Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Spiritual Exercises III

Here's the last of the three articles I had published in our semi-monthly newspaper.

In the last two issues of our paper I've suggested that the Army expects Soldiers to be both physically and spiritually fit in order to thrive – and not just survive – while deployed. I've proposed a couple of simple spiritual exercises that can do for our spirits what physical exercise can do for our bodies. Something as ordinary as breathing can become a spiritual exercise, as can something as seemingly mundane as reading – spiritual reading.

We measure our physical fitness using the metrics of the APFT (Army Physical Fitness Test), but there's no agreed-upon metric for gauging our spiritual fitness. However, we can get a good sense of how well we're doing spiritually by looking at how we react to resentments.

I know I'm not in a good spiritual place if I'm letting others "live rent-free in my brain." That's what I call it when I wake up in the middle of the night (with no need to do so), because I'm
so angry with what *she* said or did, or *he* didn't say or do. When I can't let go of perceived wrongs, when I'm trapped by feelings of wanting vengeance or retribution, that's what resentment does to me. Ironically, I can wind up becoming so much like the people I'm angry at, it means they've won. I deserve better than that. The people who love me deserve better than me becoming someone I'm not.

That's where a simple spiritual exercise can come into play. It's a short prayer that works, even if I don't mean it. I just have to do it for at least 21 days in a row. (Now, there's nothing magical about the number of days; I just need to keep doing it – daily – until I come to realize that I'm willing to pay whatever price is necessary to be freed from the resentment. That almost always takes me three weeks.) This prayer doesn't have to be addressed to anyone in particular, but I find it helpful to address it to a Higher Power.

Here's the prayer: "God, please grant this so-and-so every good gift I could wish for myself or those I love most."

After about the first week of doing it, I start using the person's name. At about the beginning of the third week, I actually mean what I'm saying – I've gotten to the point of being willing to accept that if something good should befall this person, because of this prayer, I'm OK with that, because I'm so ready to be free of the resentment.

In the Christian scriptures, Jesus admonishes his followers to "love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you" (Mt 5:44). Prayer is the only effective means
that I've found for evicting someone from living rent-free in my brain.

That's why this is a spiritual exercise.

After all, when I'm awake at 0230 (when I really need to be sleeping!), it hardly ever occurs to me that the persons I'm angry at are sleeping soundly. What's wrong with this picture? I deserve better. A very simple spiritual exercise can be the answer: prayer.

Blessings and peace to one and all,

Fr. Tim, SJ

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1 comment:

dan-fourrier said...

Great thoughts!

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