Holding God Close at Hand

This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay for Week Four of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.Braille book

I’ve been people watching all week—as prayer. Dan Ruff, SJ’s reflection on praying with the Incarnation suggested that we try prayerfully imagining how we might feel looking down with the Trinity “at the mixed, complicated messiness of the unredeemed human condition.” So I’ve been trying to see the crowds of people who move through my life as the Trinity might: the students in the hallway, the women gathered to hear a retreat talk, the drivers of all the cars and trucks jammed onto the Schukyll Expressway on a morning I was late to an appointment. We may be redeemed now, but it’s still a messy, complicated world.

As I waited for Mass to begin this morning, a woman in the front pew caught my eye. A long-time parishioner, she is blind. Today her faithful guide dog lay curled under the pew, eyes half-closed in the dimness and hush of this late winter morning. She was doing what I did when I sat down today, reviewing the readings for the day in her missal. Except while I held my copy at arms’ length, balanced on the palm of my hand, she had the Braille pages held tight against her chest, running her hand across them.

She was embracing the Divine Word, touching God made present in the Scriptures, not with her mind’s eye, but with her hands. I was in awe at this incarnation, at the way God was made flesh right in front of me. This is the grace I’ve been praying for all week. To know Jesus—the Word, God taken shape among us—more intimately. To hold Jesus closely, not just in my mind’s eye, but with my entire being.

In his little book, Praying the Psalms, Walter Brueggemann observes we prefer to come to prayer composed and decorous, serene and detached from the muddle—and at times, chaos—that we live amidst. I suspect all too often I want to hold God’s Word with my fingertips, at arms’ length, pretending I don’t need to get close to grasp the mystery of God made flesh. Yet here is where God joins us. He pitched His tent among us, in the dust and mud and straw of ancient Israel.

This is what Ignatius invites us to do in this Second Week—to walk with Jesus, not as though we are in a museum, with glass exhibit cases and “Don’t touch!” signs. But we are called to enter into the mystery of a God we can grasp, a God whose steps we can see—and follow.

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Michelle Francl-Donnay
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s CatholicPhilly.com, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.


  1. I too have been praying to know Jesus more intimately this week. In that prayer I realized how little I know. We often embrace the God parts, but very rarely get to His humanity.
    Michelle, I must say that your reflection was so well written that I could see everything. I was wishing to be at Mass, and I love service dogs. I was not too excited by the traffic on the bridge. We have plenty of that in NY. But it all was a great snapshot from your life. My high school creative writing teacher, Sr. Judeen, would have given it an A+. Thank you.

    • This essay help-ist would give you a good mark too, Michelle. Hmm. Maybe I should try “the way God was made flesh right in front of me” with my customers instead of gnashing my teeth.

      • Linda…that’s my challenge today in particular with my students, thank you for helping keep it front and center!! No gnashing, lots of intentionally incarnational thinking…

    • Thank you, Marg and Linda! Miss Eiswerth (my high school English teacher) would be happy to hear that her work was not in vain.
      But what I’m glad came across was the intimacy of the moment, she was so caught up in God…
      Marg, I agree that I find the “God parts” easier somehow, maybe because I know that I’ll never plumb those depths, while I think that I know how humanity works (being one!)?

      • Michelle, Your writing brought up such a vivid picture for me that my mind zipped to Sr. Judeen who loved that kind of writing. She want us to paint every detail to get the characters and the feelings across. Beautiful! You did it!
        Distance and the internet can make things impersonal. This was not. It was a gift.

      • Oops you said, ” … I know that I’ll never plumb those depths ….” But Michelle you just did. And then you shared what you did. Now that is God in action.
        I was thinking this morning how we are supposed to be little Jesuses for one another. That sounds so wonderful until the minute I see one of my lovely antagonists coming. Hehhe.

  2. This really spoke to me this morning. As I read about the blind parishioner, I was reminded of the incredible joy I used to feel when I signed hymns and songs of praise for the deaf many years ago. I felt like I was praising God with my entire being rather than just my voice. This is also the desire of my heart: “To hold Jesus closely, not just in my mind’s eye, but with my entire being.” Thank you very much.


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