Gratitude for My Beginning

Creator God,
I know that your grace is possible anywhere and anytime.
My beginning cannot be changed, and it was not perfect. Nevertheless,
for the place of my beginnings, I give thanks.
For the season of my beginnings, I give thanks.
For the people who were part of my beginning, I give thanks.
For the world as it was at the time of my beginning, I give thanks.
For the gifts of that early life, I give thanks, and I ask for the grace
to continue unwrapping them throughout my life,
using them to the best of my ability,
and giving them back to you.

Where Did You Begin?

Loyola family hearth
Family hearth in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s birthplace

Monday’s post was about the early life of St. Ignatius of Loyola. Today, let’s turn our gaze inward.

Each one of us is shaped, to some degree, by the place where we started and the people who shared that place with us. This is not to say that our beginnings determine who we become but that we need to factor in how those early years affected us.

  • What places were key locations in your life as a child and teenager? Did you have a hometown, or did you move around too much to identify with any one place?
  • Who were the people involved with you on a daily basis when you were growing up? Did you belong to a “gang” of kids in your family or neighborhood who were together all the time? Who were the adults who made the biggest impact on the way you thought or behaved?
  • Identify the gifts of your childhood location(s) and the people who dwelled with and around you.
  • Identify the hurts and trials that came with those early-life settings and people.
  • What kind of culture helped shape you as a youngster? Were you a small-town kid? A military brat? A city dweller? The child of ministers or missionaries? Surrounded by a large extended family? An only child?

31 Days with St. Ignatius starts today at Celebrate the life and legacy of St. Ignatius throughout the month, and share with the hashtag #31DayswithIgnatius on your favorite social media.

An Ignatian Pilgrimage Week #1: The Place Where a Person Begins

Loyola (Spain) countryside
Countryside around St. Ignatius of Loyola’s homeplace in Spain

During July, we celebrate the life and legacy of St. Ignatius of Loyola. As you probably know, Loyola Press, the host of this blog, is a ministry of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. And this society is the legacy of St. Ignatius, who formed it 500 years ago with a few companions who, with him, wanted to help souls and change the world.

Over the next five weeks, we will follow Ignatius’s (or, Iggy’s) life story and use key moments in it to prompt reflection on our own life stories. We’ll call it our summer Ignatian pilgrimage.

Loyola family hearth
Family hearth in St. Ignatius of Loyola’s birthplace

This week, we begin at the beginning, for all of us: birthplace and early life. In some ways, Iggy’s life differs drastically from the life of the typical Days of Deepening Friendship subscriber. He was born to a family of minor nobility at a time when society was severely stratified and everything stood or fell on which king or commander was in control of a region. The Catholic Church was resisting the impact of the Protestant Reformation, and at that time the rulers of Spain had joined forces with the Church to conquer as much of the world for Christ and king as it could. Unfortunately, the conquering was quite literal—warfare everywhere between Christians and Muslims, and both of those groups took turns either converting or exiling whatever Jewish populations existed among them. Columbus and others were surveying new worlds, and the printing press was changing culture as people knew it.

Well, perhaps there’s not so much difference between Ignatius and you or me. We live in a world of constant war and sectarian violence; the digital age has come upon us and changed every area of life; and society today is gravely divided, not between royalty and peasants but between the super-rich and the rest of us, between huge, multinational corporations and neighborhoods full of real human beings.

Ignatius’s mother died when he was just a child, and the local blacksmith’s wife became his nurse. That family, for all practical purposes, brought up the child Ignatius. He grew up in a lush region of northern Spain full of crops and livestock. He grew up not in a cosmopolitan city but a rural community. His family fell out of favor with the regional monarch, which severed important social and economic ties for the family. Ignatius left the estate as a young man to serve as a page in the court of a nobleman with whom they still had good relations. There he learned how to behave at court, and he trained to be a soldier.

Loyola Basilica in Spain
Loyola Basilica in Spain, built around the family castle of St. Ignatius of Loyola
  • What aspects of Ignatius’s life do you find most intriguing?
  • In what ways is it difficult for you to relate to this story so far?

For more about Ignatian spirituality throughout the month of July, follow 31 Days with St. Ignatius.

A Few Moments to Imagine

silhouetted figure alone

I offer a short meditation to take you into the weekend.

  1. Get comfortable and take a few deep breaths. Close your eyes.
  2. In your imagination, place yourself in a location that is comfortable and beautiful and where you feel safe.
  3. Notice that a person is walking toward you. As he draws closer, you realize it is Jesus. (Or, if you prefer, it’s Mary, the mother of Jesus.)
  4. Jesus smiles at you and then embraces you and sits down across from you to talk. You understand from the expression on Jesus’ face that he is here to tell you something wonderful.
  5. Jesus makes the following statements to you. Fill in the blanks for yourself.
    • “What I enjoy so much about the way you go through a day is . . .”
    • “I came to remind you that your gifts of [blank] and [blank] express the Father’s love—thank you for offering these gifts to the world!”
    • “There’s a beautiful quality about you that you fail to see much of the time, and it is this: . . .”
    • “Don’t be afraid to . . .”

Reimagine Me

flying girl - imagination

Each of us carries a self-image in mind and heart. I attach to myself certain adjectives, strengths, weaknesses, and other personality traits. I carry a particular view of how I think others see me. I automatically put myself in some categories but not in others.

Some of the toughest reimagining has to do with the way we view the self. And yet, that’s precisely the reimagining we often need the most. How many times and in how many ways have we been held back from claiming our beauty and our gifts because those aspects of ourselves did not fit the image we held so tightly?

What aspect of that self-image could use some reimagining?

Would it help for me to picture myself as the age I am rather than the age I used to be? Sometimes I think that my dissatisfaction with my physical self is rooted in my image of myself from years ago. Sometimes I’m frustrated with my lower energy because I think I should be able to keep the pace of a 30-year-old. Am I willing to carry an image of myself as the 50-something I am right now?

Can I adjust my list of strengths and abilities to fit the reality of all I have learned and developed through the years? Is it accurate for me to think of myself as mainly introspective and private—even though I have learned great people skills and function well in situations that call for conversation and networking? Should I still see myself as slow with technology even though I am now quite proficient with multiple software systems and social media formats?

Is it time to own the good work I’ve done as a mother, sibling, spouse, or friend? We are quick to remember the failures and shortcomings but too quick to forget the effective conversations, the acts of charity and forgiveness, and the love we have offered.

Dare I call myself an artist or minister—with or without a steady paycheck or a title? If I process my life by writing poetry or stories or reflections, then I have every right to call myself a writer—whether or not I’ve ever published or am known for writing. I may never have a degree after my name or become ordained as deacon, pastor, or priest; nevertheless I nurture and help the souls of others in many ways—and people recognize those gifts and respond to them.

  • In what ways has your self-image changed or been reimagined?
  • What makes such reimagining difficult?