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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

These days find me in Rome at a global gathering of Jesuits and Jesuit collaborators tasked with communicating about the mission of the Society of Jesus.

Consequently — and perhaps unfairly — I assumed this week’s reflection would write itself. After all, I’m in Rome. The very buildings are raw material for prayer. The streets sing with story. And the people with whom I am spending my days are full of insight and inspiration.

And yet, my writing has stalled like a little car in a big pile of mud, wheels spinning rapidly yet amounting to little more than mess and mayhem.

But then something was said in a meeting. It’s stuck with me, a casual remark, off-the-cuff and in response to a question. We were reflecting on what it means to be faith-based communicators, to be Christian communicators, to be Catholic communicators, and the response went something like this:

We are called to see what others may not. There, we find our stories.

I brought this simple insight into prayerful dialogue with my desperate need to wring some story from my Roman surroundings and suddenly realized my mistake: I was looking for God where I expected God to be found. And while God is certainly there in the magnificent churches and beautiful pieces of art — God is in all things after all — I wonder if God is not desiring to speak to me from somewhere more off the beaten path. I wonder if my stalled writing is nothing more than the Spirit challenging me to look elsewhere, to look deeper, to keep looking.

We are called to see what others may not. There, we find our stories. I might add: There we find God.

I wonder if that’s not what the Spirit is in fact inviting us all to do every moment of our lives.

We turn to our own stories, our own contexts, our own graced histories with a disposition of curiosity. We cultivate a sense of wonder and awe. And we prepare ourselves to be surprised by our God of Surprises. Yes, God is to be found in the well-worn paths, in those places and times in which we’ve grown accustomed to meeting the Spirit.

But God also desires to bring us further. God desires to meet us in new settings, too. God desires to pull us out of our places of comfort and complacency and show us something new of God’s dream.

Here we glimpse a spirituality of storytelling, a constant awakening to God at work in the details of our lives, a turning toward God in the places we know well and in those which we find foreign and strange. We see that which is hidden because we seek it out never fully knowing what we might find, what God might be inviting us to embrace.

But always we encounter God; we see the face of Christ in our unfolding story, in the created world around us, in the people we encounter and reflected in our very selves.

As human beings, we are storytellers. As people of faith, we are storytellers. And our God who delights in story desires that we collaborate in the turning of the page. But we don’t know how this particular chapter ends.

And so, as a pilgrim people, we set out to be surprised by God.

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.