A New Room
Andy Hawes is Warden of
Edenham Regional Retreat House
Jesus says: ‘In my Father’s house are many dwelling-places; if it were not so I would have told you.’ In this image of the journey of the soul towards God, Jesus is giving to us a way of understanding how God deals with us – how he works our salvation out with us. It is a sequence of different settings and contexts. Until we come to our final place of perfect rest there will be changing and change, and we are reminded by Blessed John Henry Newman that ‘to be perfect is to have changed often.’
Looking back over our own faith history, or for the purpose of preparing a confession, it is helpful to begin by recollecting places and then populating those particular dwelling-places (with the aid of a prayerful memory) with people, and then the action that took place – or that failed to take place. This is a method of remembering (of putting back together) a period of time in an examination of consciousness as taught in the Ignatian Exercises. ‘Begin with the places where you have been’ is very good advice in looking backwards.
Recently I have been using this same method – of beginning with the ‘dwelling-place’ – in conversation with people when meeting for Spiritual Direction and looking at their present circumstances. At times of transition in life, which inevitably impact on an individual’s spiritual life, one question for them to ponder is ‘what room or dwelling-place have I moved into, in an emotional and spiritual sense?’ This is the same as asking ‘are you in the same place?’ but leads to a more rounded reflection of current circumstances in comparison to ones in the recent past.
There are some obvious times of moving into a different ‘dwelling place’: getting married; changing jobs; retirement; moving house; experiencing serious illness; bereavement; and so on. In all these changes a person finds themselves in a different ‘dwelling-place’: they have moved into another ‘room’.
I ask people to describe their new ‘dwelling place’ in the same way as they would describe a room or house. Who lives in it? What are its main features? What is similar and a continuum from their previous ‘place’? What are its good points and bad points? How do they feel about it? This provides a very sound framework for exploring how the change is challenging or consoling them in their relationship with God.
Change in life can seem gradual, almost imperceptible; but there comes a point, just as in the changing of the seasons, when suddenly everything ‘seems different’: it’s another room, a different dwelling-place. Some of our spiritual equipment or furniture will arrive in this place with us, but inevitably we may have to make adjustments in patterns of life, or the focus for our prayer. It is vital in a spiritual sense to make the same kind of fundamental audit about what is needed in this new place, and what should be discarded as we do when moving house. Sometimes a radical de-cluttering is required; sometimes we need to acquire new patterns of living. To pretend we are still in the ‘same place’ as we have always been is a very dangerous delusion.