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Story

By Eric A. Clayton

Last week I shared a reflection on seeking out story, how the cultivation of curiosity in our own spiritual lives can bring us into deeper encounter with God at work in surprising ways in our world.

This week, I’d like to invite us all to take another step. The question is this: Once we’ve stumbled upon God in story, what do we do? How do we share this glimmer of the Spirit?

The meeting that had inspired last week’s reflection has ended. Our group of global communicators has been sent back to our particular places to live out — and communicate — the mission of the Society of Jesus. What is that mission? We work so that all people may be reconciled to God, to themselves, to one another and to all of creation. It’s a mission we all share, one we’re all called to collaborate in.

It’s a mission that includes you.

And it’s a mission grounded in the way we share stories.

The work of reconciliation necessitates reflection on how we understand ourselves in relationship. We examine the web of creation in which we are inevitably bound, and we look lovingly at the other beings with which we share space and time. Perhaps we try to look at others as we imagine God might: with wonder and delight.

And then we tell stories — to ourselves, to others, to the world.

We tell stories about how we see ourselves, who we are and what we’re about. We tell stories about how our own sense of self intersects the desires and dreams of others. We tell stories about how the very planet upon which we walk is more than setting or context but living and breathing and revealing God’s glory. And we imagine what might come next, even in the wake of suffering and violence and disappointment and challenge.

The heart of story is relationship. Think of any story you love. The plot rises or falls based on how characters interact with one another.

But how we tell the story matters. How we tell the story reveals how we understand our web of relationships. How we tell stories can advance or hinder the work of reconciliation. Consider this:

  1. Do I speak of myself with kindness? Do I describe myself as God might describe me?
  2. Do I speak of myself as better than others? Or, do I see myself as part of a larger community, an ever-expanding sense of the People of God?
  3. Do I tell stories that erect walls between me and others, between “my” group and “their” group? Or, do I tell stories that seek commonality and shared values, inviting in those otherwise left out?
  4. Do I tell stories that point to hope, that imagine a future still unfolding with God’s grace, one built on justice and peace and compassion? Or, do I allow despair to color my stories?
  5. Do my stories inspire a shared responsibility for all of creation, for all people? Or, do my stories encourage a sense of isolation and fear?

You might be tempted to respond, “Eric, I’m not writing a book. I’m not shooting a movie. I’m not even giving a speech. I’m not telling stories.” And to that I say, “Yes, indeed you are.”

Here’s the thing: We tell stories every day of our lives. Every conversation is a story; every inner thought that dances through our heads is a story. The way we position ourselves at the start of the day and the trajectory we set out on over the course of a year is a story. What we post online and what we allow to haunt our thoughts are all stories.

And we have to decide if our stories will labor for reconciliation or if they’ll spit in the face of peace. Will our stories help us to right relationships, to expose Christ living within all of us? Or, will our stories fracture our societies and hide our unique lights beneath bushels?

I think we might call this work Ignatian storytelling, a task that starts in prayer and contemplation — finding God in surprising places— but necessarily spills out into our daily activities, our daily encounters. A task that seeks to reveal God already laboring in every corner of our world and then shares that good news.

As we begin this month of July and look forward to the Feast of St. Ignatius on July 31st, let’s all take time to ask God how we might become Ignatian storytellers and further our shared mission of reconciling the world to God, self, neighbor and creation.

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.