Everyday Ignatian is a monthly 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
March 8, 2021 — The evening of the first Sunday of Lent found my family on the floor of our living room hunched over a mound of clay. This was the first year I had heard of making a Prayer Spiral, and I’d known immediately it was something my children would love: a spiral of clay with 40 imprints for a candle, rock, or marble to be moved toward the center day by day as we creep through a liturgical season that can feel impossibly long.
As we rolled and kneaded the dough, the television before us broadcasted a Mass held in a Jesuit parish on the other side of the country. The calming familiarity of the liturgy anchored us as our awkward first-time hands fumbled around the contours of our project. The woman offering a reflection was a welcome addition to such a predominantly male space.
But none of this was in the forefront of our minds. Like most families’ worship experiences, ours have long been interrupted by children simply being children. The 11-year-old got distracted rolling fist-sized balls that had nothing to do with this supposedly contemplative exercise. The 7-year-old got frustrated because his thumb was not strong enough to make the necessary indentions in the clay. The youngest three were already in bed, because I am not a glutton for punishment.
I long to pass on to my children tools of contemplation, practices they can reach for to touch holy wonder. I want them to know more than merely not to eat meat on Fridays; I want them to know how to access the Divine Life within their souls. It’s all too easy for our stories and traditions to become rote; we each need tools to breathe fresh air into our faith experience.
St. Ignatius teaches us that one way to breathe that fresh air is to read the Passion stories through the eyes of a variety of characters: Pontius Pilate, Jesus, Peter, Herod, Mary Magdalene and Jesus’ mother, to name just a few. Ignatius invites us to experiment with new ways to encounter the same old stories. Can we imagine the sensory experience? Can we hear dialogue whispered from the sidelines? When stories grow stale, imaginative prayer opens them up to new light.
Ignatian prayer has given me permission to turn my faith over and inspect it from new angles through the years. It wasn’t until after making the Prayer Spiral that I realized it was achieving the very same thing: every point on the spiral — every day of Lent — has a brand-new vantage point from which to see the center: the Passion and Resurrection.
It made me think of the many beautiful perspectives of the faith represented the night we wound that clay into a spiral. The faith of my children: curious, frustrated, eager, content. The faith of the Jesuit priest saying the Mass in the background: inviting, warm, sincere, unstaged. The faith of the woman offering the reflection: feminine, vulnerable, courageous, empowering. The faith of my husband and I: complicated, desiring, struggling, yet somehow overflowing. The faith of a long-dead St. Ignatius: imaginative, free, permission-giving, unafraid.
The Christian story is never boring; it is never rote; it is never a spiritual checklist. It is a story that can be turned over a million times with something new to discover each time; just like the Prayer Spiral, when each time the stone moves an inch, the perspective changes. So then, what I need is a tapestry of people who can continue to keep the stone of my heart moving: to lead me to new perspectives, to teach me new ways to pray, to offer their own vantage point. And by God’s grace, the story will be made ever new.
Tonight, when my children gather around and fight over who gets to move the Lenten stone this time, I will have something new to tell them. As their little fingers trace the curves and edges of the Prayer Spiral, I will explain to them how wonderful it is that they have their entire lives to think about God’s story in a million different ways. I will encourage them to listen to those who offer new perspectives on the story — especially if no one else is listening. And I will tell them that when we embrace these fresh angles with a willingness to be changed, the story will never get old.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” 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.