“Writing,” Henri Nouwen wrote, “can be a true spiritual discipline. Writing can help us to concentrate, to get in touch with the deeper stirrings of our hearts, to clarify our minds, to process confusing emotions, to reflect on our experiences, to give artistic expression to what we are living, and to store significant events in our memories. Writing can also be good for others who might read what we write.”
It takes stillness to get a true reflection, just as a camera must be held perfectly still to capture a clear image. And stillness, like quiet and like solitude, is harder and harder to find in our busy lives.
However you go about it, learning to live with gratitude is all about first being aware of the gifts and good things in our lives. And from experience, I learned that once I started keeping a list, I was nearly overwhelmed by how many daily experiences and interactions I could count as blessings. In short, we have no idea how present God is to us until we start paying attention.
The simple prayer of “Here I am” acknowledges both the speaker and the spoken to, like a child hiding in a secret place, alone and afraid that perhaps the game is over and everyone else has gone home. And so, like children content and confident that we are being cared for and watched over, we cry out: “Here I am, Lord. See me. Find me. Use me.”
The real treasure of “Just Call Me López” remains partially hidden (but always in plain sight) throughout the book. For what we gain by reading this fable is what lies at the heart of Ignatian spirituality itself: If we pay attention to what’s going on in our own lives and hearts (even the most seemingly unbelievable moments), and if we heed the feelings and emotions that accompany these events, we come just that much closer to finding God. For God is in the details and the moments of our lives.
Finding solitude in the midst of our busy lives is, first and foremost, always an intentional activity. We must choose to go away to a place in the country, to a retreat house, to a to a chapel, to a walking trail. Or we must choose to create a space of sacred solitude within our everyday lives, which is where we find ourselves most of the time.
We all need times of solitude in our lives for three interconnected reasons: We need to quiet the world. We need to quiet ourselves. And we need to do both of those things so we can better listen for God as he whispers our names and quietly lets us know just what it is we’re supposed to be doing with our lives.
Like Jesus, we need to have our “lonely place,” that quiet sacred space we can go, not just to get away from the world and its busy-ness, but to prepare ourselves more fully for our engagement in the world.
Our ability to be both truly present to one another and aware of God’s presence in our lives is a gift unto itself. It is our calling. There’s nothing more important we can do today.
They are the faces in the crowd, some standing on tiptoe to get a glimpse of this condemned prophet or rabble-rouser, take your pick, as he stands mute before the authorities, as he flinches but never complains against the searing heat of the lashes, as he bears the weight of the beam across his shoulder blades and feels the bite of the sheer mass and the splintered wood.