There was a priest at the parish my family attended while I was growing up that would often begin Mass by inviting us to turn and introduce ourselves to those sitting near us. (This was way back before the intermingling of pandemic and prayer made us all look at outstretched hands with suspicion and a raised eyebrow.)
The purpose of this, I think, was one part building up of community and one part laying the foundation for the transition that would follow. This is what he said next each and every time: “Names are important. They are how we hold onto each other in conversation. Now, let us begin conversation with God in the name of the Father…”
He said it with the same inflection year after year, so much so that I can hear it still rattling about in my head more than a decade later. But it’s not just the consistency of delivery that made this segue stick in my mind; I genuinely love this idea of holding onto one another in conversation through the usage — dare we say, the reverencing — of one another’s names.
Names are important. Bound up in them are our identity, our history, who we’ve been and might yet be. Not so much, perhaps, because of the assortment of sounds and letters that make up our names but because of the many lips from which our names have emanated, the places our names have been written down. The people to whom our names point.
It’s been more than two years, and this weekly reflection series has no name. But it does, I think, have an identity, a direction, a purpose – all the things a good name points to.
So, let me try out a new name for this series, a name that I hope you might hold onto as you go about your days, a mantra, perhaps, for your own ongoing reflection: Now Discern This.
Each of us is tempted, I believe, to assume God is elsewhere, busy, directing big and important projects that hardly affect our singular lives. We believe our stories are humdrum, ordinary and too small for our great God.
Of course, that’s not the case. God and God’s dream for creation are to be found woven into the very fabric of our existence. God never ceases whispering our names – yours, mine – more deeply into the wonder of all that is.
So, right now God is at work, in this very moment. Stop. Recognize the Spirit pulsing in the air around you. That same Spirit is inviting you to discern how this particular chapter in your seemingly ordinary story is to unfold for God’s greater glory and the good of all creation. That’s right: In this very moment, God is inviting you to enter more deeply into the mystery of the universe.
What will you do? How will you respond to this invitation, this particular moment, this Good Spirit tugging at your heart and mind and hands? The “this” you decide – the fruit of this ongoing discernment of daily living – is your contribution to God’s story, your recognition that your story does matter infinitely to our God of surprises. That the Good Spirit is hugging you closely through seemingly ordinary events. Right now.
Names are important. They are how we hold onto one another in conversation. Names are also how we hold onto one another long after the conversation has ended, how we reverence what the bearer of those names have meant to us and our stories.
I hope the name of this weekly series will help you hold onto the truth that God is at work in your story, intimately concerned with its unfolding, and desiring of your collaboration in its fulfillment.
Now. Discern. This.
Eric A. Clayton is the author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith (Loyola Press) and the deputy director of communications at the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States. His essays on spirituality, parenting and pop culture have appeared in America Magazine, National Catholic Reporter, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day and IgnatianSpirituality.com. His fiction has been published by Dark Hare Press, the World of Myth Magazine and more. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat, Sebastian. Follow Eric’s writing at ericclaytonwrites.com.