Memories, Memories

Birthdays make me reflective and as I get older the more reflection I seem to need. I just had my birthday and I have been contemplating memories of the last 72 years.  I find it hard to believe that I’m in my 70th decade and it is even harder to believe I survived all those years. 

Have you noticed memories are kind of weird? We never really remember them as they were but as we want them to be. I also don’t remember them in order and one memory seems to trigger another that may have happened years before or years after.  But, the act of remembering is a re-membering of me.  It is a process to remind me from where I came and how each memory created me.  It is a little like a yearly ‘Examen.’ It isn’t just remembering but an accounting of my life.  It is an opportunity to remember the good times and the bad, to forgive others, and to be forgiven, and to offer myself forgiveness.

I find God’s grace in memories, grace I hadn’t noticed when I was living them. I sometimes discover angels who have been my guides or protectors that I didn’t recognize when they entered and left my life. Each grace and angel helped form me into the person I have become. Unfortunately, I have also recognized a few individuals who lead me from my path, and I had to struggle to return, often with the help of one of those angels. It is one of God’s enduring graces that angels come when we need them and it’s usually when we have gotten everything all wrong.

I have been rescued so many times that my guardian angel carries an extra-large emergency kit.  I am sure she is grateful I haven’t needed to be rescued for a while. I started very early with getting my self into trouble. I was 6 when I pulled a deep-fat fryer down on top of me, resulting in 2nd and 3rd degree burns over 75% of my body. My memory of the incident is I wasn’t alone, I was being told I would be alright, and I was.  An angel in the shape of a plastic surgeon came and volunteered to perform all the skin grafts, paying for the hospital himself, and not charging my parents.  Without the skill of Dr. Meany, I would have been severely crippled. I would have been unable to live a normal life. My gratitude for the Doctors and nurses who worked so hard to save and heal me has no bounds.  To give back the gift given to me I have tried to be present to those who have been burnt, giving them comfort, and sitting and listening to their fears.

Passing on the gifts of grace has become part of who I am. I have been on the verge of homelessness a couple of times in my life and each time one of those angels was sent in to help. To pass on that gift I have helped others who have been on that edge, never expecting I will be repaid but always expecting that they will pass on their gift of grace.  If everyone did that no one would ever be homeless.

Those are nice memories, but I also have memories I am not proud of.  In my early 20’s I worked with a woman who could be abrasive and, quite honestly, we didn’t just not get along, we disliked each other intensely. I am ashamed to say that I started a not so nice rumor about her. There was a small, very small, bit of truth to it but essentially it was an exaggeration of the facts.  I never apologized to her, in fact it wasn’t long after it happened that I left for college. I regret that. I will never see her again, I don’t even know if she is still alive. A few years ago, during a ritual of forgiveness, I asked God to let her know, wherever she is, that I am truly sorry. I also offered a prayer to forgive myself in order to let go of the feelings of guilt, and, anger I had felt towards her. It took a while to feel within the forgiveness I sought but eventually I did.

Memories are funny things, I don’t remember the same ones every year but the ones I do seem to be the ones God wants me to remember.  As I am 72 I have a lot of memories, I sincerely hope I have enough time in the life left to me to ask for forgiveness, and to express gratitude for those I haven’t remembered yet.  Only time will tell. 

Birthdays are not something I celebrate, but I find them useful.  They offer a time to recognize grace, ask for forgiveness, and find peace in a life that has seen some rocky roads.  I have no idea what memories I will form in the next years and I hope they will be good ones. I also hope they won’t be too embarrassing, but if they are, I know God and the angels will be nearby.  After all my guardian angel has that huge emergency kit just waiting for me to mess up.

Betty Buckley – Memory (1983 Tony Awards)

Ruth Jewell, © March 12, 2019

Praying With Gratitude – Prayerful Tuesday

Sunset in the South Pacific April 23, 2015 (Ruth Jewell)
Sunset in the South Pacific
April 23, 2015 (Ruth Jewell)

While I was traveling in April I carried a small book with me by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ titled Reimagining the Ignatian Examen.[1] On our sea days when I would sit on the deck of our cruise ship and watch the ocean go by I various meditations for my daily prayer time.

Thibodeaux’s book takes the traditional Examen and includeds a specific focus to use within the prayer practice.  There are 34 different themes and I discovered a number of them to be very helpful for me as I sat in stillness. Over the next several months I will occasionally offer one of the meditations from the book for our Prayerful Tuesday. As today follows Memorial Day when we honor those who have died in service I would like to offer the meditation for Gratitude.

First let me offer a few hints from the book to get you started.

  1. Keep it short. Keeping your Examen under 15 minutes will keep your prayer in the moment and a reminder that this is a check-in with God that reorients your toward the Divine.
  2. Skip to the good parts and don’t get hung up on sin. You only want to dwell on the steps and you want to get to the point rather than linger for an extended period of time. Nor do you want to dwell on all the things that have gone bad or at least you think have gone bad.  God has the facts you don’t have to bore him with a lot of details.
  3. Sometimes, break all the rules. If you feel like it, skip over parts of the Examen you don’t feel you need to do or change them around.
  4. Experiment with different ways of journaling. Tweet-sized, or drawing, or video yourself dancing.  Do whatever moves you in prayer.
  5. Keep it prayerful. Keep the prayer God centered and don’t let your meditation drift into your shopping list or your latest aggravation.  Extra hints: A. ask God to take the lead, ask God to do your Examen for the day; B. Talk to God instead of yourself; C. listen for God’s voice, sit in silence for a moment and let God enter you

Here is how I began and closed my ritual, you may choose something totally different that fits you and the place you’re in spiritually right now:

  1. I stand still for a moment and let my mind quiet.
  2. I repeat Micah 6:8 as I sit down
  3. I place my hands in my lap, palms up, in a gesture of being open to God’s love and grace
  4. I slow my breathing and clear my mind, sitting very still for a moment
  5. I welcome God in to my heart and spirit
  6. Then I begin my Examen

Closure:

  1. I take several very deep breaths as a way to bring myself back to moment
  2. I place my hand on heart and repeat Matthew 28:20b
  3. I journal for a short while before rising from my chair.

Note: I change scriptures from time to time, substituting poetry and prayers.  Remember nothing is written in concrete.

Examen theme of GRATITUDE

  1. Begin in your usual way
  2. Ask God to reveal special blessing in your life this day. As yesterday was Memorial Day, ask God to also reveal the special blessing you’ve received from someone you loved who has passed on.
  3. Ask yourself ‘what am I grateful for today? “Who am I grateful for?’ Name the person(s) gift and offer the following “Lord, I am so grateful for your gift to me of _____.” Repeat this as many times as you need to
  4. Relish each gift in turn, letting them warm your heart. Using prayerful imagination see, feel, hear, touch, sense the gift again
  5. Let the gifts you have received dance in your memory offering your gratitude to God for each one. Offer the following; “Thank you Lord for (neighbor, family, laughter, shared meal, etc.)
  6. End in your usual way.

I truly enjoyed Thibodeaux’s focuses on my trip, they helped me retain a pilgrim attitude to the whole trip and I hope you find today’s focus helpful as much as I did.

Peace and Blessing on your journey

Ruth Jewell, ©May 26, 2015

[1] Thibodeaux SJ, Mark E; Reimagining the Ignatian Examen, Loyola Press, Chicago, IL, 2015