The other day I began wondering where we get our creative ideas. I realized they come from everywhere when we’re open to noticing them. They come disguised in an off-hand comment, a favorite song, failed attempts at things that are important to us and from feeling unsatisfied or restless in our desire for more in life.
Because these creative nudges arrive in varied and unpredictable ways, it’s vital to stay alert for their presence. Nudges show up in our dreams and rambling thoughts. They can be sparked during an argument with friends or parents. Nudges provide precious insights and can launch valuable searching times in our lives.
Nudges can become as familiar as friends, because ultimately they can put us in touch with our best selves and persist as we deepen our relationship with ourselves and with God. Just as God can communicate with us through questions, God also offers nudges that get our attention and urge us to think about our lives. When we’re noticing, we don’t miss the chance to listen for what God has in mind for us!
Carolyn sat on a cushioned bench with both hands embracing a cup and stared blankly out the coffee shop window. A steady stream of people entered and left the shop as she continued quietly entertaining questions rambling around within her. She could see no clear answers, just silence that opened after each of them.
The questions began shadowing her after she attended a lecture during her five-year college reunion six weeks ago. It wasn’t the topic of the lecture that nagged at her, but the sense of purpose she noticed in the speaker. The woman was dynamic, but there was something else. She was passionate about the research she was doing and the people she had met during their interviews. Carolyn believed this professor was really making a difference in peoples’ lives. It made Carolyn wonder why she wasn’t feeling that way about her own career.
Her questions about her future had come fast and furiously since then: “What am I passionate about? What do I want to do that would make a difference in others’ lives? I do want to contribute to making this world better, but how can I do that?”
These and more now wandered inside her as the coffee shop first filled and then emptied most of the afternoon.
Questions of the kind Carolyn pondered can signal change that’s edging its way into our thoughts. Answering them for ourselves is vital to our happiness in life and our own sense of purpose. God’s call often comes through questioning.
Unless I make a conscious choice to stop on our back porch on my way in or out of the house, I do not see the tiny yellow blossoms and smaller green tomato orbs on the vine or the young pea pods among the plant’s leaves and tentacles. Even in my widow-box veggie garden, Nature has her way of protecting – even hiding – the fruits of growth until they’re ready to be picked. I’m amazed how long it takes me some days, to even find the pods and tomatoes – once I stop. Remembering my impatience with the plants and their leaves for hiding their fruit from my eyes makes me smile now!
Only gradually and with persistent hunting could I notice the pods and orbs that I’d missed on my previous searches. The harvest time may not be here yet, but I do hope to experience it eventually. Right-timing is everything!
Discernment in our lives shares some of these characteristics. It’s vital to stop and step away from our normal daily routines so we can notice what may be surfacing in our lives. Constant busy-ness leaves little space to take that closer look and notice God’s call in our lives.
Sporadic times of reflection may not be enough to provide the kind of stopping and noticing needed to hear and see God’s hints at our life purpose. Just as the leaves and tendrils of the peas eventually intertwine in a jumbled green ball, our discernment of God’s call mixes with many other possibilities and these take time to sort through. Giving the time for stepping away carries a reward. Trust that the results of looking, noticing and listening will bring us its bounty and insights.
While I was having lunch at Chilli’s with a few visiting Australian friends, they surprised me by commenting, “I get tired of how many choices you Americans have, even when you go out to eat!”
I’d never considered this, of course, because I’m so used to being asked, “Do you want that toasted or plain and on what kind of bread?” “Paper or plastic?” My friends weren’t used to so much decision-making just to have a simple meal, so they felt overwhelmed.
We can experience that same sense that it’s all too much when considering the important life question, “Where is God calling me?” Many young people are fortunate in having a solid education and /or successful work experience, so the possibilities for the future are plentiful. At first glance this seems like a good thing. And it is – until you have to choose.
When we make a choice for something good for our life’s purpose, it also means letting go of other good things – a dilemma for sure! This is also why it can take longer than we’d like to decide which way to go in life, what choice to make.
Wisdom tells us each letting go of a good choice makes another one possible. Since we cannot be totally sure the good choice we’re making is the right one, reality elbows in to remind us that there’s risk involved in choosing. The risk is worth it, however, if it results in peace of mind and an inner sense of rightness. Both are indicators that this choice is your response to God’s call.
