Flexibility of mind and heart


27 Feb 2018

A central part of the Ignatian tradition we inherit is its emphasis on flexibility. In plants flexibility means being able to stretch, to fit into gaps, reach out to the light, and to bend under pressure without breaking. In religious congregations flexibility often focuses on the readiness to go where you are sent and have a go at whatever you are asked to do. But it goes deeper than that. Flexibility means that we are ready to meet new needs and new challenges; it invites us to adapt ourselves to the different climates and terrain we meet on our journey while always keeping our eyes on the destination.

The flexibility we need when we are walking with people different from us begins in the mind – we must be able to enter imaginatively the way in which other people see the world and travel in it, even if how they live surprises or appals us. It is natural to recoil, afraid that we shall be overwhelmed by what we see, or worse that we shall lose our own way in this strange world. Flexibility means remaining open and being prepared to wait until the cloud clears and the compass steadies.

When we are accompanying people we need also flexibility of the heart – the readiness to hang with the people we serve, walking with them along every dangerous road and to all the dead ends, while never losing sight of the better life and the happier self for which they long, and which we long for them to find.

Seeking flexibility of mind and heart is a big ask. It leads us to reflect on ourselves with all our gifts and weaknesses. Through this we may come to know and accept ourselves as we are without having to put up a front. Flexibility also asks that we have a clear sense of what matters in our work and lives, and return to it when we are blown off course. It lies beneath the courage that will lead us to find grain for our hearts in good soil and rocky, to endure heat and cold, and to work in fertile, well-watered land and desert. Flexibility is a gift that we may hope for but know that we shall never comfortably possess.

Fr Andy Hamilton SJ is editorial consultant at Jesuit Communications
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