Space and the Spirit

It’s no big mystery how the name of this blog came to be. Experience has taught me that it’s impossible to say anything about the spiritual life unless the Spirit itself, this wonderful Muse, dictates it.

So for now, I remain spiritually locked up until the now-distant Spirit decides to let me in on a personal secret or two that I can write about.

These days I ask myself: why has my “inspiration” dried up? Surely I must be doing something wrong. I don’t think I’m alone in typically blaming myself first for anything that seems to go wrong in my spiritual life. But then, as soon as I think or write those self-defeating words, the questions start. Why is something “wrong” just because it’s different from what I was feeling and experiencing just a short time ago? Why is change “wrong”? Where is it written that I must be continually overflowing with ideas, sentiments or (heaven forgive me!) insights?

Because I’ve been given the kind of temperament that looks for reasons, I start looking for them. When I first started writing posts, I saw them as a sharing of graces given. Except for the editing, they rolled almost effortlessly out of reflections on scriptural passages, or from situations in my life. Can I blame the dry spell on the season’s imprisoning weather? Not really. Can it be because I’m sharing deeper conversation with friends and am somewhat used up by talking, instead of filled up by silence? I’d like the inspiration to stay strong. I don’t like the sensation of being dropped, as it were – dropped by the Spirit simply because I may have temporarily diverted my attention. That can’t be the reason.

No. I think this “dry spell” has actually become something to write about. There’s a different kind of lesson here. God is not all around me just for my entertainment, or just for handing out goodies that make me feel privileged to share.

Recently, as I was in my living room, pondering this question and attempting what I sometimes think of as prayer, my eyes wandered to the various pieces of art on my walls. Each is different. Each hangs alone, separated from the others by varying degrees of space. They’re not all hung, one right next to the other. What a disturbing and disagreeable effect that would have on anyone in the room! The violent ocean scene would be scrunched up next to the serene French village next to the embroidered sampler next to my parents’ wedding photo, and so forth. Ancient Latin used to be written like that, without spaces or punctuation. The sentence I just wrote would have looked like this:
ancientlatinusedtobewrittenlikethatwithoutspacesorpunctuation

You get the idea. The perceived emptiness of space is necessary and inevitable. The space we perceive as “emptiness” must exist if we are to find meaning in what emerges from within that space. We can’t appreciate what is until we notice and appreciate what isn’t. I suspect that the emptiness I’m experiencing now is not really space or absence or emptiness, but some thing that’s just different, an entity in its own right.

Each of us is separated from one another. And though we often feel that space between us and God is infinite, it is the miracle of love that moves us to bridge that space and, in fact, to ultimately succeed in finding an undreamed-of unity. For God is even in emptiness. All I have to do is keep my eye on that space and continue my spiritual practices with gratitude.

Finding God Where??

Sundays are special. Sure, it’s about going to Mass which is special since I see a greater number of people there than I do at a week-day Mass. The church looks and sounds livelier too on a Sunday. The singing has obviously been practiced and goes smoothly, though we’ve lately had the benefit of very beautiful and calming piano music at the weekday services.

So I see a lot of folks I know, and many more I don’t know, all of whom seem nevertheless to be acquainted, drawn together by a single motive – but I’ll get to that later.

The other part of Sunday that makes it special is that I often go to the supermarket after Mass. [I think I’m allowed to say it’s most often Wegman’s.] It’s usually quite crowded during the post-church hours, so again it’s a real community time.

I have yet to meet anyone crabby at the supermarket. You’d think there would be a few – especially the parents who are trying to keep two or three young-uns from fanning out from one end of the aisle to the other. (Oh yes, I remember that time of my life!) Or maybe there could be some exasperated sighs as a shopper discovers that they’ve rearranged some of the products.   No, instead just about everyone is ready to step from the middle to the side of an aisle, or to move their cart to let you pass, or to adjust calmly to the new marketing design.

I’m a special needs shopper, being “vertically challenged” and needing someone to reach the skim milk that’s on the top shelf of the dairy case. It might have bothered me a very little bit the first time I had to ask for help, but now it’s no problem at all. I simply watch for someone who’s taller than I – which includes 99.99% of the people in the store – put on what I hope is a confident smile, and fire away. Invariably, the person I ask responds with a ready and even pleased demeanor, as if I’m doing him or her a favor.