Carmel Boyle, a popular Irish vocalist, has recorded the song “My Soul’s Desire”, an engaging and foot-tapping melody designed to get us thinking deeply about what we are looking for in life. No, that’s not entirely true. The words of the song ask what you desire and what you think God desires too!
Many spiritual writers have told us that one clue to what God is asking of us – calling us toward – is found in our deep desires, our heart’s desires, or as Ms. Boyle puts it, our “soul’s desire”.
One of the ways to discover what my soul desires can be spending time in quiet, the kind of inner quiet that allows me to really focus and listen deeply for my heart’s response. Pay attention to what you long for, what it is you’re passionate about, what brings you joy and hope. In these longer summer days of light, may you make the time for this kind of quiet and ready yourself to listen for your soul’s desire.
Blessings as you listen,
That famous question, “Who do you say that I am?” occurs in this Sunday’s Gospel. It can be a very important discernment question because how we answer it affects everything. If you say Jesus was a good man who set a good example, that may be nice, but it doesn’t necessarily call a person to any radical change. If you say Jesus is the one who will judge us in the end, then it might just make you anxious and act out of guilt. If you say Jesus is the creator of the universe manifesting in human form to teach us how to live and love, you might feel more drawn to respond with your life.
At a very personal level, we probably answer this question differently from others, and even for ourselves at different points in our lives. Because Jesus is also a ‘person,’ we are in a relationship, and relationships change over time. Jesus may not change, but our understanding of him and way of relating to him will. Some of the different answers I have had to this question: Jesus you are… my partner… my hope… a caress… a challenger… the one I take time with each night and morning… the core relationship in my life.
Discernment involves other people. But the strongest voice in becoming who I am, and discerning what I am called to do, is the voice of Jesus.
Who do you say Jesus is?
This past Sunday we celebrated the Feast of Christ’s Ascension. I would like to share with you an inspirational reflection on the Ascension written by Springfield Dominican Sister, Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP.
“Why Are You Standing There Looking at the Sky?"
by Rebecca Ann Gemma, OP
When my Sisters sing the song “Land of the Living” by Janét Sullivan-Whitaker, we often emphasize the phrase: “…don’t look to the sky when the reign of our God is here.” Here in this place and in this moment Christ is present. Is this not the same message the angels told the disciples as Jesus was lifted to heaven? Is it not for us today?
I have often heard that where you stand is what you see. So just imagine you’re standing in the middle of a flower-drenched field. What do you see? Color, texture, and swaying objects moving in the wind; beauty surrounds you. As you take it in, you sense being one with this terrain and time stands still. The reign of God is here.
Imagine you’re standing in the middle of a crowded street. What do you see? People running here and there: purposeful, spontaneous, hungry, full, peaceful, anxious, isolated, welcomed. The fullness of humanity gives way to noticing the person closest to you. In the brevity of time, you seek eye contact in which to make connection and converse with the simplicity of “hello.” In that nanosecond, communion becomes reality. The reign of God is here.
Imagine you are standing in the rotunda of your state capitol building. What do you see? Suit-clad lobbyists basking in their privilege, unaware of trickle-down poverty created to protect the 1 percent. Advocates from diverse organizations holding tag-lined signs announcing their needs. Sufferers of injustice waiting to voice their plight and call for change from their elected leaders. You move toward those most vulnerable, most abandoned, most battered and with deep humility seek to harmonize with their cries. The reign of God is here.
Imagine you are sitting in your community room watching the national news. What do you see? Immigrants scaling dividing walls, running from billy clubs of intolerance, and seeking a cactus with which to cower and hide. Graphics of escalating lines revealing opioid addictions as epidemic. Political wrangling confirming that the bar of decency, integrity, and truth is despairingly low. Youth seeking peace and safety in their schools, yet resisted by constitutional purists. The stranger saving a child from flooded streets, only to lose his life from a felled tree. In 25 minutes you see anguish, futility, violence, courage and hope. You now close your eyes and hold it all before our living God. Do not look to the sky. For it is through us, with us and in us that the Spirit will bring about the fullness of God’s reign where all will be whole. We only have here and now. Can you not see it?
In order to make life decisions with God’s help, we need to learn to dialogue with God about the things in life that matter most to us. By developing intimacy with God through prayer, our ability to share life with God grows slowly and steadily. Praying with Scripture is foundational to this growth in intimacy with God.
