Ping! is not how my priest friend describes it. It doesn’t quite capture my sense of the Spirit’s subtle influence either. Maybe it’s a bit too frivolous. But it’s close.
Many believers think of a well-formed conscience in terms of avoiding sin. And certainly, steering ourselves away from moral transgression, mortal, venial, serious, not-so-serious, or whatever is an important part of our Christian formation.
Lately, I’ve been thinking of conscience formation not only in terms of avoiding sin. And also not only in terms of doing good deeds. But I’m looking for the more subtle and mysterious. I’ve been more conscious of it since I was sent home from reconciliation a number of years ago after confessing a sin against my family.
My confessor told me that for my penance, I would need to listen carefully to God. And that over the next twenty-four hours, it would be made obvious what I needed to do as an act of satisfaction.
Curious, I thought. But I can go with this. So I spent the next few minutes on the way home thinking about it. And wouldn’t you know, over the next day, I was urged not once, but seven times to do small acts of kindness. Something popped into my head–getting a glass of milk for the young miss, running an errand for my wife, putting in a load of laundry, and a few other things I’ve forgotten. Indeed, by lunchtime the next day I stopped keeping track. And when I walked to the grocery store two blocks away, I found a shopping cart halfway there on the roadside near an apartment complex.
Ping! get that cart.
Unping, what if someone sees me and gets the wrong idea that I borrowed the cart and I’m bringing it back?
Ping! take the cart back anyway.
I admit that my rational, American, scientifically-trained self was amazed by this experience. So I did the best rational thing I knew to do. I kept looking for the Ping!
My priest friend has told me one or two amazing stories about responding to that
Ping! nudge. I’ve talked to him about it a few times since. He gets the big events that leave no doubt. I think I’m okay with the small stories. I’ve even asked God not (necessarily) to show me the results of the Ping! An illustration …
One of my pet peeves is getting lost in the car. Or even missing a turn. Several wrong turns ago–maybe two or three years–I asked myself why I was getting so upset. Really: I’ve been driving a car for twenty-five years and I’ve only gotten into one serious accident (and thank God, no injuries). I’ve seen accidents unfold in front of me–some avoided, and some mishaps like seeing the car passing me on a snowy interstate spin off into the ditch. Maybe it was a more subtle ping that nudged me on a different road, a different path to take. Maybe I saved my family and myself from something more dangerous by going a route I hadn’t intended to drive. I realized I didn’t need to scan the internet headlines the next day for an accident on, say, US 30 that I missed. I can go with the subtle, small things. Plus, it makes for a calmer, more cheerful disposition for driving and for conversations in the car.
Anyone hear that Ping! lately?
He said, “Go out and stand on the mountain before the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Now there was a great wind, so strong that it was splitting mountains and breaking rocks in pieces before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a sound of sheer silence. When Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. (1 Kings 19:11-13a)
This is wonderful, thank you.
I work 5 confirmation retreats a year, and one of the things I do is a Creed session that helps the kids (10th graders) think about what they believe. The first one was this past Sunday, and we ended up getting into the Holy Spirit; this has come up before, but never like with these 3 groups of 20 kids each – and it was consistent with their lack of understanding, as well as some kind of belief. To many of them, they can “see” God and/or Jesus, but not the Spirit.
Since then, I’ve been thinking about how to approach this. Your post, perhaps as a “Ping” of my own, is offering me some excellent food for thought.
I’m not sure how people are supposed to form their consciences. I use an Ignatian kind of prayer – I imagine I’m with Jesus and I talk to him about the stuff I’m unsure of, trying to be as honest as possible, and then trying to hear what he has to say in response. It’s hard for me to do the listening part, but sometimes what he says does seem ping-like.