On one occasion (at Weis’s this time) a family of visiting Spaniards was at check-out and asked the rest of us where would be a good place to have a picnic lunch. A flurry of suggestions were offered but eventually there was a consensus to refer them to Eldridge Park. Everyone started giving directions (and I could picture them trying to remember all the turns they’d have to make, and unsuccessfully navigating one-way streets), until one gentleman said, “Wait five minutes till I check out and I’ll lead you there.”

I was once in the position to offer help to a shopper in a wheel chair. There’s not much you can reach from a wheel chair. The woman thanked me but declined my offer. Instead, she somehow got a conversation going about the Lord. “Are you saved?” she asked, point blank.

“Yes, I am!” I responded with total assurance. (This was no place, after all, for a theological discussion.) I suppose I could have guessed that she’d then proceed to the next step. “May I pray with you?” and I consented.

A bit surprising. After all, she was the “disabled” person here. But on the other hand, maybe she saw my height as a condition more disabling than her own. Or perhaps . . . Oh, who knows what prompts a person to share God with another, even a stranger (in a public place, no less!)­.

In the Vatican II era we used to call these kinds of events “encounters.” For me, they extend the Mass experience: People forming a bond of sorts, coming together to be fed; being helpful, kind and giving to one another; serving others, even strangers; teaching the Gospel without quoting from it.

We’ve gotten so that we think being holy (ooh, that word!) consists of going around kissing lepers or being martyred. Thank God he hasn’t made it that difficult for almost all of us, for it’s these small, do-able acts of kindness that express an everyday holiness, that create true joy in our lives and the lives of our fellow humans whom we don’t even know.

And even when we arrive at check-out, we are sent on our way with a cheerful benediction: “Have a nice day!”

Translation: Go in peace to love and serve the Lord in one another.

Finding God Where???

Last week, I was drawn to think about our animal brethren and how Christ used them as examples to follow. Think of it: creatures we consider far below us — certainly as far as intelligence is concerned. But Jesus found them worth our study.

This week, I’m focusing on the animals we bring indoors to become members of our family. We don’t refer to ourselves as pet “owners” but as pet “lovers” and caretakers. Often enough, however, it’s the other way around.

Since God is everywhere, it follows as night the day that anyone who has ever loved and cared for a pet can learn something God-like in the relationship between humans and pets. Ignatian spirituality teaches the practice of finding God in all things, and I’m suggesting that this can include our pets – preferably furry ones.

Yes, I’m serious: pet lovers are likely to be at an advantage in understanding divine love.

Now wait, isn’t that a stretch? What about meaningful relationships with humans? Sure, but you must admit that they’re frequently more difficult to love than pets. Do let me continue.

Let’s look at the world and its humans. What would an alien think if he/she/it were to land squarely in the middle of the typical living room? The TV blares, showing police cars racing after perps, sirens screeching. What about the many mug shots on the nightly news, people photographed at their worst? There’s a hopelessness there, and maybe no remorse. [We won’t even mention the political news.] From what the visiting alien sees of planet Earth, its inhabitants don’t seem to like one another.

But now let’s suppose the alien arrives in the living room of a pet owner. It’s late afternoon. The daddy is stretched out on the sofa, relaxing after his day of bringing order out of chaos. By his side is this strong, furry dog, breathing a sense of “all’s right with the world; you’re OK here.” You can practically see the smile on his face as he adoringly guards his sleeping friend.

Or, the kitty you’ve just finished scolding for knocking over a plant, or boldly sitting on a forbidden piece of furniture. Sure you’re annoyed. But at the same time, you’re amused and maybe even secretly proud of her because, after all, she’s acting like a cat! Which is what she should be doing, just as we ought to act like the human beings God intended us to be.

Here, then, are these two pets: one projecting the strength, care and fidelity of God Himself. The other, loved and admired in spite of her naughtiness, just as God loves us in spite of (or maybe even because of) our human failings.

Pet companions are shining examples of unconditional love, given and received.

Yes, Fido had an accident on the carpet. Maybe you made him wait too long? Yes, Fifi woke you up, meowing loudly, at 3 in the morning. Well, she is a nocturnal creature, you know. And even after we scold them roundly, they don’t hold it against us. No grudging, no judging.

I’m just saying: when we, like Ignatius, talk about finding God in all things, one of the easiest places in the world is in the behavior of the pets we’ve been given. Thank God for them!