Days of Deepening Friendship: For the Woman Who Wants Authentic Life with God

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9780829428117: Days of Deepening Friendship: For the Woman Who Wants Authentic Life with God
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Be your true self—and get ready for a dynamic friendship with the Divine.
It’s time for women of faith to quit apologizing—for who they are or who they’ve been, for what they feel and know, and for their powerful ability to connect with spiritual reality. When a woman is free to be herself and to express to God—without fear—her loves, dreams, pains, and passions, she can embark upon a friendship that is stunning in its wisdom and delightful in its daily unfolding.
Using Scripture, meditations, stories, and written exercises, Days of Deepening Friendship encourages women to radically rethink their approach to friendship with God and to explore the deeper regions of this very special relationship. Throughout forty brief chapters, author and spirituality-workshop leader Vinita Hampton Wright taps the proven wisdom of Ignatian spirituality by employing prayer, imagination, action, and reflection, making the book an ideal spiritual workshop for women.
Days of Deepening Friendship will free any woman to fling wide open the door to the Divine and become friends with the God who has loved her all along for who she really is.

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About the Author:

Vinita Hampton Wright leads workshops around the country on the creative-spiritual process. She is the author of many books, including Days of Deepening Friendship, Simple Acts of Moving Forward, The Soul Tells a Story, The St. Thérèse of Lisieux Prayer Book, and the novel Dwelling Places. She and her husband, Jim, live in Chicago.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:

What can this book do for you?
I have written this book to help women become friends with God.
I say “help” because all one person can ever do for another spiritually is to walk alongside. St. Ignatius of Loyola said it well more than four centuries ago when he reminded spiritual directors to get out of the way and allow the Creator to deal with the created one. He meant that God is already working in people’s lives and that their task is to learn how to pay attention to what God is doing. A good spiritual director—or simply a good friend—learns to help a person see more clearly, understand more specifically, and participate more intentionally with God’s action in her life.
I say “women” because I have observed for many years how women bring certain qualities to the spiritual life, and how they also face certain challenges. In the Catholic world—and the Christian arena in general—most materials on the spiritual life are still written by men, and their vocabulary and sensibility do not always take into account how women actually experience the world. I am still learning, at age fifty, how my experience as a female has influenced the way I imagine God and relate to God.
This book is not an attempt to re-create the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, but because Ignatian spirituality makes such effective use of the physical senses, the imagination, and our reflection upon real experience, I have rooted much of this book’s material in the Ignatian understanding of spiritual movement. Here is a brief summary of some of the concepts important to the chapters ahead.
We find God in all things. God is ever-present and at work in human experience. We grow by learning to recognize God and respond to God where God already is.
Reflection is a powerful spiritual practice that moves us forward. Reflection involves self-awareness and discernment, combining the ability to understand our interior life with the wisdom to choose our path wisely. We can practice reflection in a number of ways and build into our behavior healthy self-awareness and clarity, leading to good choices.
We are able to know the Divine through a developing friendship with Jesus of Nazareth. As someone “fully human and fully divine,” Jesus is able to meet us intimately through reflection, prayer, action, and revelation. In coming to know Jesus, we are able to connect with divine life on a daily basis and in ways that fit our unique situation, personality, and history.
God intends for us to experience inner freedom. This freedom allows us to be who we are rather than try to be someone else. It helps us hold life lightly rather than grasp it anxiously. Spiritual freedom encourages us to receive God’s ongoing acceptance, love, and help.
We are designed to participate with God in bringing wisdom and healing to the world through our gifts, desires, and opportunities. Our friendship with God first of all brings healing to us personally; we become increasingly able to deal with our own spiritual conflicts, to offer and seek forgiveness, and to develop and use our particular traits and gifts. As a natural result of our personal healing, we become healers to others, and through our gifts we can’t help but do good in the world.
These five points do not offer a comprehensive description of Ignatian spirituality, or even of Christian spirituality. But this book is not meant to be comprehensive. Our main theme is friendship with God. If we apply even one of these concepts with any consistency, the spiritual life will open up, and we will most certainly move forward as people who possess the stunning capacity for authentic life with God.
Experience and belief . . .
The reflections and exercises in this book could be used by women or men. We respond to God first of all as humans, and in Christ “there is no male and female.” But I have chosen language and illustrations that focus on women. This is not a book about femininity or feminism but about spiritual movement and how we, as women, interact with divine love.
I have led many writers’ workshops, using exercises that helped participants experience the creative process. What I’ve done here is similar but with a different focus, introducing questions and imaginative exercises designed to help the reader pay closer attention to her life and God’s action in it. In these pages I’ve tried to create an experience, a sequence of chapters and interactions that provide opportunities for spiritual movement and helpful reflection. If the reader does most or all of the exercises, she will truly participate in an unfolding account of her journey with God.
The material is Christian, but I have avoided many religious terms, because often the woman who is ready to delve into a freer and truer friendship with God is in that frame of mind and soul because she has reached a critical point in her life. Many times that critical point comes as the result of suffering, sometimes in church experience or at the hands of religious people. The reader who enters such a season of wanting God’s friendship has probably grown weary of the familiar phrases and formulas. This doesn’t mean that she no longer believes in God or no longer appreciates church worship and traditional spiritual activities. She may need, however, some distance from a religious experience that has been, or has become, painful or frustrating.
In other words, this material may appeal to someone who is cautious toward traditional religious practice. At the same time, the exercises and reflections will move the reader always toward the heart of authentic belief. I try to help the reader reconnect with genuine Christian faith through inviting language and images.
I wrote Days of Deepening Friendship with individual readers in mind; it is designed for you to work through on your own. It should work well also with the support of a spiritual director. If you intend to use this book with a small group, please read the suggestions on page 309, “How to use this book with small groups.” Why friendship, and why now?
For many years I have wrestled with belief. I have experienced Christianity with both passion and ambivalence. I have lost faith and found it again, and I have explored more ideas about grace and truth than I can easily remember. But now all I really want is to be God’s friend.
I say this without shame: my goal is friendship with the Divine. This is not a new idea. The great Old Testament patriarch Moses was called God’s friend, and Jesus called his disciples friends—in fact, he was quite adamant about that distinction. Some of our favorite saints, such as St. Teresa of Ávila and St. Thérèse of Lisieux, included “friend” in their various descriptions of God. I grew up Baptist, without any acquaintance with such saints, but I have considered myself God’s friend through the years, even though the concept has grown blurry at times.
But during the past few years, my heart has filled with desire and dissatisfaction, and I’m learning to pay attention to that sort of thing. These symptoms tell me what my soul has known all along: we were made to love God and to increasingly experience God’s love for us. If a love relationship with God does not develop, we have missed our purpose, our joy, and our deepest, truest dream.
Now that I am a couple of decades into a career and a marriage, I simply don’t have the time and energy I used to have for retreats, seminars, or parish missions. And while I’m not against new information, information does not hold the promise it once did. Especially in this frenetic information age, we are obsessed with data, with acquiring knowledge to catalog and analyze. I still love to learn, but if information does not culminate in friendship with the Divine, I’m not interested.
The deep sense that we need something more . . .
I suspect that whoever has picked up this book feels the same way. After a point, we become weary of thinking so much and trying so hard. We more easily abandon the self-justifying and even the self-helping that in earlier days held such priority for us. Our souls have become needy in a profound, relentless way, and we cannot ignore the symptoms any longer: restlessness, exhaustion, sadness, and fresh desire. These signals tell us that nothing short of divine friendship will do.
If God is not intimate with us, then what’s the point of everything else? If God has become mostly a concept or psychological projection—or even a belief system—then we have likely received already whatever benefit can be received from God. I have spent a lifetime conceptualizing God in various ways and projecting my needs and wants onto a divinity that helped me as I chose to be helped. But all of that brings a person only so far.
We become tired of “God” only because much of the time the god we worship is of our own making, a violently skewed version of what the ancients have tried to describe and interpret for us. The prophets and poets, preachers, priests, and popes have brought us to a certain point, but the rest is between us and God Who Is.
Church, Scripture, morality, and what? . . .
I belong to a faith community. I attend church regularly and have for most of my life. I understand that worship helps me and that the Eucharist feeds me; both of these traditional practices place my soul on a track that provides spiritual, psychological, and emotional grounding. Both help me open a little more to who God is and to what God is doing. Because I know this, I have committed myself to a Christian community that honors worship and Eucharist. Still, liturgy is not an end in itself, but a catalyst designed to help us connect to what is mysterious and far beyond our perception. If, somewhere in all the phrases and pauses, the gestures and prayers, God does not reach into my soul and love me, then this spiritual tradition has reached its limits for me.
Sacred texts have always made deep impressions on me. Since childhood I’ve recognized in Psalms and Gospels matters that my inmost self already knew to be true. I have memorized scores of sacred stories, and they continue to form my interior life and to shape my character in ways that only stories can. And yet, a story—or at least the words that make up a story—bring me to a certain point and no further.
Just think about this. What really fuses a story to a child’s heart is not merely the words but the hum of a parent’s or grandparent’s voice, those tones that vibrate from one body into the other, the warmth of breath against the face, the soft safety of a lap and encircling arms. A story told with love will remain in that child forever. And so, as much as I love Scripture, I will not settle for it cold and cerebral on a page. No, I want God’s arms around me while I listen. I want God’s breath brushing across the top of my head, and the hum of love moving through me like a song.
Most of us try to live by some sort of moral code. I have to say that the code of Christianity has spared me a lot of pain, has guided me, overall, to healthy decisions and fruitful situations. I don’t claim this as any proof of my virtue; my point is that having lived by a proven set of principles has had its advantages. A person really doesn’t have to learn everything the hard way.
Even so, it’s possible to be moral while frightfully empty. Being a “good person” does not spare us profound depression or dire circumstances. At some point we must ask, Why am I trying to be good? Where does this take me? If all goodness can do is keep life calm—and it doesn’t anyway, because life is full of turmoil regardless of my actions—then goodness just isn’t good enough.
Does it matter that life is protected by rules for our good if there is no passion flowing through it? Having been a good girl most of my life, I can assure you that being safe is not the same as being fulfilled. It does my soul little good to follow the highest and holiest rules—if God will not befriend me.
Nothing holds still in this universe or stays the same. Everything moves in one direction or another. A life grows better or worse; a relationship evolves or dies. Because movement of some sort will occur, I hope for movement between God and me that brings us closer to life-changing intimacy. And I must suppose that, if God does not intend to terrorize and destroy me, then God has always intended to love me.
Healing our disappointment . . .
I confess that anger resides in my soul, anger rooted in my particular experience of God, or at least in my ideas about how God has dealt with me. I harbor some disappointment in the Divine, and even though I know at an intellectual level that this disappointment probably has more to do with my own perception than with any reality concerning God, I cannot let go of my disappointment simply by deciding to do so. Disappointment and anger go deeper than reason, and they must be healed in that space that is beyond reason.
How many times have I started out not liking a person and then had a complete change of heart as we got to know each other? Friendship takes us past disagreement and disappointment. Friendship helps us receive one another in the spirit of openness. Friendship assumes that we grow into understanding, that in our growing we learn to forgive, and that through our developing relationship we become freer and can allow freedom to each other.
I know that friendship with God lies beyond the definitions of human friendship. But perhaps as I grow in friendship with God, the relationship itself will liberate me from some of my anger and disappointment. If, however, I wait until I no longer “have issues” with God, the potential for friendship might remain stuck in my resentment and hurt.
Stages of relationship . . .
Regardless of our disappointments and various forms of resistance toward God, you and I surely have already enjoyed friendship with the Divine to some extent. But friendship with God, like human relationships, goes through necessary stages—and not all of them feel friendly.
For instance, in the beginning of a marriage, infatuation takes you quite a way, and you are sure that what you’re experiencing is fully love. The years show you otherwise; you learn love layer by layer, wound by wound, gift by gift, and revelation by revelation. After years of living with this person, you wake up one day and realize how faulty and frail and self-serving your love truly is. You discover so many falsehoods in yourself that have remained, magically, hidden from yourself.
After a few years of marriage, love no longer connected my husband and me at the surface of life; it submerged us in periods of darkness and confusion out of which we had to feel and fight our way. It wasn’t anyone’s fault—it was simply the way our love developed in the real world. After a while, though, what I hungered for most was to be the truest, kindest, and most honest friend to this man that it’s possible to be. And I wanted him to express to me the truest, deepest friendship possible. He and I have come to understand that if the friendship keeps growing, so many other things heal and get better. The harshest conflicts lose their power when the friendship grabs hold. This intimate, tenacious love makes possible repentance and conversion, and it gives energy to our courage and grace.
The thing to remember is that true friendship culminates from sometimes decades of lesser forms of attachment. Each season of love serves its purpose and moves us toward the more perfect incarnation of divine love. I must remind myself that I have always loved God, however shabbily or stupidly. I was always on the way to loving God better than before. God does not turn away those efforts. God has always been my friend, but such love does its complete work only when it is recognized and welcomed...

