Worship At Home
Small Group Reflection of 08-09-20
In these days of social distancing we have endeavored to provide a Corpus Christi online worship experience. The Worship At Home web page has been our attempt to provide that. One of the ways our community has used this resource has been to gather virtually in real time using video conferencing software like FaceTime, Skype, Messenger, and Zoom. In an effort to hold onto our deep liturgical roots, one virtual group has gone to the point of having rotating presiders, lectors, and even homilists. The reflections provided by the members of this group have often been very inspiring. In an effort to share these reflections with the larger community several of them have been collected and published here on the CC website.
Reflection from 08-09-20, provided by Thomas Dohm.
19th Sunday of Ordinary Time – August 9, 2020
Summary of Today’s Gospel
Today’s Gospel’s themes are about Faith, Trust, and fear in times of adversity and/or uncertainty.
Today, I would like to introduce you to a method that will provide you with a deeper meaning into our gospel reading that draws from Ignatian Contemplation – namely Imaginative Prayer.
Essential elements of today’s gospel passage:
- After the feeding of the multitudes, Jesus sent his disciples ahead of him, on a boat while he remained behind to pray.
- When the boat was far from shore, an unexpectant storm and strong winds frightened the crew.
- A “ghost” appeared in a distance, but the disciples soon realized it was Jesus, walking on water toward them. Jesus, then said: “Take courage! It is I. Do not be afraid! Come!”
- Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water to come to Jesus. But Peter got afraid when the waves were strong and the wind howling; he began to sink.
- Jesus saves him, and says “You of little faith, why did you doubt?
- When they return to join the others on the boat, the wind died down, and the disciples said to Jesus “Truly you are the son of God!”
What is the impact of the story in our faith lives, in the changes we make to our own behavior and how we behave toward others? How may we get a deeper understanding of what we read, that might facilitate change?
We have heard this story, perhaps many times over the years but what does it really mean to us? How has it impacted us? How has this story and other biblical passages reinforced or changed our behaviors? How do we ensure that we respond to this as not just being a nice story, after which we just move on to other things for the rest of our day and our lives?
The story is as relevant today as it was at the time of Christ. We are still wrestling with the themes of faith, trust and managing fear in times of adversity and/or uncertainty. We are living in a time of multiple storms, both personally and as a community of the “Body of Christ”. We are engaged in storms of COVID, re-emerging unbridled racism, suffering due to sickness and death around us, loss of work, fear of violence and loss of security, a fear of hopeless and depression with the minute-by-minute televised updates of worsening conditions.
Ignatian Contemplation and Imaginative Prayer
How can a biblical story, or series of biblical stories lead toward more commitment toward our faith? How might they better lead to action? Let me share a method of prayer that has helped me. It derives from Ignatian Spirituality, that is St. Francis Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises he developed, with the help of the Holy Spirit, for the training of Jesuits. He founded the Society of Jesus (i.e., Jesuits) in 1540.
One technique that can be impactful in getting deeper meaning from your biblical readings is through Ignatian Contemplation, in meeting God through the story and imagining ourselves to be present in that scene. We increase the depth of the story by experiencing the story as one who is present, as opposed to reading a news story about an event. We can gain more context, and ultimately more empathy for the characters. By “living” the experience, it becomes part of us and our life experiences.
With imaginative prayer, we enter the gospel story by accompanying Jesus through his life, by using all of our senses and imagination to more deeply experience and encounter Jesus in the scene. We let the events of Jesus’ life be present to us right now – in the present. Visualize the events as if you were making a movie. Pay attention to the details, using your senses, and feelings of the event. Real life experiences use ALL our senses in creating the reality that we live. Humans have five basic senses: touch, sight, hearing, smell, and taste. The sensing organs associated with each sense send information to the brain to help us understand and perceive the world around us. We also enter the story by dwelling within one of the characters or by creating a new character, who may have witnessed the scene but not specifically identified in the story. Essentially, you are invited to be part of the story, a more active way of experiencing it.
Contemplating a Gospel scene is not simply remembering it or going back in time. Through the act of Ignatian contemplation, the Holy Spirit makes present a mystery of Jesus’ life that is meaningful for you now. Use your imagination to dig deeper into the story so God may communicate with you in a personal, evocative way.
Imaginative Prayer: Example
Let me illustrate imaginative prayer now, from the gospel today. You may wish to close your eyes.
