Thursday, February 18, 2010


In common parlance, to be "available" means generally one thing--are you free to enter into a relationship? "How about her? Is she available?" I like this term better than "single," because singleness doesn't always imply availability. One can be single but not available emotionally (and Oh God have I met some of those!) or not available for other reasons--a consuming job, disinterest in deep relationship, recent loss.

In her comment, Marty draws an astute (as usual!) distinction between affective or emotional avaliability and literal, missional availability. I'd said in the post that the deeper dynamism of availability means availability to love, to be called deeper into connection.

In Ignatian spirituality, we have one ultimate call. We are to be available for whatever--and whomever--God calls us to, with Jesus our companion, for the kingdom. It's as simple as that. But the call can take so many forms, even in one person's life. In my first post on availaiblity in Ignatian tradition, I talked about literal vs. affective availability, and argued that we are called to affective availability. d. Affective availability is what Jesuit general Pedro Arrupe was getting at when he advised people to “Fall in love...” to give themselves wholly over. Our literal availability, however that plays itself out, is always in the service of that deeper freedom to love. Here a similar distinction, between availability to projects and availability to people.
--By projects I mean anything from personal initiatives like working to keep music education in schools, to jobs, to careers to professions to religious life. Availability that cannot encompass commitment to long-term projects is no longer Ignatian and risks that we become flighty and unreliable, unable to follow through on our commitments. HOWEVER, there is no project that can claim our ultimate loyalty. Jesus and the Kingdom have our final loyalty. Availability does mean that we are free to discern whether the time for our involvement in a particular endeavor is over, whether because it can sustain itself without our help or because its time is past or, most significantly, because continuing in this project is keeping us from being available for more urgent needs, including needs of other people and needs of our own. We are not free to commit ourselves to self-destruction.

In the Principle and Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius lays it out: "For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things in all that is allowed to the choice of our free will and is not prohibited to it; so that, on our part, we want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, long rather than short life, and so in all the rest; desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we are created." Why are we created? "To praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save our souls."

Created things. Not people. His examples are goods, not people. Availability for people in Ignatian spirituality, I think, follows a slightly different rule. Availability in its Ignatian sense does not mean non-attachment to people because the fundamental call of Christ to those who would follow him is to love God and others as well as we can. Indeed, availability in its Ignatian sense means that we strive to be available to love and serve. To apply the Principle and Foundation to people would make this a profoundly narcissistic spirituality. Plus, serving God implies prioritizing what God prioritizes, and God seems to care about people rather a lot--viz. Jesus. For Christians, it is absurd to think of love of God apart from love of neighbor, and some neighbors are closer than others, and have different kinds of claims on us.
HOWEVER, one of the challenging things about Ignatian spirituality is that we do bring the same dynamism of discernment and response—apostolic availability—to relationships as well. Established relationships that are not easy to leave behind command a greater fidelity than shallower relationships. In general, I’d suggest that the more essential a relationship is, the more important it is to ask first: “How might God be asking/inviting me to look at how this relationship can be fixed, perhaps by showing me acutely what’s not good now?” Even here, though, radical availability means that we are discerning through the lens of who and how God calls us to be, not merely making a prudential decision. And at some point in most close relationships, the question to be pondered becomes less, as the song says, “should I stay or should I go?” than “Why am I staying today?” A richer reflection drawing on previous consolation when desolate, and aware of the dangers of making important decisions in desolation—or consolation!
Ignatian availability isn’t the same as non-attachment. In fact, sometimes availability implies passionate attachment to projects or people, but only and insofar as they are part of a well-discerned response to the initiative of God and our perception of the needs of the others in our lives. Good love--great love--is a call from God to be available. "Is she available?" I hope so.

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