Last week my 84-year-old mother was in the hospital. For days on end doctors tried this and that to stabilize her heart. What struck me was not the desire for some great miracle in which, beyond the capacities of medicine and the doctors, her heart would suddenly be strong again, but instead a desire shared by so many people I talked to in the hospital—to be able to do the most ordinary of things. The patients wanted to cuddle up and get a good night’s sleep in their own beds, take a shower, cook themselves breakfast, go to the grocery store, and walk the dog. “Oh, that would be heaven,” one patient dreamed. Heaven? When faced with not being able to do these supposedly mundane tasks, they suddenly become the greatest desires of our hearts.

father at child's bed - The everyday, completely ordinary act of living is truly a gift.

So often people look for miracles as proof of their belief (or hope) that there is a God. It seems the more outrageous or beyond the bounds of science, the more we are apt to believe there is something greater than ourselves at work. Unfortunately, a faith that is based on the scientifically unexplainable is all too often lost in challenging times when the miracle is debunked or when the prayed-for miracle doesn’t happen. One of the greatest gifts of practicing Ignatian spirituality is coming to recognize the utterly miraculous gifts in the most ordinary aspects of life.

When we get in the habit of regularly asking, “Where is God in all this?” or looking back over the day and identifying, “Where was I fully present? Where did my heart soar?” we get in the habit of recognizing with gratitude and awe the most seemingly benign things—the smell of the flowers, the laughter shared with a teenager, holding hands with another, and, when we really take the time the taste it, the most delicious pizza ever!

Can you look out your window right now, at this very moment, and identify a miracle? A wonder? A marvel? Can you recognize with every breath the thousands of processes taking place perfectly in sync within your own body? The everyday, completely ordinary act of living is truly a gift.

In these often dreary, cold days of winter, when it seems there is nothing special to motivate our faith, in this Ordinary Time of the Church year and life, could it be that we actually are given the greatest gifts of all?

{ 2 comments }

January 29, 2015

What would it be like to share the Gospel not through words, but through a vision of what is beautiful? Giuseppe Castiglione, who became known as Láng Shìníng (郎世寧) during his 51 years in China, painted in the court of three emperors and influenced Chinese painters to write the first book on Western painting. His work is commemorated today in over 40 Chinese postage stamps, not to mention his many museum pieces in Beijing and Taipei.

Below is a trailer (in English) for a new multipart series on China’s Nanjing TV about the 18th-century Jesuit. (h/t UCANews)

If you’re receiving this via e-mail, click through to watch the video Giuseppe Castiglione, SJ.

{ 1 comment }

January 28, 2015

sitting on dock at sunset

At CatholicMom.com, Susan Bailey wonders, “How can we hope to forget what we can’t forgive? How can we learn to let go of those words and actions that weigh us down and block that life-giving joy that God so wants us to receive?”

She finds an answer in Ignatian imagination and shares her prayer, which begins:

It was the end of the day and the sky was orange, reflecting the setting sun. The air was warm and thick, the trees laden with leaves. I am sitting on a dock by a river, swinging my feet back and forth as I listen to the water rippling by underneath. I watch a leaf drop slowly to the water only to be carried out of sight.

{ 0 comments }

January 27, 2015

teacher in classroom

While we know that not all readers of this blog are teachers, we do recognize the celebration of Catholic Schools Week. This teacher shares a lesson in finding God that is applicable to those in any profession.

When we allow ourselves to be carried away from Jesus by the tides of academics, classroom management, and even our student-teacher relationships, we can only drift so far out to sea before we are taken away by the current. After a while, we get tired of treading water and we simply cannot go on without His mighty hand to bring us back to the shore.

Today, whether you find yourself next to Jesus on the shore or floating away from His sight, find Him in your work at every possible moment.

You might also like A Teacher’s Prayer for Generosity.

{ 0 comments }

January 26, 2015

mother with two children

My mom always said, “Treat others the way you want to be treated.” This is a mantra of my youth that tumbles as easily out of my mouth as reciting the Our Father. Like so many family sayings, these words are already making their way down to another generation, as I often catch myself saying the phrase to my own children. I chuckle when I hear one of my kids say to another, “Treat me the way you want to be treated.”

Mom’s words took on a whole new meaning for me when I took and later taught Dale Carnegie classes and came across these words: “Treat everyone you meet as if one’s heart was breaking, because it probably is.” Dale Carnegie’s words captured the reality of human hearts: we all struggle.

The time I spend listening to the stories of people’s lives and prayer within the ministry of spiritual direction echoes the wisdom of my mom and Dale Carnegie. People’s hearts are often breaking. There is birth and death, joy and loss, clarity and confusion. And yet, the beautiful people sharing these stories are witnesses of hope. God shows up and is part of the stories people courageously share.

