Pray for your own discovery…

Thomas Merton

It is all too easy when we are in a worrying or stressful situation to become quite absorbed in that and channel all our mental and emotional energy into it. As we do that we may find ourselves feeling empty and uncentred. This may not happen immediately but over time it can creep up on us until with a pang we realise we are adrift. Anthony De Mello, Indian Jesuit and spiritual teacher, tells this story:

A woman was looking for her jewellery in the town square. The other villagers wished her well, and were trying to help her find this treasure in the area in and around the village square. They had been searching fruitlessly for some time, when someone asked her:

“But exactly where did you lose this treasure”?

“I lost it in my home” the woman answered.

“But are you crazy? If you lost it in your home, why are you having us help you search out here in the square?”

“And you my friend,” she replied, “is this not what you are always doing, searching for your treasure in the streets, in the square, when it is really in your own home that you lost what you most want? Don’t you go everywhere in a vain search for peace and happiness, your greatest treasure, which you have lost in your own home? In your own heart – that is where you must search. It is there that your treasure has always been waiting to be found.”

This little story is one we could well imagine Mary Ward telling us: ‘Listen  –  listen to your heart, listen to your deepest desires, and there, as you listen to yourself you will be listening for God’. The focus of all Ignatian and Mary Ward spirituality is on listening to your inner self, to just keep listening for what comes up for you, to where you are being drawn, to what matters to you and what does not matter to you, to what fills you with amazement and delight. The understanding is that it is there that God speaks to us. The ancient wisdom of the Hebrew Book of Proverbs says the same thing: “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (4:23).

At the heart of Ignatian spirituality is what is known as the magis  –  the more. It is about being more, becoming more, not having more but allowing ourselves to grow and blossom into what we can be. To do that we need to go within. At times we may not be clear about what that might mean and how we are meant to be. The journey inward will slowly reveal that to us.  Going inward means letting our heart be touched, letting our heart be drawn, letting our desires surface and grow deeper. 

We are counselled to listen to what is supporting us. We must listen to what is encouraging us. We must listen to what is urging us. We must listen to what is alive in us. We must learn how to recognize the positive flow and to distinguish it from the negative resistance within ourselves. This will take years of practice. We might often find ourselves actively resisting this too. But persevere, gently and patiently. A little time each day if possible, or even every few days, to quieten the noise within our heads and our hearts will bear fruit. We will find that we get to know ourselves again, much like an old friend, and that we may discover new treasures of desires and longings surfacing.     

This is why mystics of all generations seem to equate the discovery of their own souls with the very discovery of God. It takes much of our life, much lived experience, to trust and allow such a process. But when it comes, it will feel like a calm and humble ability to quietly trust yourself and trust God at the same time. If God’s Spirit has truly joined our spirit, as we believe, then we have every reason to trust the deepest movements of our natures. As Thomas Merton says: “What can we gain by sailing to the moon if we are not able to cross the abyss that separates us from ourselves? This is the most important of all voyages of discovery, and without it, all the rest are not only useless, but disastrous. Our vocation is not simply to be, but to work together with God in the creation of our own life, our own identity, our own destiny.”

“To know this truth”, Merton writes, “we are to “pray for our own discovery”.

Lockdown may just be the time to begin or to resume an old practice. Find a quiet place alone, light a candle, play some beautiful, calming music, let other thoughts quietly fade away as they arise and simply listen to yourself. Listen for God.    

Let all that I am wait quietly before God.

The Book of Psalms


Ms Kerry McCullough

Spirituality and Liturgy Coordinator