In one of her essays in Dewdrops on Spiderwebs, Susan Classen tells of visiting two siblings in their mid-fifties, Charles and Molly. Charles and Molly are both learning disabled and living in a rural location, in a house with no running water or plumbing, and surrounded by junk.
But their flower garden caught my eye. I like flowers, so I asked about their garden. Pointing out one of their special flowers, they invited me to touch the soft bristles.
"It's like a powder puff," Charlie said grinning.
"I like the light purplish color," Molly added.
I stood in amazement, humbled by their appreciation of beauty. The flower was a thistle.
"We saw these growing last year in a ditch," Molly continued. "So we waited until the flowers dried, then we gathered the seeds and planted them here."
She offered to send me seeds when this year's blossoms dried. My amazement grew. Surely God "chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise...God chose what is low and despised" (1 Cor 1:27-28). Who says thistles are weeds? p. 29-30
Classen goes on to reflect about personal characteristics that she has defined as weeds to be uprooted rather than flowers to be enjoyed and begins to explore ways these traits can also be seen as something to be appreciated.
She ends with this thought:
I know I'm not alone in sometimes feeling dissatisfied with myself. Perhaps you will find it helpful, as I have, to look for beauty in what you've defined as thistles. How do those characteristics reflect your gifts? p 31.
The presenter at our retreat this past week was Father Bill Sneck, SJ, who took us through the Rules for the first two Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, helping us better understand the Ignatian approach to the discernment of spirits.
Ignatius is a 15th century Basque nobleman and military commander whose life changes abruptly when his knee is shattered by a canon ball. During a long, difficult convalescence he begins to ponder the difference between daydreams which leave him discontented and restless and those which fill him with energy and purpose. The latter come as he places himself imaginatively in the stories of the life and death of Jesus, and of saints like Francis and Dominic.
Ignatius experiences a radical conversion and as he begins to live this out, pays attention to the interior movements of thoughts, feelings and behavior that draw him closer to God or that pull him away. He puts his experience into guidelines – the Spiritual Exercises -- so that he can share this with his friends. One thing leads to another and by 1534, he and six others make solemn vows that they will serve God together, forming the religious order that we know as the Society of Jesus, or the Jesuits.
We covered a lot of good material in our sessions, but the one I want to lift out here is the concept of consolations. Ignatius pondered his experience, and named the movements that draw us toward God consolations and the movements that pull us away from God desolations.
Consolations are the events and the interior movements that cause us to catch our breath in awe and delight, that inflame us with love for our Creator, that move us to tears, that increase faith, hope, love, joy and peace . . .these are consolations. We respond to something we glimpse in creation, in Scripture, in relationships, or in the world around us. “Aha!” I thought, hearing this description. “In watching for moments of light each day, I’m watching for consolations.”
Ignatius recommends that when we are enjoying consolation, we should take note, and store up the memory as strength to face the times of desolation. “Aha!” I thought, hearing this. “That’s what Leo Lionni’s Frederick does, gathering sun rays, colors, and words in preparation for winter. And it’s what I’m doing, in a small way, by keeping this blog.”
A good insight for the blog, I thought, and I tucked it away to write up later. But there’s another piece to add. I picked up a little book by Margaret Silf, Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living, and here’s what she had to say about consolations and desolations. “These terms come from the Spanish, and ultimately the Latin root, meaning ‘with the sun’ (‘con-solation’) and ‘away from the sun’ (‘de-solation’)" p 57.
With the sun, towards the Light….moments of light!
My approach to contemplative photography --
Tell about it."
Mary Oliver in "Sometimes"