in to God
issue carries an
Archdiocese of Cincinnati.
grew up hearing
the story of a man who visited the church each weekday just for a minute.
He would drive into the parking lot, then walk into the church alone,
always at a time when no Mass was scheduled. The pastor, who had never
seen the fellow in the Sunday congregation, found the behavior curious.
One day, he couldn't resist asking, "What do you do there so quickly?"
The man replied, "I just say, 'Lord, it's Jim,' then I wait a minute
and leave." Every day for several weeks afterward, the pastor noticed
Jim's visitations. One day Jim left the church elated. "What's up?"
the pastor asked. "Today, my prayer was answered," he replied. "As I
was waiting, I heard a voice say, 'Jim, it's the Lord."'
Although quite limited
in its approach to the church, this story contains much Scripturebased
wisdom. It illustrates that God hears and answers prayer, addresses
us in our own language and calls us by name; that persistence is rewarded;
that eloquence isn't necessary; and that some peopleeven those
not publicly practicing a common faithlong for a personal experience
of God, which God honors. In the story, Jim's longing for God is vital
to his emerging spiritual life.
What I find appealing
is not only the story's simplicity, but also its irony, once it has
been situated in the Church's teaching about the Holy Spirit and the
workings of God.
Jim's habit of putting
himself in the presence of God is so simple that anyone anywhere could
take it up. The practice itself is inspired: Jim attends regularly to
his interior hunger for God. Because something about the Church has
attracted Jim, it will gradually, one would hope, draw him deeply into
its spiritual life. The Holy Spirit that ignited the Church at Pentecost
ignites and guides it still.
A beginner, Jim stands
at step one in a lifelong process of discovering the Spirit. From Jim's
point of view, he is faithful to his self-prescribed discipline of checking
in with God whether God "answers" him or not.
The story's irony is that
God is already present with Jim, has been since the first day of his
existence and will be into eternity. Although Jim gives God a moment
of his time, God hasn't missed a single moment of Jim's entire life!
God has attended and been present to Jim's every need, hurt, success
and failure. God has initiated the brief conversation described in the
story, even though it isn't told that way. As the story ends, Jim has
consciously "discovered" that he is in relationship with God.
Spirituality refers to
one's conscious relationship with God. For us Catholics, it refers to
the way we exercise our Christianity, our discipleship. Spirituality
is our lifestyle in its broadest sense, affecting everything we do and
all we are. Nothingnot our family, not our job, not our intellectual
life, not our sexual life, not our political or civic life, not our
social life, and not our interior prayer or religious lifeis left
out of it.
We are not the only people
with a spirituality, yet the Christian view of Godhence of the
worldis unique. We believe that in Jesus, God became one of us,
entered human history and became subject to life on a human scale. With
the resurrection of Jesus, something momentous happened. Using poetry,
we tell the mysterious truth that God "broke the bonds of death." Since
then, nothing has been the same. All creation has been caught up in
the Spirit's transforming power. It moves among us. All creation is
being made new, recreated: Send us your Spirit and renew the face of
the earth. We who have been baptized into Christ's death and resurrection
are called to be caught up in the Spirit's dynamic work as wellconsciously,
to the Spirit
How do we open ourselves
to the Spirit, who is already at work in us and in our world? It may
seem elementary or even homey, but I take a "stop, look and listen"
Most of us would admit that sometimes our lives do, indeed, move too
fast, at a pace quickened by the complexities of modern life. As moderns,
we consciously inhabit several worlds at once: the wide, multicultural,
multilingual world of nations and peoples; the closer world of people
and events in our neighborhoods, offices and homes; and the interior
world of the selfconscious and unconscious.
Experience and reason
tell us that we must willfully put a brake on our frenetic thoughts,
preoccupations and activities if we are to attend to the things of the
Spirit. Those of us with bulging dayplanners and heavily booked calendars
need particularly good brakes if we are to grow spiritually. When we
don't slow down, we may have difficulty experiencing God. Even if we
religiously appear for Mass, we may have trouble "attending" to it.
It isn't that God can't
keep up with us, of course. St. Paul credits God with knocking him to
the ground, an act that slowed him down so that he could then experience
"firsthand" the risen Christ. Paul's dramatic conversion came only after
he stopped galloping around. Speed presents no obstacle to God, but
a purposeful downshifting can predispose us to attend to God already
in our midst.
