By Shemaiah Gonzalez
Everyday Ignatian is a series written by guest contributors, chronicling their daily lives and experiences through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
On the brink of spring, on the last icy day of winter, my husband slipped on the stoop in front of our home, detaching his quadricep muscle from his knee. This slip put a series of events in motion: ER visit, emergency surgery, Meal Train calendars, moving a bed to the ground floor of our home and his office from a downtown high-rise to our dining room table.
He is on the mend. He will get better. But it is a long, slow process. And in the meantime, our already small house is bursting at the seams with furniture and stuff and people.
It feels like Covid quarantine again, when all of us were squished in our home; my husband and I working from different spots in the house, our sons set up with Zoom school at the breakfast table in the kitchen. It is equally frustrating, of course, most of all for my husband who must keep his right leg completely straight for the next three months as it heals.
And yet, I too, feel confined. I cannot, should not complain. I have my husband healing while he takes Zoom calls in the next room while I work from an armchair in the front room. But I feel cramped. Constrained.
I text my best friend my frustrations. We’ve known each other since church nursery.
There is laundry that needs to be folded on the coffee table.
And why do we have so many chairs in this house?
Immediately she texts back:
He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
She’s the type of woman, the type of friend, who can pull out the right Scripture for any situation. We went to the same seminary a lifetime ago, so I know she’s quoting a translation of Psalm 18:19. It is one of the psalms of praise David wrote after being delivered from his enemies and from the hands of Saul.
I snort laugh at the text. I am not David. I am not running for my life.
That Scripture was important to me back during those days of quarantine. I remember feeling so confined, I’d walk down to a lookout, just blocks from my house, to look across Lake Washington and see as far as I could see, to spacious places. It did something to my brain to see across the lake, to other houses and cities across the way, and to the snow-peaked Cascade Mountains miles away. It took a few visits to that lookout, which I would use as a station for my daily Examen prayer, to realize the confinement was in my own mind. I was free but I couldn’t see it. Prayer in a different location other than my own house, helped me to understand this.
My heart, the core of my being, was not centered on Jesus. Freedom happens when my inner orientation is focused on Christ, not on the circumstances swirling around me. This is what Jesus meant when he said, “people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me” (Matthew 15:8). The Examen helped me to reorient my heart back to Jesus.
My friend texts back before I respond:
You’re in Plato’s cave.
She’s talking about Plato’s Allegory of the Cave where people live chained, facing the blank wall of the cave. The shadows on the wall become their reality, not the objects they reflect or the splendor of the sun behind them.
I am blinded by my own thinking.
Just as I was during those first few weeks of quarantine, I’m having a difficult time finding freedom in my own mind.
I know what her text means, but I don’t want to know what it means.
There are all those verses in St. Paul’s Epistles, where he talks about freedom in Christ. He’s not just talking about slavery. He’s talking about the bondage of sin. Sometimes sin seems innocuous. Sometimes sin is our own vision. Sin is a result of putting Christ out of our field of vision. We look at a wall or a pile of laundry, not realizing if we shift our gaze back to Jesus, we are actually free. Free to not sin. Free to see things as he does.
I sit with this for a while. Maybe a few days. Until the sin of my absolute selfishness becomes apparent.
I look over at my husband. His leg is propped up on a kitchen stool while he conducts hours-long Zooms from the dining room. I have been able to leave the house to pick up groceries, go to the gym and take the children to their activities, and he has only left the house once in a month — to go a post-op doctor’s appointment. And yet, he has not complained. He has found freedom in his own mind and peace with God, as he navigates the four small rooms of the first floor of our house.
I close my eyes and say a small prayer confession. Even as I am in the middle of asking for forgiveness, I know I am forgiven. God is faithful, even when I am a jerk.
I text my friend:
It is better to dwell in a corner of the housetop than in a mansion with a quarrelsome wife. (Proverbs 25:24)
She replies with an emoji: yellow face with a big grin, shedding a tear from laughing so hard.
She knows I’ve learned my lesson.
Shemaiah Gonzalez’s work has appeared in America magazine, U.S. Catholic and Loyola Press, among others. She thrives in moments where storytelling and faith collide. Her biography on beloved Catholic writer Brian Doyle is forthcoming from Liturgical Press. She is currently working on transforming her popular Substack Undaunted Joy into a collection of essays. A Los Angeles native, she now lives in Seattle with her husband and their two sons.