Reflection Masthead
Issue 147 - Reading the Signs - February 2017
      I n a recent trip across the city, two signs caught our attention. The first was at an o ld motel, probably built in the fifties, with few updates since. Even the sign out front proudly advertised "Color TV" and "Telephone" as features to commend it
A few minutes later we passed a used-car lot, one that apparently specialized in very low-priced vehicles. "Beats walking!" said the sign there. 
Both signs set the bar for customer expectations very low - but triggered these reflections.
Motel Sign
Beats Walking

Together, the two signs sent my thoughts down a twisting path. I thought of a church I visited last month where the dusty prints of biblical scenes in the hallway looked just as out-of-date as the "Color TV" sign. As German theologian Helmut Thielicke reminded us long ago, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever - but the church must always keep forwarding that message to an ever-new address.
But I also thought of how most of us take for granted creature comforts that used to be luxuries - and for many people in the world still are: a functioning car, one that beats walking. The mere existence of color TV as something to celebrate, not to mention hundreds of channels, plus streaming video.
Do we set the bar for happiness too high?  Today I chanced upon Anna Kamienska's poem, "Gratitude":*
I was grateful to young leaves that they were willing
to open up to the sun
to babies that they still
felt like coming into this world
to the old that they heroically
endure until the end.
Should we not, as Kamienska suggests, "thank everyone for the fact that they exist" - everyone and everything. Should I not be grateful for the color TV that works, for the 10-year-old car that still starts when I turn the key?
After all, it beats walking.
 - by Bill

*Translated by Grazyna Brabik and David Curzon, in Mark S. Burrows, ed., The Paraclete Poetry Anthology: Selected and New Poems (Paraclete Press, 2016) p. 44.
Shrunken Soul
--by Jan
       While traveling in Guatemala, I became aware of the indigenous people's belief that taking a picture of them would steal part of their soul. Because I was a guest in their home country, I respected their preferences. As a Spiritual Director, I notice that sometimes people give away their soul, or unintentionally shrink their soul: "like T.S. Eliot's Prufrock, we can wind up measuring out our lives with coffee-spoons." (1)
       I often meet with people describing symptoms of the 'shrunken soul' but having nothing to do with photography. Perhaps it has something to do with interpreting a motel sign advertising 'color tv and telephone' and a used car 'better than walking.' Perhaps an attitude arising from a 'shrunken soul'? -the 'shrunken soul' is an all-to-common spiritual malady. Even Ignatius of Loyola "recognized that people can douse their inner flames." (2)  Some Spiritual Directees complain of acedia, disquiet, discontent, and ressentiment (3) -- common manifestations of the 'shrunken soul.'
Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my help . . . (Psalm 42:5 NRSV)
       Turning to sacred writings is just one of the many exercises to strengthen and stretch the soul, similar to physical exercises benefiting the body. Jesuit George Aschenbrenner, in Stretched for Greater Glory, writes of the freedom that magnanimity brings when one is released from self-limiting behaviors. Philosopher Bernard Lonergan uses the image of 'horizons': by lifting one's 'horizons', thus transcending one's limitations, a person undergoes 'conversion' and is open for a greater experience of God. One might be shrunk and stuck, but the soul is unlike old wineskins: the soul is alive, fleshy, keen to be expanded and stretched for greater glory.
1 See T.S. Eliot, "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock," in his Complete Poems and Plays, 1909-1950 (New York: Harcourt Brace, 1962) quoted in Dean Brackley, "Expanding the Shrunken Soul: Humility, Ressentiment, and Magnanimity". Studies in the Spirituality of Jesuits, 34/4, (September 2002). P.5.
2  ibid, 4
3  French term meaning "resentment" but nuanced to a sense of hidden feelings such as: revenge arising from jealousy of those more successful; emotional impotence generating negative attitudes; self-devaluing substitute for humility; active or passive comparing with others especially with those who have no
ressentiment feelings; a 'sour grapes' attitude.

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Bill Howden and Jan Davis
Soul Windows Ministries