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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

A tree has fallen in our backyard. We fear it’s the first of many.

It was choked to death — or, that’s how it appears — by the creeping vines that wrapped their way around its once firm and deeply rooted trunk. Up, up they climbed until they hung among and alongside the tree’s piney branches, proverbial wolves masquerading as sheep. They dangled from on high as though they belonged there, an extended canopy of shade and color.

Until that tree was toppled, and the vines were cast back down to the ground.

They come from everywhere and nowhere, wriggling about the grass and mulch and mud like the fingertips of some ancient woodland demon. My wife and I (but mostly my wife) have spent not an inconsequential amount of time traipsing about our property with sheers in hand seeking out the roots. Some we find; others elude us.

But what’s clear is that these vines, dormant during the winter months, have surged throughout the spring and are now laying waste to all they touch in the summer.

The change of seasons, it seems, is a good and natural time to take stock, to inspect the roots, to plant anew and to ferret out intruders. As in nature, so, too, in our spiritual lives. And so — in order that we all may see with increased clarity the vines entangling our own stories — I invite you to pause and pray an examen for these summer months.

Thanksgiving. Begin in gratitude. Review the past day, week, month. Where has God been pouring out blessings? Hold in your mind the faces of people who have blessed you with their presence, comfort, words or encouragement. Return in your mind to the places that have filled you with consolation. For all these things and more, give thanks.

Light. If possible, go outside and feel the sun on your face, knowing that in its rays, we can feel God gazing upon us. Ask the Spirit to shed that same light of love upon your prayer.

Detail. Continuing in gratitude, walk through the past few weeks. What moments come to mind? How have you felt the changing seasons in your body, your work, your relationships and your prayer life? How has the Spirit been nudging you into this new season? With what have you been equipped from the past to meet the present? How has God been delighting in your unique gifts, expertise and experience as a new chapter unfolds?

Shadow. Is there a heaviness to these details? A sense of sadness or longing? Have there been missed opportunities to love God, neighbor and all of creation? In what way might these summer months be an opportunity to love those shadows into light?

Moving Forward. Look out at the weeks and months to come. What has God readied for you? Are you prepared to encounter anew our God of surprises? How can you better cultivate a disposition of availability and wonder as this new season unfolds?

This reflection is part of the award-winning weekly email series, “Now Discern This.” If you’d like to get reflections like this one directly in your inbox every Wednesday, sign up here.

a person smiling for the cameraEric A. Clayton is the award-winning author of Cannonball Moments: Telling Your Story, Deepening Your Faith and My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality (Loyola Press). He is 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 MagazineNational Catholic ReporterU.S. Catholic, Busted Halo and more, and he is a regular contributor to Give Us This Day, IgnatianSpirituality.com and Dork Side of the Force, where he blogs about Star Wars. His fiction has been published by Black Hare Press, Small Wonders Magazine, Air and Nothingness Press and more.  Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat.