Finding God in unexpected places
You may want to save your daily offering for later. Something to reflect on perhaps just before bed, or after your evening meal.
I encountered God for the first time, in a large flowering currant bush. It was springtime and I was eight. I wasn't expecting to see Him in my garden.
A burning bush experience
I recognised him though in the exquisite beauty of the abundant pink/red tubular flowers and the fresh green of the new leaves of the bush. I saw the fullness of new life burgeoning forth from stems that had been stark and dreary just a few weeks before. God spoke to my heart, in the cool April breeze, of his love for me. It opened my eight-year-old eyes to see the world as a gift from God to love and enjoy, and that God’s love was for all. It remains my burning bush experience because I knew then I was on sacred ground, yet I counselled myself not to speak to anyone of this encounter as the God of home and school was a God to whom I was to be obedient and frankly, was rather joyless. My God of the flowering currant bush was both joyous and full of love.
If I had been schooled in Ignatian Spirituality in those years I would have recognised part of the Principle and Foundation in the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius:
The goal of our life is to live with God forever. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit. All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.
Contemporary version by David Fleming SJ
When I received God’s love that day, I knew then that I wanted to get to know Him better. Receiving Jesus in the Eucharist was to become a time of peace and joy.
Post Vatican II - a pilgrim people
In the early 1970’s and in my twenties, I encountered God in Scripture. Vatican II was beginning to bring about a changing church and documents such as Dei Verbum, Gaudium et Spes and Lumen Gentium were a revelation to me. My diocese was quick off the mark in its formation of catechists and teachers in light of Vatican II. Books came my way which inspired me.
One was Our Faith Story by Patrick Purnell SJ. He was National Adviser for Religious Education, and helped to develop and co-ordinate the National Project of Catechesis and Religious Education. His book linking home, school and parish as partners was a catalyst at the time.
I knew that God is a personal God, who is interested in me and loves me. He knows me through and through. Our Faith Story showed us that we are also a pilgrim people, always on the move, growing ever deeper into the heart of God and our relationships with others.
Patrick also showed us that reflecting and praying with God’s own story and linking it to our own faith story was a means to growth in faith. Thanks to the work of the Diocesan team in what was then called the Department of Catechesis many of us who attended the courses were helped to discover that Scripture is to be blessed, broken and shared as Eucharist is also blessed, broken and shared…
I came to understand Paul’s exhortation in his letter to the Corinthians when he proclaimed:
‘I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth. … For we are God’s fellow workers. You are God’s field, God’s building’. 1Cor: 3:6
Drawing closer to God through scripture
I now became immersed in scripture. How I still love this sentence from Hebrews
‘The word of God is alive and active sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart’. Hebrews 4:12
I explored Scripture using Lectio Divina and the Prayer of Imagination without actually recognising that Ignatius recommended these forms in his Exercises to reflect on bible passages as a means to get closer to the person of Jesus. How we parish catechists loved leading our first communion children into scripture using imaginative prayer with them. Eventually I studied pastoral theology and trained as a catechist eventually working as an advisor in my diocese.
Could there really be more? .. I knew the answer was yes
Yet Ignatian Spirituality had still not really impinged on my life until a Week of Guided Prayer was offered in my Jesuit parish in recent years. Later came some courses with opportunities to explore Ignatian Spirituality and I was hooked. I felt my life had already been like a tapestry, rich with varied experiences in my faith life and of sharing it with others. Now discovering Ignatius, it was like removing various layers of an onion to reveal its centre; my faith life was being peeled back to reveal more and more depth of God’s love for me to explore. Could there really be more? I thought and I knew the answer was yes.
Praying the Examen
I will share two experiences of the Exercises that have enriched my life. First ‘The Examen’, when one looks gently over one’s day. It has helped me to draw closer to God and recognise more deeply his presence in my life. It helps me to be aware of my moods and feelings and slowly I am coming to recognise what draws me to God and what leads me away from him. It is helping me to know my true self and to have a much deeper sense of gratitude than I had. Ignatius described the Examen as a gift from God and wanted it to be made known to as many people as possible. It is so helpful and even people with no faith will find the exercise a useful tool.
A life enriched
Another enrichment has been to have the opportunity to look at certain things that one may be attached to which get in the way of being available to God. What do I do which keeps me busy and stops me from spending time with God? How do I respond to stress, fear and worry? Like most people I have had pain and sorrow in my life and I was able to look at those times in particular and recognise patterns of behaviour which stopped me from honest reflection. Ignatius calls these ‘unhealthy attachments’ because they help us avoid authentic engagement with God and stops us from deep listening, deep reflection and taking action.
The great Jesuit leader Pedro Arrupe SJ called those who are formed in Ignatian spirituality “men and women for others.” This is a simple but inspiring statement which I try to live out within my family, friends, local community, church family and the wider world.
I owe St Ignatius a debt of gratitude for how the Exercises are enriching my life but a greater debt of gratitude to God for seeking me out and helping me to see him in the ordinary things - particularly flowering currant bushes.
Explore these guided Imaginative Contemplation exercises you can use on the go or at your computer.