“Walk Softly and Carry a Big Stick”

January 4, 2014

St IgnatiusI was asked for my philosophy on life and it always pays to reflect on it and hold it up to scrutiny. How else can transformation take place?

I have studied many of the different spiritual traditions (and most psychological theories) that we can all enjoy. I have learnt much and have so much more to learn. I do understand that none are perfect, but also that as humans, comprising of mind, body and spirit (the X-factor), we are formed of certain preferences, patterns and way of understanding the world (archetypes). Some call them habits.

Our ancestry, parents and learning re-enforce those preferences. They are universal patterns and yet at the same time have been honed, by our upbringing to become personal patterns – I guess that is what makes us unique.

Being from the West I grew up (there is no right or wrong judgement in this) with a Christian influence. In Catholicism, this includes age old ancient rites and rituals, pre dating Jesus, which still form part of our ways and reflect the universal archetypes.

For me, if we want to learn, to adapt, develop and transform those patterns that don’t seem to work, it pays to know where our secure base or starting point is or was. It seems much grief comes from trying to deny it rather than work with it.

This was my start:

My father studied at the St Xavier Seminary in Cape Town, which follows the spirituality of St Ignatius, the wounded warrior healer. Before he completed his studies he left to be an active member of the South African Communist Party in the early 1950’s, fighting oppression.

He taught me to see God in our everyday world, showing me that if God is active in all things so should we be, in service to that world, making decisions with discernment through the guidance of our own inner world. This is taking responsibility.

God, he taught me as well as being all about and universal, is personal and always close, here and now – and within. Intelligence, he explained is about living with paradox. Some things are simply a mystery and it is healthy not to have to control or know everything, but still be able to act.

He showed me that my decisions and actions should be guided in constant communion with my God. This has become known to me as IGGSY (my Inner Guidance System). At school, the ‘Sisters of Our Lady’ taught that this was my Guardian Angel.

These Nuns live by the Spirit of St Ignatius too.

Neither my father nor the Nuns ever taught me once that God was male – just that it is ever present (like a father), active in this world (as in the body of Jesus the Son) and an all pervading energy (called Holy Spirit).

For me the male naming simply was a metaphor and I personally experienced (indeed still do) IGGSY as delightfully feminine and mothering, because that is what I lacked as young boy!

Besides I was taught the God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit were begat through Mary, so the power base was clear to me! In times of distress I did and still call to her for guidance and support. I knew that male and female made the world grew, who could sensibly doubt it? I never knew that made me a ‘liberal catholic’.

If so, then for me the liberalism seems to be encapsulated in mission of the Mothering Nuns, who were pretty much my mother(s) from my 6th to 16th birthday, to:

1. Provide a home for the integral development of the whole person.
2. Help vulnerable women and children until they are able to help themselves.
3. Help the individual become reliable in and responsible for the development of their country.
4. Constantly declare and celebrate the beauty of this Universe (“God is good!”)

My father counselled me on my values “women and children first, create more than you consume and never flinch from duty”. He led by example.

In between distresses, at the start of each day, he showed me how to pray that for the grace to ‘act as if I could make a difference’, to pay close attention to IGGSY, do my duty and then at close of play to reflect and take stock, allowing myself to rest knowing ‘it has all beautifully unfolded exactly as intended’.

That intention he taught me was to find the divine in all things; nature, people, and culture whilst seeking freedom and taking responsible action in the pursuit of social justice. He reminded me that Jesus explained the new covenant was to ‘Love yourself, love one another and love God”.

We can do this because the universe is filled with bounty and wonder, and there is plenty for every being to enjoy and explore. “Be grateful for that” he taught and “never stop learning and experiencing. Engage your own and others imagination, mental intellect, physical prowess, emotions and courage to inspire leaders, to serve in community, protect the vulnerable and build a humane, fair and just society. Never give up” – he instructed me.

I witnessed him in the 1970’s as a senior shop steward imaginatively, intellectually and physically, often alone, fight management on behalf of workers, then in the evening call upon the sick with the St Vincent de Paul Society. He knew his role, what his purpose was and he was unwavering in meeting his obligations. “Walk softly and carry a big stick” was his mantra. I saw the Nuns stick consistently to their mission, giving all they had, filled with humility.

He showed me the beauty of the Mass (if you must have a religion, note the imagination loves the bells and smells!) of how in community, when we ask forgiveness, become humble, give praise, blessings and thanks, and allow the gifts of grace to energise us, we can overcome our challenges. I saw the Nuns remain simple and honesty in their Spiritual practice. I have experienced nothing that conflicts with my earthy, sky clad enjoyment of pagan celebration.

That and they helped me form a theory of the Universe and of the person; the mind, body and spirit. They then taught me to how find purpose in my life, set my intention and bring my attention to meeting, as best I can, the obligations and appointments that show up on the way. I call it personal democracy. I am grateful to them for giving me it. It is a big stick.