told would be relatively uncomplicated and pain free.  It turned out that I was in that group of women for whom such a characterization fell wide of the mark.

Week after week, I would begin to do yoga and take daily walks on Saturday, working myself up to a very slow two-mile stroll by Wednesday; then I would go to the doctor at around noon on Thursday, and find myself completely immobilized by pain for the next 36 hours.   I was taking so much medication to get through those miserable periods that I began to wonder whether liver failure was going to become a complication of breast cancer.

As I struggled with the pain, and therefore with re-thinking all of the treatment decisions I had made, and forced myself to continue with my work and to move my body as much as I could, my life of prayer began to sink below the horizon.  I was all about attachment: to my recovery, to my work, to my sense of determination. 

I can see that now, now that I have had a few procedure-free weeks.  And interestingly, if I go back further, back to my immediate post-surgery days, I see that during those couple of weeks when I could make very few choices about my daily life, when I was not yet capable of focusing upon (or attaching myself to the goal of) improvement, but could only be what I was, someone just out of major surgery, my prayer life was flourishing.

I spent a lot of my imaginative prayer time during those days contemplating Ignatius, he of the cannon-ball injury that produced great physical pain and destroyed his own life plans.  And contemplating how he prayed, and following suit. 

I was not wishing for much; I was not attached to much beyond my recliner in my warm living room.  Everything else was out of my hands ~ whether the cancer had spread or not, whether I would bounce back or not, whether I would ever again be able to focus clearly ~ literally and metaphorically, whether I would ever be a "real pastor" or not. And so I opened myself up to listening to God in ways that a few weeks later would become far more difficult.

I don't think that I would recommend major and disfiguring surgery as the road to the practice of detachment.  But perhaps detachment requires that we imagine ourselves into the frame of mind that accompanies such trauma:  Let it go, and see what it is that God invites us into.


  1. Dear Robin -

    You may not recommend it, but thankfully you do share it. Coming from your experience this kind of insight is so valuable.

    Some of the most profound spiritual moments in my life are not due to experiences I would recommend either. But I do share them. I share them because (1) it might help someone, maybe they won't feel so alone or abandoned or afraid and (2) I am so grateful to fully embody the moment in my life when I was so touched by God. Even if the events surrounding or constellating it were painful and dark.

  2. I just finished a column about praying with pain, but reading this wondered if why I found Ignatius/Ignatian prayer so consoling in those days: "he of the cannon-ball injury" incubated his spiritual life in that same crucible of pain. I truly hadn't thought about that!

  3. I think there must be a lot to the fact that his sense of the value of imaginative prayer developed during a time when his life was in complete collapse -- and I have certainly grown in my appreciation of the contribution that physical pain and limitation make to the sense that one's life is crumbling.