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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

A few weeks back, as part of the Ignatian Spirituality Project’s annual “Company of Grace” event, I interviewed New York Times Opinion columnist David Brooks.

During our conversation, David shared a story about how, during a difficult period in his life, he became a frequent dinner guest at the home of two friends. He was not alone. These particular friends often invited children — dozens of them, friends from their own kid’s school — who needed both a safe place to stay and a warm meal. It sounded like the dinner table was a busy place!

In his storytelling, David brought us to the doorstep on the very first night he attended such a dinner. He was greeted by one of these children and given a stark instruction: There would be no handshakes here, only hugs. That set the stage for relationships built on vulnerability, on mutual sharing, on love.

“What those kids had was a level of emotional openness that I frankly never encountered before,” David said. “They beamed their love upon you, and you really had no choice but to beam it back.”

I’m struck by this image, this idea of beaming love. You are present and vulnerable and generous in such a way that your very disposition invites the same from the people around you. There’s no expectation — in fact, it sounded like those were necessarily left on the front porch. Instead, you arrive as you are, you give what you can, and you receive what those gathered rejoice in sharing.

What is the disposition that beams love? I think of myself walking city streets with a scowl carved into my face. Head bent, eyes forward, legs pumping at a brisk pace — there is no time to make eye contact, let alone “beam love.” I prefer to draw as little attention as possible. And while I certainly have places to get to — and I imagine you do, too — I wonder at the missed opportunity. At the sort of disposition this hardened practice engrains in our very selves.

There is something necessarily cyclical in the description David gave. We turn to the other, the stranger or the friend, with utter availability, with eyes desperate to know our fellow being. And that availability, that desperate love, calls out something in the other, weaving our stories together, reminding us that we are all inextricably if uncomfortably linked.

Or, that’s the opportunity we have. The potential that is inherent in all relationships. But first we have to stop and look, to see the other, to make space and time to hear and to muster the courage and confidence to be heard. We give and we receive.

God is there, of course, in the beaming. Christ, who dwells in each of us, who yearns to know and to be known. Is that the Spirit at work, showering love upon the other, fostering love in that space where eyes meet, even before bodies embrace?

I wonder how each of us might beam love this week, how we might share something of ourselves so as to bless something in another. I wonder what God’s Spirit could do with such generous self-gift.

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.