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Book Description Loyola University Press,U.S., United States, 2009. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Be your true self—and get ready for a dynamic friendship with the Divine. It’s time for women of faith to quit apologizing—for who they are or who they’ve been, for what they feel and know, and for their powerful ability to connect with spiritual reality. When a woman is free to be herself and to express to God—without fear—her loves, dreams, pains, and passions, she can embark upon a friendship that is stunning in its wisdom and delightful in its daily unfolding. Using Scripture, meditations, stories, and written exercises, Days of Deepening Friendship encourages women to radically rethink their approach to friendship with God and to explore the deeper regions of this very special relationship. Throughout forty brief chapters, author and spirituality-workshop leader Vinita Hampton Wright taps the proven wisdom of Ignatian spirituality by employing prayer, imagination, action, and reflection, making the book an ideal spiritual workshop for women. Days of Deepening Friendship will free any woman to fling wide open the door to the Divine and become friends with the God who has loved her all along for who she really is. Seller Inventory # AAC9780829428117

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Book Description Loyola University Press,U.S., United States, 2009. Paperback. Condition: New. Language: English . Brand New Book. Be your true self—and get ready for a dynamic friendship with the Divine. It’s time for women of faith to quit apologizing—for who they are or who they’ve been, for what they feel and know, and for their powerful ability to connect with spiritual reality. When a woman is free to be herself and to express to God—without fear—her loves, dreams, pains, and passions, she can embark upon a friendship that is stunning in its wisdom and delightful in its daily unfolding. Using Scripture, meditations, stories, and written exercises, Days of Deepening Friendship encourages women to radically rethink their approach to friendship with God and to explore the deeper regions of this very special relationship. Throughout forty brief chapters, author and spirituality-workshop leader Vinita Hampton Wright taps the proven wisdom of Ignatian spirituality by employing prayer, imagination, action, and reflection, making the book an ideal spiritual workshop for women. Days of Deepening Friendship will free any woman to fling wide open the door to the Divine and become friends with the God who has loved her all along for who she really is. Seller Inventory # AAC9780829428117

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