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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

If you’re a longtime reader of “Now Discern This,” you know how this typically goes: I start with a story — something simple, something silly — and then I try to pull on a thread of grace, some instance of God at work in my life and, by extension, yours. We believe God is in all things, all people, all stories, every glimmer of creation. As a result, even the most mundane of moments is dripping with God’s grace.

If what I attempt to do each week bears any good fruit, meets with any teaspoon of success, it’s because of you. It’s because the stories I share — uniquely mine, though they may be — resonate in some way with stories that are uniquely yours. At the end of the day, the work here isn’t to compile a collection of random anecdotes about a guy in Baltimore; the work is to encounter the living God delighting in each and every one of us in each and every moment.

As we begin a new year, we likely find ourselves awash in stories: We look back over the months and weeks and days of 2023; we look ahead to the plans and hopes and dreams of 2024. In it all, we weave together new threads of our own stories, the tales we tell about ourselves and our loved ones and our world.

Recently, I have been praying with the work of the Canadian Jesuit John English. In his classic book “Spiritual Freedom: From an Experience of the Ignatian Exercises to the Art of Spiritual Guidance,” he meditates on the very Ignatian idea of graced history. Fr. English writes:

“A series of events becomes graced history when it is approached and understood in terms of God’s constant loving presence with each individual and the whole human race. What is the ultimate meaning of the events in our personal and collective stories? For Christians, the ultimate meaning of life is Jesus Christ.” (p 264)

We’ve just celebrated the Incarnation, God’s own bursting onto the scene of history as Jesus the Christ. The trajectory of everything changes: some 2,000 years ago, and today. It unfolds in our own ongoing vocational journeys.

So, as we begin this new year, as we continue meditating upon the stories of Christmas, I invite you to bring your own story into dialogue with that of Christ’s. I invite you to weave together your own graced history as you close one year of stories and open another.

Some points for you to consider in your prayer:

Pause to consider the year that has passed, a year full of stories and characters, settings and plot points. What images come readily to mind? Why?

What two or three big, loud, consequential moments stand out to me from this past year?

What two or three quiet, subdued, seemingly trivial moments stand out to me from this past year?

As I hold all of these moments in my prayer, I ask the Spirit to illuminate them; I ask Jesus to bless them. How do these moments make up my graced history? How do they reflect God’s constant loving presence?

With these moments in mind, look out upon the year to come. How has God prepared you in the past to encounter Christ in these coming days and weeks and months? 

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 (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 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 and more. His next book, My Life with the Jedi: The Spirituality of Star Wars, an exploration of Star Wars through the lens of Ignatian spirituality, is due out in February 2024 from Loyola Press. Sign up for his Substack “Story Scraps” here. He lives in Baltimore, MD with his wife, two young daughters and their cat.