Getting to encounter my ‘Graced Self,’ also known as ‘true self,’ was as one of the most, if not the most, important moment during my recent eight-day silent retreat in Manresa.
This was an enormous challenge for me, to the point that I felt that I was going to stay stuck at this place the whole retreat: it took me two or three days to get through this particular exercise. Had it been the case, I would have spent the eight days working on the First Week. This would have been OK, if necessary, but I couldn’t help feeling thoroughly deflated at the idea.
How did I get to this encounter?
It may well start with the reality that Godde loves each one of us unconditionally. This, we know. How often have we experienced Her love, if ever, is another question.
Our retreat leader, Fr. Cecil Azzopardi, SJ, took us back to Genesis, where Godde created Adam and Eve, in Her image, i.e. perfect. The snake, however, came and convinced both of them that they would be like Godde if they ate of the Tree of Knowledge. The snake’s trick worked: Adam and Eve did not understand they were perfect as Godde was, and ate the apple.
The story of Adam and Eve is a creation myth, of course. Still, it serves well to explain how the doubt created by the snake regarding Adam and Eve’s imperfection translates in my life into the imperfect, unlovable me, or the ‘false self.’
Cecil explained that any time we feel inferior, unworthy, naughty, stupid, etc., we build a wall in our heart around the graced self, making it easier and easier for the false self to make us feel unlovable and to take control of the situation. Another of Cecil’s points was that we have to stop blaming whomever instilled in us those negative feelings about ourselves. Dwelling on who’s to blame for my being the way I am is an obstacle to my connecting with my ‘graced self.’
How to reconnect with my ‘graced self’ then?
Cecil suggested the following exercise:
~ Disposing Myself to receive the gift of Love ~
– I recall moments when someone has expressed to me his/her love or acceptance.
– Now I relive in my imagination one of these moments.
– I become aware what I am feeling in my heart just now as I relive this experience.
– I enter in contact with what I now feel within my heart, and from that contact within me I hear that person tell me,“I love you…” “I accept you…” “You are … for me”.
– Then while remaining in contact with the feelings that are in my heart, I will say to myself, “I am someone loved”. “I am someone accepted”. “I am someone ……..”.
– From the depth of the same sentiments within my heart I then hear God telling me, “I have loved you with an everlasting love.” “You are precious in my eyes.”
It may seem quite easy to go through the exercise given above. We have all known moments of feeling love and accepted by someone. To move from this memory to the connection with Godde’s love then naturally follows.
Well, somehow, this was not my case at all. I reconnected to the little girl in me who had been left by her mother when I was nine, and I simply got stuck there. I just could not remember a moment when I had been unconditionally loved. My little girl had turned wooden, deadened.
One meeting with my director lasted over an hour (it was meant to be thirty minutes, I found out later). Back in my room, I prayed, I begged, I asked for the grace to feel that love that had to have been there at some point in my life.
Why is it that I didn’t remember those times with my husband, children, grandfather, brother or good friends? I could not say. The memory, to me, had to come from my early childhood, and it just would not show up.
The thought then came to listen to music, especially to Chopin. When I was four years old, Chopin always made me cry. I can remember my father playing Chopin when I grew up. This is when I started listening to Arthur Rubinstein on iTunes. Sure enough, the music took me back to when I was a child. Memories of my father and mother resurrected and had me in tears.
I remembered the time when I was taken to the train station to say goodbye to my parents going to Paris for a weekend. I accompanied my parents to their compartment with the lady who used to take care of my siblings and me. When she got off the train, I sensed that I should follow her down. My parents, however, told me there was time. Time. The train started and I panicked, until I noticed my parents’ eyes and their smile. And it dawned on me: for the first time, they were not leaving me behind; they were taking me along with them. Tears welled up in my eyes, and everyone else in the compartment got teary. Today still, I can feel the stinging of the tears just thinking of that moment.
This was the break-through. I could suddenly remember how it felt to be loved, accepted, cherished. My heart suddenly was able to receive Godde’s love, to experience it.
I also found out that, as I continued listening to Chopin, Godde herself flowed in me through the music. First had come the pain of memories, then the joy of Godde coming to meet me in the music.
Why did it take me so long to connect with this love, to connect with this part of me which is graced by love? I could not say. What is sure, however, is that connecting with this part of me has not ceased to help me. Why? Because I can now sense when I act from my ‘false’, insecure, feeling unloved part of me and when my ‘graced self’ is triggered. Strangely also, my own heart can tell me when something reinforces my ‘graced self,’ what is good for me and what is not. A way of encountering Godde’s presence in my life.
In very simple terms, if you have read TA for Tots to your children, your graced self is a Prinze(s), and your false self is a Frozz. Can it be that easy? In a way, yes.
The day after the retreat, I remember sitting at lunch with Cecil and a few others. I turned to him and said that the discovery of my ‘graced self,’ was one of the most important moments of the retreat. “Ah, my dear,” he exclaimed, “encountering your graced self is most important for your spiritual life!”
When I sit in my red chair and want to connect with the Risen One, I connect my graced self’s heart to His own heart and I remain in His presence for a while. Encountering the Risen One is a Mystery, a Mystery that the Spiritual Exercises guide us into. But this will be for another post.
In the joy of being one with you in the Risen Christ.
Photo: The Brooklyn Paper