In the second week of the online Ignatian retreat, we are advised to probe more deeply into our stories of faith. It has been a rich experience thus far, unearthing old episodes in my life and looking a bit more deeply into them. I was amazed last week that even before my baptism I saw the hand of God at work–the Spirit prompting me on a way of peace and reconciliation long before I was more consciously aware of the presence of God.
The “free book table” in the parish library had Jim Martin’s biography In Good Company. I picked it up, mainly to browse it and hand it on to a young man I know who is considering priesthood. In bed last night I read the first half of the book before I realized it was well past midnight and way beyond my usual bedtime.
Contrast that to a well-regarded fantasy novel I picked up at the library the other week. Ten days of reading what has been a well-written novel, but not very engaging. I’ve been reading a dozen to twenty pages a night, but I haven’t been able to keep my eyes open. Almost 400 to go, and I think I’m returning it to the library. Not because it’s bad. Or too worldly. But mainly because I’m feeling called to read other things, perhaps.
I was reflecting on all that while showering this morning. Perhaps I’m being invited to explore my faith stories and those faith stories of others instead of made-up stories. Granted, fiction is an enjoyable diversion and leisure activity. I find inspiration for the faith connections explicit and implied in much speculative fiction (fantasy and science fiction). But I don’t think that’s working for me these days. Not as much as it was earlier this year.
In the spiritual life, there are many times when we set aside something of the world, something of value to the world’s culture. And maybe it seems like a loss to be chaste, to voluntarily embrace poverty, or to obey the authority in our community. But such losses, when embraced in a healthy way, strike me as a gate to a certain freedom.
Why do I read fiction? I like well-written stories. Great stories reflect true events, and even if science fiction (for example) is entirely invented, great sf points to realities in one’s lived life.
Christian spirituality, and these days especially Ignatian spirituality, strikes me as attempting the same accomplishment. I was thinking of Ignatius’s own reflection as he convalesced from his leg injury. He dreamed of women and courtly heroism, and that edified him in the moment. But then the moment passed. But when he dreamed of a company for Christ as he read the lives of the saints, he experienced that same stirring in his heart. But he came to see that stirring was maintained long after the book was shelved.
I’ve seen the same thing in music over the years. I was thinking particularly of a friendship I had with a woman who enjoyed playing and singing church and other songs. So we did folk/pop hits of the 70’s and 80’s. And while that sort of thing was fun, I also enjoyed playing contemporary liturgical music with her too. It was around the time I was in a serious life’s discernment. But I was stung once by her comment about playing too much church stuff. And our music-making was cooled off after that. I felt I was going in one direction. And she, clearly, was somewhere else.
I also feel a certain acceptance about all of these reflections. I don’t regret lost music-making opportunities. I was stubborn enough to seek out others who felt as I did. I also don’t regret turning a book back to the library one-fourth read.