Let us begin by imagining you are in the boat, as Peter or another of the disciples, or even as another sailor or stowaway, along for the ride. Now imagine that you have been out in the water for a while and you notice the wind getting stronger, the waves getting higher, the sky gets darker and before you know it you are in an unexpected storm. Now pay attention to your senses – what you are smelling – the smell of fish, the saltiness in the air before a storm, your fellow disciples’ clothes, or other odors emanating from the boat? What is touching you? -the waves as they hit your hands before they enter the boat? the rain as your body becomes wet and your clothes damp? What are your hearing? – what are the other disciples saying as they become more concerned with as the weather situation getting worse? What are you tasting? Do you still have lingering after-tastes from the fish and loaves of bread you ate before you left shore? Is it the taste you have after throwing up from an upset stomach on a rocky boat? And what do you see, coming along the horizon – an undistinguishable shape – it must be a ghost! How do you feel – fear for your life, mad at Jesus for letting you go out to sea and not joining you?
And then you hear a voice from afar – it sounds like the voice of Jesus and the shape is beginning to look like Jesus. Could it be him – walking on water? How do you feel now? You see Peter get out of the boat? What are you thinking? Are you going to join Peter? – why or why not? When Peter starts to drown – what are you going to do? What do you think of Peter’s actions now? After Jesus saves Peter and joins him back in the boat, the storm subsides but he rebukes you for having little faith? How do you feel now? What is the atmosphere on the boat after the storm has been quieted? Has your fear subsided? Or are you ready to get back to normal life or has this changed you in some way? What has this done to strengthen your faith, trust and commitment to Jesus’ teachings? Has your life changed because of this?
You may open your eyes now. Have you gained any more understanding about you from engaging in this imaginative prayer? What has it told you about your own faith and trust? Is faith and trust easier when you are more powerless – circumstances you are in cannot be controlled? How has this story related to what you are experiencing today?
Through my own discernment gained from imaginative prayer with this biblical passage, I have concluded that the “real” miracle in this passage that God wants us to focus on is not the “walking on water and calming the storm” but rather God’s unending love, in spite of our doubts, lack of faith, and sinfulness. He has come to save us through the storms in our life, even if we are unaware of His presence. We may have given up on Him, but he never gives up on us.
Applicability of Imaginative Prayer to Today’s Crisis
You may use imaginative prayer to gain more in depth understanding, get a better sense of God’s role in human history. You may use it to gain understanding of the lives of others who are powerless but gaining more insight into their situation. When you read a story or hear a story about an injustice against a BLM person, become more involved in the story so you can become more involved in actions that will improve life. By becoming and entering the life of a person and engaging in their story, with the Holy Spirit, you come out with not only a better understanding, but with empathy and hopefully a course of action that can help the individual – your action could be a change in awareness, attitude or behavior on your part. You move on a road in becoming a contemplative in action.
In conclusion: Personal Example: Parkland HS and Gun Legislation
The difference in hearing or reading a story and entering the story and “living it as if you were there.”
- February 14, 2018 (Valentine’s Day), a former student entered the Parkland school with an AK-14 rifle and ultimately killed 17 students and staff
- How did I get involved?
- During my rehab for knee-replacement therapy, I received a call from sister-in-law who told me her two grandchildren Jade a Freshman and Amber, a Junior were at the school, the gunman entered Jade’s classroom, shot multiple rounds of bullets and when finished, a total of eight students were hit, with three fellow students killed in her classroom. One of the three was a childhood friend, and budding boyfriend. From there the gunman went on to kill an additional 14 people at the school.
- I spent considerable time, listening to their story. By immersing myself in imaginative prayer, I essentially re-lived the traumatic story- I invited the Holy Spirit to be with me as I processed what is was like being in the classroom with my niece’s daughter, Jade. The story became more real as I used all my senses and filled in the blanks with my imaginative prayer. When I finished the prayer, I really wanted to do positive action.
- Results – met with MN Homeland Security for school safety
- Met with other Parkland parents and students and discussed their experiences.
- Met with David Hogg, co-founder of March for Our Lives – a student group which quickly turned into a movement and a March on Washington.
- Just a few days ago, the group’s efforts, initiated with a formal complaint in November 2018, with the NY Attorney General’s Office regarding NRA corruption, has now led to NY Attorney General’s lawsuit to dissolve the NRA
- Imaginative Prayer helped me move from a superficial and passive condemnation of school violence, to more active engagement regarding restrictions on the selling of guns and school safety.
- Perhaps if imaginative prayer worked for me, maybe it can help others in living the gospel, being a contemplative in action, and a companion to Christ.
- By engaging in imaginative prayer and Ignatian Contemplation, when I now petition God in prayer, I follow-up by asking God, what can I do from my end to achieve your will in my request?