Yesterday afternoon as I wandered through the O'Malley Building at John Carroll University, it occurred to me that it has been nearly ten years since I was a member of one of the small groups sitting in a lounge area there, deep in a class discussion on spirituality and narrative.
I didn't know it then, but that class, taught by Howard Gray, S.J., which I was taking for a master's degree in Humanities (ultimately to be abandoned for an M.Div. instead), was my introduction to Ignatian spirituality. I don't think that Ignatius was ever explicitly mentioned in that course, but now that I've known Howard for a decade, I know that we were soaking in Ignatian spirituality as we discussed Flannery O'Connor and William Shakespeare. Howard is one of the world's foremost interpreters and teachers of all things Ignatian, and his love of literature is almost equally renowned. I have a degree in English literature from an Ivy League university, but I don't think I've ever had a better course in that field than the one for which I had signed up quite by accident in 2003.
I was at John Carroll yesterday to meet with someone who is just finishing up his year with the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises ~ a year of weekly meetings in which he tells me what's going on in his life of prayer and his relationship with God, and I offer some suggestions for the next week. I guess it's been seven years since Howard was the director and I was the directee, and it was May, and I had decided to go to seminary, and there was a family of young foxes growing up in the cemetery where I walk, and life was shimmering with loveliness and possibility ~ and so what with my own directee coming to the end of his year, and my memories of those years past and all that has intervened, I was feeling rather melancholy, in a Romantic sort of way.
And then I sat down with my directee and was moved almost to tears as he began to reflect over the past year. Sometimes it seems almost unbearably fragile and beautiful, those moments in which you brush against another's encounter with God.
I was also struck by the unexpectedness of, well, all of it. I've never lost the sense of wonder that I, a Protestant, should have encountered Ignatian spirituality through a Jesuit so devoted to his tradition and so gifted in sharing it. And yesterday afternoon, that sense of wonder seemed to ripple a little further outward, as I, that Protestant, moved toward the final days of sharing the Exercises with a man whose faith is generally other than Christian.
For me, in particular, someone whose faith has been so sorely tried in the past few years, someone who has experienced God so much more in God's absence and silence than in any other form, someone who has had great reason to believe that she could never do this work ~ yes, it does cause me to wipe my eyes a bit, when another person entrusts me with the story of God in his life.
It looks so ordinary: two people sitting in an empty office in a university itself largely emptied of students, engaged in quiet conversation.
It's so wonderful. Wonder-filled with not a small bit of awe tossed in.