Saturday, May 30, 2009

30-day retreat e-mail reflection: Week I

Week I: Meditation on Sin

Now, I would have to hands down say that this week was the most difficult week
for me. This was the week where I had to deal with myself. If any of you are
like me, there's something about this word "sin" that totally turns me off.
Imbedded in this week were meditations on Satan, hell, my sin, and the sin of
Adam and Eve.

My spiritual director, Paul, had an extremely difficult
time when he did the exercises with the Adam and Eve story, and I did too. "You
mean to tell me that because of this one sin, we had to put up with all this

I was reading a book during the retreat in which I came
across a passage about this. Forgive its possible offensive language, but it has
a point. It read something like this: "We forgave the Jews for killing Jesus.
Yet we can't forgive Eve for eating an apple??"

Food for thought.

In my prayer, for me, Adam and Eve's sin wasn't the eating of the apple.
It was the hiding, being ashamed of themselves before God, who sees them anyway
because of this knowledge attained. I was relating to them by thinking about how
often I "hide" and feel ashamed in God's presence.

Anyway, I really
really struggled in this week. Here's some inner dialogue that took place within
me during one prayer period, which I'm kind of portraying in dramatic fashion. I
don't know if it's all that dramatic though because my emotions were as intense
as what is going on here. This was probably about the fourth or fifth day into
the retreat. The language maybe isn't exactly what I was thinking, but it gets
the point across.

"What the hell is sin?"
"Why am I even meditating
on this?"
"Argghhh!!! I hate this week!"
"God, You are soooo selfish!!"

I was really angry and confused. I remember talking about it with Paul
and I just remember him laughing about it. I was laughing about it too when I
was thinking back to it, but at the time I was really serious.

As I look
back, it was very necessary for me to struggle, to wrestle like that; kind of
like Jacob in the book of Genesis who wrestles with "God" (kind of ambiguous)
but in so doing, he is renamed Israel which roughly translates I think into "one
who wrestles with God." In the struggle, I began to delve more deeply into the
areas of my faith that I had questions about, that I needed to wrestle with. In
the end, strengthening my relationship with God and being thankful that God
allowed me to struggle with him.

The hardest part for me of this week
was to name "my sin." Paul kept harping me about it. I created the best laundry
list I could...well, I do that, and I do that, and I do that. And, in talking
about it, I still hadn't found "it." This caused me great frustration and
wondered whether there was even an "it" at all.

In writing this, I
realize how difficult it is to truly explain without going into massive detail
about how I worked my way into finding "it." It took me about 8 days. It was
triggered in one of my sessions with Paul when he said, "Ryan, you beat yourself
up too much."

His saying that to me really caught me off guard. I
brought it to prayer for a day and meditated on this, because he struck a chord
with me. As I began reflecting on it, I couldn't believe how true his statement

"Man, I'm not praying very well."
"I wish I looked better."
"I could be a better brother to my brother novices."
"I don't sing very
"I'm not fit to be a Jesuit."
"I don't know how to meditate on
this Week. It must be me."

Why do I do this?? This came to my "core sin"
-- perfection. It's not that having high standards for what I do is not
necessarily a bad thing. It's the way I react when these standards are not met,
and I often fall short of my own expectations. Coupled with my standards with
perfection was the inclination to inwardly beat myself up. I had just named two
nasty demons that reside within me. I would say that these demons have been the
source of what I call my inner hell.

In my sociology classes at Seattle
U, we often talked about built-in inequalities in our society. How, inherent in
a Capitalistic society, for example, is the drive to make money at the expense
of others. Arguably a demon/sin built into the system. I began turning my
sociology eye inward, and couldn't believe what I saw. Built in to me, this
demon of perfection was fed at an early age, fostered by parents who only wanted
the best for their children, which in turn fed the demon which kept telling me
that I wasn't good enough. Growing up, that was a source of intense resentment
and anger. This is my history, a story that I will always have with me. This sin
business also gave me a different lens of what I had learned through my classes.

Meditating on this showed me, though, that I cannot ignore this, as if
it doesn't exist. I would imagine that for all of us, unnamed demons reside in
us who have been with us ever since our childhood. They are sins in the sense
that they are extreme burdens for us that prevent us from being free. The naming
of it, though, has proven to be one of the most profoundly liberating
experiences I have ever had in my life. In the course of the remaining weeks and
even today, I have been able to recognize these behaviors in me that are so
prevalent. The challenge in the naming it is how to deal with it. For me, it is
a matter of faith and surrender. Sins that I daily need to offer to God, whom I
believe is only more than willing to take these burdens off of me. That is God's
unconditional love given to me. A grace daily received. Also, the naming of it
has been profound in my being able to reconcile myself with my family.

In talking to some of my brothers, their "core sins" are different than
mine; Ignatius' own "core sin" I learned today was vainglory. But I think it
says something to our authenticity of experience. If we deal authentically with
ourselves before God, we will authentically begin the healing process. The
silence was fertile ground to achieve this, which is why I believe having some
semblance of silence in our lives is so necessary.
(to be continued)

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