Tilling the Soil
Exploring faith together
It is fall in Wisconsin. Newspapers statewide devote countless column inches to “leaf reports,” steering tourists toward dazzling rural routes. Campus takes on a mellow ambience with colors covering the sidewalks — a red carpet, rolled out and ready to welcome all comers.
Amid the buzz of mid-semester exams there is an undeniably reflective quality to the season. Students and staff stare unselfconsciously at this beauty, simply beholding what is there.
The experience of beholding freely is core to the spirituality of St. Ignatius that informs so much of how we teach and learn at Marquette. Ignatius was not only adept at beholding the world around him, but also at beholding the artistry of God in the most intimate recesses of his soul. Contrary to many wisdom-wielders of his day (and ours), Ignatius did not find meaning by chasing an externalized set of expectations about who he ought to be. He did not look for God in signs or the comfortable assurance of being admired by others. Rather, he opened — slowly at first and then ever wider — the door of his innermost self, where he found God’s desires waiting for him.
Desire is a sensuous word not typically associated with a life of faith. Who are we to have desires? Aren’t we to rise above our own desires to become the people God wants us to be? Ignatius draws a distinction between the petty desires that can send us careening like pinballs from choice to choice, continually unsatisfied with ourselves, and the deep desires of our hearts that lead us toward love, generosity and kindness. These deep desires, when they are well-discerned, lead us toward God’s desires for us.
Ignatian spirituality invites us to be courageous in exploring our desires. This requires reflection, both intellectual and spiritual. It is easy to rush to judgment about ourselves, dodging the stillness necessary for the mind to calm and the breath to slow. At certain points in our lives, our desires are evident to us; at others we barely have the energy or attentiveness to desire anything at all. Ignatius patiently counsels at such moments simply to pray for the “desire for the desire” and not to be too hard on ourselves in the interim.
What is it we really want in life? Acknowledging that we have desires can make us feel vulnerable and awaken the realization that we are not as self-contained as we might like to think. Seeking our deepest desires requires that we be surprisable. What we long for most may be quite different from what we have been telling ourselves we should want — or do — or be.
Botanists remind us that the crimson and honey colors in autumn leaves have, in some sense, been there all along. They are simply masked by the chlorophyll that makes the foliage look green in the summertime. Only when the chlorophyll dissipates are the warm hues revealed, waking us to a hidden beauty. So, too, the deepest desires within us are invitations to the arresting and attractive love of God, who accompanies us in every season of our lives. That is something to behold. — By Dr. Stephanie Russell, vice president for mission and ministry