Welcome 2022: Breath by Breath and Prayer by Prayer
A reflection by Dr. Kathy Coffey-Guenther, senior mission and Ignatian Leadership specialist
Friends, I don’t know about you, but since New Year’s Eve, my prayer has been filled with questions related to understanding how to garner the energy, belief and faith to keep living with hope and grace in the midst of these stressful times!
How do we move forward in this new year with a hopeful vision and open heart, living fully and authentically in these days where we seem to have no control, where even the best planning can be thwarted in an instant, where all of our foundational systems and institutions that we rely on for our everyday needs and conveniences no longer promise the ability to function in ways in which we have depended and grown accustomed?
As I have been pondering these questions and experiencing the bouncing ball of emotions, ranging from anger and frustration, to fear and disappointment, to deep gratitude, peace, love and joy these days and weeks, I have needed to lean into the wisdom of both spiritual and psychological truths found in this one reality:
I must live fully in this moment and in this “Now,” no matter how uncomfortable it may be…
Given the limitations of time and space in human living, the only place I can truly live, experience and effect change and choice in my life is in this moment, right here and now.
I can spend much time thinking about the past and reliving the past with regret, anger and “I should haves,” but those thoughts won’t ever really change the past. The past is a time that is over.
I can also spend many hours imagining the future — dreaming and planning and comparing myself to many others while organizing the details of a life that may or may not ever come to pass.
Instead, the only place that I can truly live — mind, body, spirit and soul — is now! Today! As uncomfortable and scary as that may be.
St. Ignatius, one of my favorite spiritual teachers, offers us many invitations to live in the “now” through the Spiritual Exercises, and his very incarnational spirituality rooted through prayer in our human bodies, emotions, sense experiences, intellect, memories and imaginations.
One of the biggest revelations from God that St. Ignatius received in his prayer life was the knowledge that God is in all things — God is in everything within and around us! And once St. Ignatius understood this huge insight for the invitation it was, he began to learn, practice and teach how all of our experiences, feelings, senses, memory, imagination and creation and people around us are ways to better know, love and follow and serve God.
St. Ignatius understood the complex emotions, ego attachments and life distractions we all experience — distractions that can lead us from truly living in the now — and so he teaches us to honestly get to know ourselves deeply, as God knows us deeply.
St. Ignatius invites us to pay attention to ourselves and our inner lives, and to discern our feelings and emotions and choices in the world as ways of Discerning Spirits — spiritual energies — that will lead us closer to God or further from God.
For example, I have noticed in my life and prayer that spending time planning for and anticipating the future can lead to feelings of intense pressure and anxiety, as I create expectations of myself and others that I cannot really control today. These feelings of anxiety are not leading me closer to trusting God, but rather are rooted in me trying to problem-solve and control, through my power and ego, what is best for me. This time that I spend in planning for and anticipating the future is taking me away from trusting and surrendering to life with God and does not lead to peace or joy or a spirit of inner rest.
However, I have noticed that when I live in the Now, through my breath and prayer, I can rest in the compass that I am following with God. I can feel my best self, at peace in the larger truth that all shall be well in God. I can let go of the illusion of control that I don’t really possess, and I can choose the best next step, again and again and again, for today, for now, as St. Ignatius has taught me in his Rules of Discernment and Discernment of Spirits.
St. Ignatius, through his Rules of Discernment, teaches us how to make wise choices through prayer, paying attention, and surrendering our own egos and human attachments to allow us to most freely choose that which best serves God’s love first and always. Ignatius knows that the root of our relationship with God, and ourselves, other and the created world, can only be rooted in deep love, not perfection, but deep love. And St. Ignatius knows that when we align our hearts with God, we will experience that sense of lasting love and peace in our true desires and longings.
Ignatius invites us to practice and develop the spiritual disciplines to live in the authentic now and in the authentic presence of God, to live aligned with love in our lives, through the Spiritual Exercises. These Exercises, written when Ignatius was a lay person on his own spiritual search, serve as a guide for spiritual directors with which to help each of us to develop a more intimate relationship and knowledge of God in order to love God more deeply and follow God more closely in a life of care, compassion and service.
As I pray over and reflect about the turmoil I may feel over these first days of 2022, I also know that I can choose differently in this moment. I can choose to breathe and pray and pray and breathe, allowing my deep belly breathing to fill my brain and body with oxygen that allows me to feel a deeper sense of rest and peace, and allowing my brain to increase my awareness and presence to diminish fear and allow for new perspectives in my understanding and awareness.
As I pray over and breathe through the turmoil and unrest these first days of 2022 can bring in me, I know that St. Ignatius invites me — all day, every day — to see God in all things. I can choose to shift my attention and perspective to see the fullness of each human, to try to understand their story and experience, to try to remember that all belong to God’s beloved family and that all of us are worthy of love, mercy, patience and redemption.
As I pray and breathe my way into 2022, I can feel the needs of others beyond my self and my loved ones, and I can pray to seek a way to help ease the struggle in our community and world today.
I have gratefully found that God gifts me with comfort and consolation today, friends and family with whom to share my burdens and sorrows today, and laughs, happy news and small victories with which to bring joy to this day today.
God is in all of this, today, now, amidst all our beautiful and troubling realities, and I don’t want to miss a moment!
Keep breathing and keep praying, friends! Wishing you every peace in 2022, Marquette Family!