The braking techniquebe
it deep breathing, slow walking, meditating, contemplating, taking a
vacation, serving soup at the homeless shelter, jogging, adoring Christ
in the Eucharist or making an extended retreatisn't the most important
issue. Paying attention is. Whenever we slow down, time cooperates,
seemingly stretching out and unfolding before us, lingering with us
rather than running away from us. Choosing to slow down in order to
pay attention to God is the prequel to the spiritual life.
Being open to the Spirit requires observation skills. Where is the Spiritin
me, my family, my workplace, my neighborhood, the period of history
in which I live? To answer, one has to be able to see who and where
one is. A close look might raise difficult questions: Where is the Spirit
in my quarreling family? in my failures, doldrums or successes on the
job? in my inadequacies and strengths as a spouse, parent, sibling,
friend? Whom do I leave out of my circle? Who stands on the fringes
of my life? Who is the stranger, the needy, the naked, the imprisoned
closest to me? Spirituality starts with reality.
In the Bronx area of New
York, members of the contemplative branch of Mother Teresa's Missionaries
of Charity take daily "contemplative walks." Stepping over broken glass
and refuse littering the neighborhood, they look at the burned-out shells
of buildings around them, pay attention to any and all people they see,
take in all the tragic sights and malodorous smells of the blighted
area where they live. They see all that and more. Theirs isn't a cloistered
walk but it is contemplative, for as they walk they see where the Spirit
isand is notpresent in their streets. Spirituality isn't
otherworldly. It is this world God created, loved, lived in and died
for, not some other more perfect one.
attention. It isn't a religious skill per se, but developing
attentiveness can have profound implications for one's spiritual life.
Test your senses, for example. If you want to know how well you listen,
think of someone whose remarks you might be tempted to dismiss (perhaps
someone a rung or two below you at work or someone who interrupted you).
Ask yourself: What did he/she just say? If you come up blank or have
only half the story, you need to improve your listening.
One's ability to see can
also be tested and improved. While on a weeklong walk across Fngland
with my godson Peter, I tried to share with him my own way of taking
in and remembering a scene. First, I look at the place with concentration,
taking in the smells, sounds, colors and shapes. Then I close my eyes,
letting those same sensations arise in my mind's eye. If anything comes
out a blur or a blank, I open my eyes again and look more closely at
that part, and try it again. On a particular mountaintop where parts
of our view were shrouded in fog, Peter and I attempted this technique
several times, trying to drink in the scene, giving ourselves an interior
keepsake. (Drawing is another way of sharpening one's observation skillsregardless
of artistic talent.)
As Christians, the Spirit
calls us to pay attention to the larger world around us, to what we
read in the newspaper, for example, bringing our concerns about the
people and places in the news into our prayer and parish communities.
begins from wherever we are and can penetrate the deepest core of our
being. One can and should read what the Bible and the spiritual masters
say about prayer. Nothing, however, can substitute for actually praying.
Knowing about God is not the same as having a relationship with God.
If you regularly attend Sunday Mass, you already are spending an hour
each week "at prayer." Do you make the most of it? Are you able to add
your personal petitions to those of the whole parish and pray for them
all? Do you pray by actively participatingsinging with a full
heart, listening, observing and giving inner assent to the words, gestures
and actions of the Mass? Do you observe the silences in the Mass, or
take a moment before or after to be still before God?
At home, do you "say grace"
before meals? Too often, this is a perfunctory prayer, but it need not
be. Certain times each day lend themselves to prayer: morning (waking)
and evening (bedtime), commuting, the major entrances and exits of family
off to work/school and home again, and odd times spent waiting (at the
doctor's/dentist's office). It takes only a moment to lay one's hand
on one's spouse each night and utter a simple blessing: "May God bless
you, watch over your going and coming, your waking and sleeping, and
grant you joy and peace."