Listening to others opens me to be more compassionate to what others may be facing and quietly living through with no one noticing. Listening invites me to notice the brave warriors and disciples of hope that are living among us, fighting their battles and never losing their faith. And, somehow, listening to others encourages me to continue the walk of faith and face whatever life throws my way, because I know I am not alone in either the struggles or the joys of life.

As a kid I would never have dared to speak these words, but as an adult, I proudly claim them: “Mom’s right!” Treat others the way you want to be treated. Dale Carnegie is right: treat everyone you meet as if one’s heart is breaking. And let us not forget that both of these sound very similar to the second part of the Great Commandment given to us by Jesus: “Love thy neighbor as thyself.” (Mark 12:31)

{ 0 comments }

January 23, 2015

Rosary

Leah Libresco, a former atheist and a fellow writer at Patheos, describes in America Magazine how she came to appreciate praying the rosary:

Since I’m a convert, learning to pray was basically like learning a foreign language…. [O]ne prayer I struggled with was the Rosary. It was the most stereotypically Catholic prayer I could think of, but it was hard for me to progress through the beads and Hail Marys without getting frustrated or self-conscious.

I kept worrying about whether I was getting enough out of the prayer or thinking hard enough about the meditations. … What helped me make peace with the prayer was thinking about my experiences learning ballroom dance.

When I started learning to waltz, I spent a lot of time just practicing the basic waltz step—the same kind of endless repetition as the Hail Marys of the Rosary. The reason I was supposed to keep practicing was so that my feet could keep the rhythm, no matter what.

Since I’m a follow when I dance, I don’t need to have learned every step to be able to dance it—usually, if I have a good enough connection with my partner and a reasonable grasp of the basic, I can follow my lead through more complicated steps than I could execute alone, since their motion leads me into the next place I should be.

I wound up thinking of the rosary as my chance to follow a “basic step” for prayer. My goal wasn’t to produce epiphanies about the lives of Christ and Mary, but to fall into God’s rhythm and to be ready to move if he led me.

I love her image! Today I will imagine that my daily prayer, even when it does not produce consolations or insights, is about falling into God’s rhythm.

Read more of Leah’s journey at http://arrivingatamen.com/.

{ 1 comment }

January 22, 2015

sunset

Two old friends were walking down the road one evening when they began to argue. As they went along, they shouted at one another as each tried to impose his view upon the other. Suddenly, one of them caught sight of the setting sun. He pointed it out to his friend. Immediately the men ceased their arguing. They stood side by side in silence, gazing in wonder and awe at the beauty of the sunset. When the sun had slipped beneath the horizon, the two friends started on their way again. Only now, having forgotten what they had been arguing about, they walked together cheerfully and at peace with one another.

This story reminds us that beauty has the power to heal. Unfortunately, this healing power is not always recognized in our technological society. This fact is reflected even in the curricula of many of our schools. If educational budgets are cut, what goes first? Not science. Not math. Not even sports. No, the arts go first. Such thinking implies that the arts are dispensable. Beauty is something we can live without.

But is beauty dispensable? Thomas Moore, in his classic book Care of the Soul, argues that beauty is absolutely essential for the health of the soul. In fact, he goes so far as to say that if we lack beauty in our lives, we will probably suffer from familiar disturbances such as depression, paranoia, meaninglessness, and addiction. Moore writes, “The soul craves beauty, and in its absence suffers what James Hillman has called ‘beauty neurosis.’” The psychologist Carl Jung, also a believer in the power of beauty, once suggested to a colleague, “Why not go out into the forest for a time, literally? Sometimes a tree tells you more than you can read in books.”

Christianity at its best has always understood and appreciated the power of beauty to nourish the soul. Just look at our ancient cathedrals, with their stained glass windows and soaring spires, our solemn liturgies with their chants and incense. Just listen to the strains of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” or behold Michelangelo’s Pieta. Just read the poetry of St. John of the Cross or the prose of St. Teresa of Ávila.

Jesus was remarkably attentive to the beauty in his everyday life. He appreciated, for example, the beauty in nature. The Gospels show him attuned to the weather patterns and changing seasons of his native land. He knew his trees, noticed flowers, and was even something of a bird watcher. Jesus also observed animals and often used them very effectively in his teachings.

Jesus appreciated beauty in other forms, too. The son of a carpenter, he probably knew wood very well and had an eye for color, line, and texture. The son of a homemaker, he was well acquainted with the beauty of freshly baked bread, a carefully sewn garment, and good wine.

But most of all, Jesus was attentive to the beauty of human love. He experienced love firsthand from his parents. Later, he encountered it in the men and women who were so devoted to him. Throughout his ministry, Jesus marveled at love’s power to do incredibly beautiful things. Jesus’ experience of human love made it easier for him to believe in the love that God, Abba, had for him. Beauty is a gift of the Spirit that nourishes and heals our souls, for ultimately, Beauty is but another name for God.

