Living as Apprentices
Yet one more thought is necessary to understand the process of shadow boxing. That is: while we are in the process of self-examination, we must treat ourselves kindly. We must live in the memory that God sings over us in great delight and quiets us with his love (Zephaniah 3: 17). The foundation of our quest to know ourselves must be that “God does not love us if we change, God loves so that we can change (Fr. Richard Rohr in Breathing Under Water, Spirituality and the Twelve Steps, p. 41-42).
A friend recently gave me an article from the Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care which brings together two of my favorite Jesuit saints, Ignatius of Loyola and Gerard Manley Hopkins. In the appendix of his Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius defines “desolation,” the times “darkness of the soul, turmoil of the mind . . . loss of hope, and loss of love” which can result in our feeling separated from God.
My times of shadow-boxing often feel like that. As I see who I really am behind the mask and then look at Jesus who is the Master of my apprenticeship journey, I often despair at how far I still have to go. Gerard Manley Hopkins in the last of his Terrible Sonnets, describes our struggles with anguish and anxiety as “this tormented mind with this tormented mind tormenting yet.”
But that not is the mind God wants us to have. God’s grace gives us freedom to learn about ourselves without drowning in disgrace and humiliation. We, like the thief on the cross, are offered paradise in the midst of our journey of dying to ourselves. At the end of his sonnet, Hopkins offers a way for us to shadow box without falling into despair. He suggests that we “leave comfort root-room.” As we offer our lives to the Holy Spirit for examination, the Spirit offers us comfort in return. We must accept that gift and give it time and space to take root so that it can blossom and bear fruit to strengthen us on our journey.