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Everyday Ignatian is a series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.

By Shannon K. Evans

February 16, 2022 — Not long ago I was driving home with four of our kids in the back of the minivan. As I slowly pulled onto our street — a little nook of a wooded neighborhood on the edge of the Ames city limits — I spotted a pair of deer about 20 yards away.

“Look!” I eagerly pointed for the kids to turn their heads. “Deer!”

The older ones unhooked their seatbelts, noses pressed to the window in an instant. But the toddler, much to her chagrin, had no way to free herself from her car seat. “Wanna see!” she bellowed. “Wanna see God!”

Thankfully I was able to unbuckle her in time to see the deer before they darted away, all the while marveling at the mystical nature of her words. Lest I question whether it had all been just one big misunderstanding, a FaceTime call with my sister a few days later cleared up any uncertainty.

“Have you seen any deer lately?” her beloved auntie asked my daughter from across the country in Colorado.

Her answer was firm. “Yes. I saw God.”

I’ve been telling this story incessantly for the past week, and everyone who hears it shares my sense of wonder. Well, yes, we adults marvel, thinking it through, if creation is in and of God, then we encounter God when we encounter a doe. In the Christian tradition, this more or less sums up incarnational theology.

Ignatian spirituality is particularly rooted in the theology of incarnation that Jesus fully and completely embodied. We believe that since divine life creates, touches, permeates and takes the shape of form and matter, then all form and matter are sacred. God is in all things, we Ignatian enthusiasts like to say.

This is good news for those of us with conflicted feelings about our bodies, whether due to sickness, aging, chronic pain, weight changes or anything else. An incarnational faith promises us that we experience God in and through our bodies, no matter the state they are in. Jesus had a body, and we can assume that relationship was not always an easy one: Walking miles a day on blistered feet? Having nowhere to lay his head? Fasting in the wilderness? Exposed to the elements with no central heat and air? The Gospels paint a clear picture of Jesus as a man with flesh and bones just like ours, not some kind of disembodied spirit.

No, being in a body is not always easy. As Jesus experienced, our bodies are at times a source of suffering, for a multitude of reasons. But Jesus’ contemplative lifestyle embraced physicality as the conduit through which we experience God in our very real lives and circumstances. We exist in the material; we encounter the divine through our senses; we experience belovedness in our bodies.

If this is our path to growing in awareness of and intimacy with God, then how can we pay greater attention to that reality? The answer, of course, lies in prayer.

There are a variety of ways to integrate our bodies into our spiritual expressions and practices. We can find ways to actively engage our bodies in prayer through things as exerting as hiking or yoga, or as accessible as journaling and a warm bath. If we are injured or recovering from surgery, physical therapy can be a spiritual practice if we show up ready to attune our ear to the voice of God. For that matter, talk therapy can do the same — especially if we are speaking with a counselor about past trauma that has been stored in our bodies. Furthermore, some of us have lived a lifetime injured by messages that equated our inherent value to our weight; such deep-seated pain requires self-compassion, for which we need God’s grace.

Perhaps the most subversive spiritual practice we can undertake is to trust the Holy Spirit in our bodies to tell us the truth: the truth about where we carry our life’s pains, the truth about what we have yet to heal from, the truth of who we are deep within, and the truth about our belovedness.

Perhaps our “body goals” should not be to attain the result of perfect health, clothing size or delayed aging. Perhaps our only body goal should be to learn to listen to our bodies and believe that they can and will reveal God to us, even if not in the way we would expect. Perhaps this acceptance of unexpected means of revelation could offer us the inner freedom spoken of by St. Ignatius.

These days, my daughter does not give much thought to her body. Frankly, she can’t even be trusted to walk around the house without a diaper on. But as she grows, her relationship with her body will grow more complicated. When it does, I hope I remind her about the deer she saw when she was two years old; how she looked at its body — its flesh and its bones and its hair and its face — and called it God. And I hope she’ll be able to say the same of hers. Even now, I want to say the same of mine.

Shannon K. Evans is the author of  “Rewilding Motherhood,” “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World” and “Luminous: A 30-Day Journal for Accepting Your Body, Honoring Your Soul, and Finding Your Joy.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.