If you spend much time around the Jesuits, you will hear them speak of gift & grace. They have come to understand that all of life is either gift or grace.
The Jesuits, or “the Society of Jesus” is a Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers founded half a millennium ago by the soldier-turned-mystic Ignatius Loyola.
Jesuits seek to “find God in all things.” They are dedicated to the “greater glory of God” and the good of all humanity. Jesuits draw upon the rich tradition of Ignatian spirituality and reflection.
Contemplatives in Action
To be clear, I do not consider myself an expert on Jesuit thought or life. I do know that when I spend time with my Jesuit brothers I am challenged, and my faith is deepened. What attracts me to their specific “brand” of mystic theology is that while the focus begins with gaining a deeper understanding of and relationship with God it does not end there. Jesuits do not retreat from the world to “navel gaze” and simply deepen their walk with God. They “aim to be ‘contemplatives in action,’ people who bring this spirituality into the wide world.”
During this last trip to the Jesuit Center I realized that pieces of my personal vision statement could have been written by a Jesuit priest.
My Vision Statement
Success is continuing to allow the Spirit of God to work in my life, maturing and shaping the person I am becoming, all the while remaining sensitive and responsive to the leading of the Spirit…
Success is helping people encounter Jesus in the midst of their everyday lives…
Success is gathering a people who have experienced the transforming power of Jesus Christ in their lives and joining together, working to transform tired, weary institutions into energized, mission focused fellowships passionate about sharing Christ with the world.
I wrote that vision statement long before I started hanging out with Jesuits. There is something deep and profound about purposefully seeking God in silence and retreat to then share what you have learned with the world around you. The rhythms of such a life seem to mirror the way Jesus walked and moved. Times apart, times of quiet, seeking to simply be with and experience the presence of Abba Father. These seasons of retreat led to action where “captives where set free.” I must admit, this way of living is very attractive to me.
Finding God in all things
In Jesuit thought all of life can be put into one of two categories, gift or grace.
All of life is a gift from God. Everything, the good, the bad, and the ugly. We are to respond to the gift of life, all of it, in grace.
When good things happen in life we often view them as gifts from God. The good report from the doctor. Our boss gives us a raise. A holiday where the whole family gathers together for a time of celebration. We rejoice over the birth of a healthy child. Our missing car keys or wallet are found. The sunrise or sunset is especially beautiful and leads us to spend a few minutes admiring the beauty of God’s creation. The community we worship with has one of those times when it is clear the Spirit is present, worship draws us closer to God.
In times like these we find it easy to see events as gifts from God. The good often comes as we have been praying for a blessing in our lives. The connection between our prayers and the blessings makes it easy for us to see the good as gifts from God.
There are rumors that your place of work may be downsizing. Your car must go in for unexpected repairs and the bill is more than you can handle right now. The flu. Your family beach vacation is plagued with days of rain. Conflict develops between friends and you find yourself right in the middle of it. The doctor wants to order more tests, “just in case.” Aging parents mean you shift into the role of caregiver.
What was that thing last week that added stress to life? Most likely it would fall into the “bad” category. The Bad, just like the Good, is a gift from God. All of life is a gift from God.
Ok, I am going to need you to stick with me on this one. The very idea that the ugliest parts of life can be seen as a gift from God is challenging.
You begin a normal day of work and end up leaving early with a pink slip. Grief begins to swirl around as you learn of a loved one’s passing. The doctor has test results and the news is not good. Finances have become so tight that you begin to worry about losing your home. Your time of unemployment keeps stretching on and on…there feels as if there is no hope. A child rebels and is now addicted to drugs. Cancer.
The very thing that causes you to freeze. That thing which sometimes makes it hard to get out of bed in the morning. Yes, those very ugly, nasty, make my life miserable things are a gift from God.
We experience the grace of Ignatian gift and grace when we surrender. When we let go and trust that God loves us and will always be with us.
Grace is what allows us to move through the good, bad, and the ugly with a sense of peace. Jesus talked of a peace that the world would simply not understand. A peace that even during the ugliest of the uglies God would not leave us stranded and alone.
Paul spoke of it this way in Romans 8:
What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long;
we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”
No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
My indoor water element
Sunday night I was sitting in my living room as my day wound down. I was preparing myself, mind and spirit for the next days chemo treatment. Outside it was pouring rain. The kind of down pour where you worry about roads washing out, hills eroding and such.
Suddenly, I heard the unmistakable sound of running water. Moving into the kitchen I saw a waterfall coming from our skylight. Not dripping but pouring into my home. Forming a lake on my floor, running down the ceiling and onto the wall.
This was bad quickly heading toward ugly.
“Grace says I surrender.” This is all in God’s control. He will not leave me nor forsake me. “This, even this is a gift from God.” Somewhere in there I muttered a few words wondering if I was ever going to catch a break.
Sitting in my chair, listening to water collect in the trash can I texted a friend who does home repair. He will be out later the next day.
Monday evening, he arrives. In a few short minutes he has identified the problem and is fixing it.
The gift revealed
After the work is done we spend time talking about life, ministry and how God is moving in our lives. We are going to have coffee in the next week or so to truly catch up and share a little of life. I was truly blessed by our interaction. He used his God given talents to serve the need of someone else.
What was a slow (hidden) leak was identified and fixed before it could do much damage.
That bad thing, which was quickly headed toward ugly, well God redeemed and transformed it into something good.
All of life is gift. Do I have the faith to believe and live as if that is true?
The change is not in the events of life. The rollercoaster still rolls on. There are ups, downs, twists and turns. What changes is the way I interpret them. The struggles are not things to fight against, things to overcome or defeat. They are new moments for me to see God at work in my life and world.
All of life is gift. Do I have the faith to trust and experience the grace of letting go and truly trusting that God loves me and will always be with me?
The Ugly C
I was diagnosed with cancer in spring of 2016. All of life is gift.
It took some time, lots of time for me to begin to see the gift of cancer. Let me share with you just a few thoughts.
God has used my cancer to clarify what it means to truly live. These past few years have been some of the best lived years of my life. I am hopeful for many more, yet I am thankful for the quality of these past few.
Monday, I had to receive chemo in a different facility because the doctor and I had scheduling issues. While I was getting chemo my regular nurses from my normal treatment center were texting my nurses for the day. They were checking on me and playfully asking why I had abandoned them. The friendship and support was there even though we were not near each other. These people have become friends. Friends I am glad to know. Friends I would never have met save for my cancer. We are planning my 50th birthday party for one of my chemo days, it is going to be a blowout.
My relationship with Nancy is stronger now than it has ever been.
These past few years my relationship with God has grown and deepened. I have learned what it means to trust, to truly trust in midst of chaos and difficulty. As I have walked this journey Abba Father has shown me grace and allowed me to know a strength that is not my own. Growing in my ability to trust and surrender has allowed me to see blessings in all of life and to experience glimmers of the “peace that passes all understanding.”
I do not pretend to fully understand nor live every moment of life aware of “gift” and “grace.” There are moments when life presses in and down upon me in such a way that I lose sight of these deeper realities.
My prayer is that in each day I will learn to move aware of the gift and grace available to me.