If you have more time,
the parish can assist you with prayer groups, devotions, seasonal prayer
times and periods of reflection, and resources on prayerfrom books
and newsletters to featured speakers and retreats. You may also want
to inquire about spiritual direction. Meeting with a trained spiritual
guide regularly can help you see and articulate where the Spirit is
at work in your life.
growth in holiness
Evaluate the fruits of
your efforts. The Spirit's gifts, presence and transforming work are
always for the sake of all. So must our Christian spirituality be for
the benefit of all. By trying habitually to open ourselves to the Spirit
alive in our world, we put our faith at the center of our lives, we
make it a life-style. Over time, we begin to take on God's likeness
inasmuch as we are able. We grow in holiness.
The fruits of the Spirit
mentioned in Galatians 5:22love, joy, peace, patience, kindness,
generosity, trustworthiness, tenderness and self-controlare a
good standard against which to measure oneself. We should ask ourselves:
Am I improving in any of these qualities? Where do I seem least to exhibit
the fruits of the Spirit? Reflect on your behavior at work and at home.
Reflect on your various rolescitizen, neighbor, spouse, parent,
parishioner, alumnus/a, team/club member and so on. Ask: How am I open
to the Spirit in each of these roles? Do I bring my experience of the
Spirit to all areas of my life?
When you are finished,
thank the Spirit for your strengths and fruits; ask for help in your
weaknesses. Above all, keep opening yourself to the Spirit who works
Karen Sue Smith is the editor of Church magazine, a publication
of the National Pastoral Life Center in New York City.
Robert Ellsberg has always been a searcher. As a youngster
growing up in the Episcopal Church in California, he felt deeply
engaged by the gospel. Simply going to church on Sunday was
not enough. He felt "called to discipleship" in some overt way.
Over the years, he found ways to answer the call and continue
the search for a deeper relationship with God. After a period
of disenchantment with the organized Church during the Vietnam
War, he became part of the Catholic Worker in New York. There
he found a community of people "radically living out the demands
of the gospel" and converted to Catholicism. Now 42 and editor-in-chief
at Orbis Books in Maryknoll, New York, he is still engaged in
But, says the husband and father of three, God invites all
of us on that same quest: "Deep inside of us is a sense of longing,
of incompleteness" and a desire "to find our home in the world.
There is always a consistent lure that draws us deeper," and
that lure is God "inviting us to be more like Jesus."
To help himself and others on the journey, Mr. Ellsberg spent
one-and-a-half years writing All Saints: Daily Refiections
on Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time. Published
in 1997 by Crossroad, the book offers a combination of the expected
and unexpected. Included are people the Church has long recognized
as among its holiest members: mystics, monks, martyrs, popes.
Standing beside them are some surprising candidates: Johann
Sebastian Bach, composer; Rabbi Abraham Heschel, philosopher;
Sojourner Truth, abolitionist preacher; Anne Frank, "witness
of the Holocaust"; Father John LaFarge, champion of interracial
They intentionally represent a wide array of humanity, Mr.
Ellsberg acknowledges. For him, saints are not "finished products"
whose struggles bear little resemblance to our own. They are,
he told Millennium Monthly, "flesh-and-blood people"
whose lives are filled with "struggle, trial and error." But
ultimately, their lives are filled with action on behalf of
Mr. Ellsberg dedicates his book to his children in the hope
that "they learn to draw light from these holy lives and so
become a source of light for others." Indeed, that is his wish
for all people ready "to take the harder path, not just what
by Judy Ball
lsrael is rolling out the welcome mat for pilgrims visiting
the land of Jesus' birth in connection with the third millennium.
The Ministry of Tourism is hoping to develop sites for visitors
in Jerusalem such as the Valley of the Kings, which includes
the City of David, the Lion's Gate, the area around the Garden
of Gethsemane and the Gihon Spring. Special efforts are also
being made to illuminate several of Jerusalem's distinctive
buildings, including the dome of the Holy Sepulcher. A new four-lane
thoroughfare will allow pilgrims to reach Bethlehem by skirting
the busy streets of Jerusalem.
The official logo for the year 2000 in Jerusalem was unveiled
at a recent ceremony in front of the walls of the Old City.
The work of an Israeli graphic designer, the logo includes the
number 2000 in the shape of a dove and the word "peace" written
in Hebrew, Arabic and English.
Speaking to those assembled for the ceremony, Shabtai Shay,
senior deputy director of the Israeli Ministry of Tourism, emphasized
the Christian focus that will be placed on celebrations for
the year 2000. Decisions about which events to organize are
in the hands of various local churches, particularly the Catholic