“I don’t not need anybody to tell me how to vote but I do need others’ wisdom.” So wrote one of the fifteen participants in the referendum workshop on ‘Making Good Decisions’ organised by team members of the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality and Culture in Galway. It was offered by the centre to help people engage in an reflective decision making process in the run up to the up coming referendum on gay marriage and took place on Saturday 9 May, from 9.30am -1pm.
According to Jesuit Gerry Clarke “The workshop was not about promoting either a Yes or a No vote, but about setting up a safe space where people were able to discuss the various things affecting them as they tried to work out what way they should vote.”
In the first half of the morning participants were invited to look at what they were thinking and feeling in relation to the proposed change to the definition of marriage. They all had read four articles sent to them, penned by religious writers for and against the amendment. For the second part of the morning partipants were given assistance on how they might make better decisions involving some general techniques of decision-making as well as those offered by Ignatian spirituality.”
Gerry Clarke SJ and Angela Marson wrote the following reflection on the day.
“I’m not going to vote with the crowd so I’ll need time to look at the issues myself.” “I need to avoid those fearful voices in my head so I’m going to find a quieter space where I can really reflect.”
These are the kinds of inspirations that fill my mind after the Referendum Workshop at the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality and Culture in Galway.
First we gathered all our thoughts and reflections, wrote them on cards and put them up before us to see them and savour them: the conflict, turmoil, confusion, being bombarded, desire to avoid, expressing my values, celebrating difference, group-think, compassion: these are our feelings as the debate intensifies about Same-Sex Marriage. Then we were invited into a quiet space to hold what we had shared. As the Rule of Taizé puts it: Not in the whirlwind, not in the lightning, not in the strife of tongues is he to be found but in the still small voice speaking in silence. Therefore, be silent, let the past be silent, let there be no regrets, no brooding, no bitterness, let all be silent, be still and know.
Next, our thoughts: not in the cut and thrust of debate but in sharing what has been helpful to us as the Referendum Day draws near. Many parents are being challenged by their children to take a position: this is helpful. But then the poster controversy, sound-bites, images and spin: these are unhelpful. Some journal articles are useful: they give us a perspective on Same-Sex Marriage in Ireland and help us be conceptual and not purely emotional.
And then the arguments, the points to be made. Stating where I stand at this moment, what I’m moving towards. And at this point it’s the “how you say it” that’s as important as “what you say”. Are you listening? Are you dominating? Is the energy helpful or is it an obstacle? How is the Spirit moving in you as you read, as you speak?
Finally look back at decision-making moments in our own lives: leaving a job, taking a job, standing-up-to and standing-with the people we love. How did we make those decisions? And what does Ignatian spirituality teach us? Listing the pros and cons, living with a Yes vote for two days, living with a No vote for two days: notice how it feels to vote yes; notice how it feels to vote no? Listening to people with insights or experience we don‘t have ourselves. And then making the hard choice and seeing it through.
And again, the importance of taking it to the Lord and sitting with it in prayer. If we have brought this to the Lord then it lives with us and guides us and this referendum becomes a prayerful experience whether we vote yes or no. As the Rule of Taizé suggests: “Be still and look. Let the eyes of the mind be closed to see what otherwise you would not see, to hear what otherwise you would not hear, to know what otherwise you would not know. And if in the silence he does not answer, he is still there, his silence is the silence of love. When the servant is ready, then is the master present. It is good to wait in silence for his coming.”
Gerry Clarke SJ and Angela Marson (Team-members at the Jesuit Centre of Spirituality and Culture, Galway)
Photo: David Ramalho /Flickr (CC)