In my own journey of developing an intimacy with God, I benefited greatly from a book by two Jesuit priests, Dennis and Matthew Lynn, called Healing Life’s Hurts. Using St. Ignatius of Loyola’s prayer of imagination with Scripture, I learned how to identify imaginatively with different figures in Scripture who might be feeling the same negative emotions I was feeling. I then learned how to encounter Jesus in this prayer and experience his response to me.
So in my anger and resentment, as though with stone in hand ready to punish the one who hurt me, I hear Jesus saying, “You who are without sin may cast the first stone” (Jn 8:7). Or to overcome with my fear of failing, as if I am about to go overboard in the storm at sea, I hear Jesus saying, “Get hold of yourself. It is I. Do not be afraid” (Mt 14:27). Or in my guilt and remorse, I find myself as the penitent woman washing Jesus’ feet with my tears and drying them with my hair, and I hear Jesus saying, “Your sins are forgiven …Your faith has been your salvation. Now go in peace” (Lk 7:48-50).
Through such encounters with the living Word, I began to realize that the Bible included me. The biblical story and our story become one story that mediates God’s unconditional love for us! As St. John of the Cross so beautifully states it, “The gospel has eyes – the eyes I so long for. The gospel has eyes; they reach to the heart and change it.”
Does your spirituality include praying with Scripture? Have you experienced God relating to you through the biblical story? What are some of the different ways in which you have grown in your intimacy with God?
There are times when we absolutely have to die to find new life, and this is something we resist. Because discernment involves the difficult task of making life-changing decisions, we are forced to let go of some possibilities in order to open ourselves to new and abundant life. Here is just a small sampling of death-to-new-life choices we are called to make on our journey of discernment.
The death we may need to embrace might be deciding to quit a secure, high-paying job in order to commit ourselves wholeheartedly to the work we love and that uses our talents and strengths to the fullest.
It may mean taking the courageous step of finally ending a relationship that has proved to be a dead end so we can be free to pursue more life-giving relationships.
It may require that we die to an addiction that binds our freedom to be truly intimate with others and to experience the fullness of life in all its joys and sorrows.
If we come from a home with some troubling family dynamics, it may mean finally leaving home by doing the inner work necessary to release and integrate the painful feelings of grief, fear, and anger. Only through this kind of death, will we be able to experience the new life that comes from our ability to trust self and others.
All these choices require dying a death, which is frightening. It seems so much easier to hold on to what we know, even when what we know is killing us. The death and resurrection dynamic, however, gives us the hope that strengthens us to do what must be done.*
What death-to-new-life decision might you be wrestling with? Do you have a spiritual director, counselor, or trusted guide who will gently nudge you toward the death you need to die?
*See Thomas Hart, “Toward a Life-Giving Christian Spirituality: Ten Guiding Principles,” Presence, Vol. 23, No.3, September, 2017.
If you are going to make it through the birth canal, baby girl, you need to change your direction. I hate to tell you this, but you are going the wrong way! Your twin sister has already left the womb. She was positioned headfirst and made it out with no problems. Since you are positioned feet first, you have a more complicated assignment. Don’t panic! I made you resilient and adaptable. Help is on the way. A female doctor with small hands is reaching in as we speak. Her gentle touch is encouraging you to make a somersault and head out in the right direction. Ah! There you go! You did it! Welcome to the world!
As you may have guessed, I was a breech birth — born one hour after my twin sister. Back in the 1950s, breech births were a threat to the life of both the baby and the mother. So, first of all, I feel blessed to be alive. The story of my birth, however, speaks an urgent message: new life demands necessary change! Hard fought effort on our part is required. God takes the lead and shows us the way.
Here is where discernment steps in. We need to decide when change is a good thing. Change for change’s sake, chasing every new experience for the excitement and pleasure of novelty, or running away from healthy commitments do not equal healthy, life-giving change in our lives. If God is calling us to make a change for the better, it is usually because we are beginning to experience a failure to thrive in some important area of our lives. Like me in the womb; I had to make a change in order to experience new life.
Are you heeding the call to healthy change in your life? Do you believe you can make the necessary changes with the help of God and others?
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Get out your bell-bottoms and platform shoes, because DISCO is here!
Okay, so it's a little less dancing, a little more talking... Sisters Lorraine Réaume, OP, and Sara Fairbanks, OP, have a new video series called DISCO (Discernment Conversations): Dancing with the questions of life!