How do I make time for beauty in my life? Have I ever experienced beauty’s healing power?

Beauty, ever ancient and ever new, please nourish and heal my soul today.

—Excerpted from Gracious Goodness by Melannie Svoboda, SND

{ 1 comment }

January 21, 2015

Vinita Hampton Wright shares this imaginative prayer exercise with us, based on John 21:1–14, the story of the risen Christ’s appearance to the disciples at the Sea of Tiberias.

Konrad Witz - The Miraculous Draught of Fishes

You have been out on the water all night with your friends. It felt good to get back to fishing, something you haven’t done much for quite some time. Once you decided to follow the teacher, other things in your life receded.

And then, all that happened recently—you are still trying to understand it. Scenes of Jesus’ trials and death still haunt you, even though you know he has risen from the grave. And, even though you have seen his resurrected self, he is not with you all the time. Something fundamental has changed. He has gone to another way of being, and you’re still here.

No surprise that it was a bad night for fishing. You all tried to go back to the way things used to be. But of course, that was impossible. You were fishing, but you were talking, too. Just being out on the water brought back those vivid memories—Jesus teaching from the boat, the lakeshore crowded with people listening to him, seeking him, needing him. Jesus calming the storm that time you all knew you would drown. Jesus walking across the surface of the lake in the dead of night.

In fact, everything you do now has some Jesus memory connected to it. But still, it’s not the same as having him right here, right now.

It’s not so unusual for someone to cook breakfast on the shore. Nothing better than a fish cooked on a spit—a fish pulled from the water just moments before. So as you bring the boat closer to shore, you don’t pay much attention to the man there by the little fire.

The man calls to you: “Children, you have no fish, have you?” He has noticed that the boat rides high in the water—no weighty catch.

“No,” you answer.

“Cast the net to the right side of the boat; then you will catch some.”

You have heard something like this before.

What does it feel like to recognize the voice but not be able to place it?

The last time someone told you where to cast your nets, there was a great miracle. What is spinning through your mind right now?

You throw the nets off the right side of the boat. Within moments, the nets are full. You look toward the man on the beach. He looks back at you. What look is on his face? Is he smiling? Is he serious?

It doesn’t take long, even with the overload of fish, to get to the shore and make your way up to the little fire. The man speaks again: “Bring some of the fish that you have just caught.”

Of course, by now you know it is Jesus. You approach him and the fire. Everything about the morning is so clear, so palpable. What does the air feel like? What scents are in the breeze? Is it warm or cold? What does the sandy earth feel like as you walk closer and closer to that fire?

You hand Jesus several fish. He reaches to take them. Those are real, flesh-and-blood hands. You notice, though, the scars on his wrists, clear marks where the spikes had gone all the way through. Then you dare to look up at his face.

What does his face look like on this early morning? What emotions do you read in his eyes?

You watch the body, once dead and damaged, go through these ordinary motions of putting the fish on a spit and positioning it above the flames. You see the man squatting there in the sand, one knee on the ground, tending the fire as if this were a typical kind of thing to do on a typical day.

What does it feel like to be just inches from this mysterious, marvelous human, who was dead but now lives?

What is the first thing you say?

What does Jesus say in response?

{ 0 comments }

January 20, 2015

biological closeup

The Ignatian ideal is that now we can recall and relive an experience of “union and familiarity” with God that uplifts and sustains us no matter the distractions of our work or banality of our lives. Here is the basis for finding God not only in all things but in the flurry of everyday life. Nothing human is merely human. No common labor is merely common. Classrooms, hospitals, and artists’ studios are sacred spaces. No secular pursuit of science is merely secular. The hand of the creator can be detected by looking at galaxies through telescopes or examining cellular life in laboratories. Retreatants return to their supposedly dull, humdrum lives with a new vision and appreciation of God’s operative presence. Like Ignatius after his experience at the Cardoner River, we see things differently. We get a new sense of what Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins meant when he wrote, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”

—Excerpted from Ignatian Humanism by Ronald Modras

{ 2 comments }

January 19, 2015

coffee in hands

At God in All Things, Jacqueline Shrader writes about the Theology of Coffee.

Ignatian spirituality suggests invoking our senses and imagination to encounter God and ourselves. When I am holding a cup of coffee, the warmth radiates through my hands, forearms, and shoulders. The smell wafts through the air from the dark caramel color, almost black. The whole experience is sensual, and helps my sleepy self wake up to greet the day with gratitude and a tranquility that I feel from this warmth. It induces a peaceful demeanor, which invites me to meet God and my own thoughts. In these moments, I review the previous and forthcoming days, reflecting on both the harder and easier parts in order to create my hopes for the new day.

When has an ordinary object helped you to experience God?

Image by Boemski under Creative Commons license.

{ 1 comment }

January 16, 2015