How to spy on God

I’m on my way home—left work late and then waited 20 minutes for a subway train. My daughter, a neophyte high schooler, is heading home alone after cross-country practice. Since we are “living in the dark ages” according to my son (code for: Neither of us has a cell phone at present), we haven’t talked since this morning. I worry that she’ll be fretting about why I’m so late. The train doors open a few stops from home. There, waiting to board, is my daughter. Her smile beams as she gets on the train. “Mom!” she says. “Practice ran late, and I was thinking you’d be worrying about where I was!”

Reflecting on the presence of God in our daily lives is a spiritual exercise as old as the hills. St. Ignatius of Loyola recommended to his community that each day they reflect on the movement of the Spirit in their lives and how they responded to it. “As you move through the details of your day,” recommends one Jesuit spirituality website, still heeding his advice, “give thanks to God for His presence in the big and the small things of your life.”

My husband and I are puffing along on our walk, trying to get in a few miles. The path takes us next to the Chicago River (“Not Suitable for Wading, Swimming, Any Human Body Contact”). On the bank stand not one but two herons: a black-crowned night heron, who likes to fish here, and the more elusive great blue heron, a stunning bird of seemingly prehistoric proportions. We gaze in silence. The great blue spreads its six-foot wingspan and, miraculously, lifts off. Despite ominous river warnings, his stick-like legs are still firmly attached.

Our pastor is preaching on marriage. Among the good things he says is this: “The church has never taught that you should stay in an abusive relationship or in a relationship with someone who is addicted to alcohol or drugs and refuses to get help.” I know that many women in decades past were told that they should just put up with such situations. God bless this priest for saying the opposite from a Sunday pulpit.

I’m in the car, late as usual. As I zoom into the left turn lane, I see that the local homeless guy is standing smack in the middle of the lane collecting from cars. The left-turn arrow turns green. I honk briefly, but before he can shuffle aside, the arrow turns red. The homeless guy smiles at me with his one tooth. I say to myself, “You’ve got a lot bothering you!” with appropriate sarcasm. I reach into my purse and wave him over to the car.

A parents’ weekend concert at my son’s university. He’s in the college chorus; their final number tonight is a sing-along which includes “Moon River.” In his toddler years we had trouble finding a bedtime song, as he wept at any that mentioned “Good night” or going to sleep. We finally hit on “Moon River.” Now we have come full circle: The tall 21-year-old sings “Moon River” to Mom and Dad. “Mom, tell me you weren’t crying!” says the son afterwards, shaking his head with a smile.

Later this month you’ll hear about another mother reflecting on her day. She gives birth uncomfortably on an out-of-town trip. Some local shady characters, sheep herders I believe, claim to hear angels singing in the hills who guide them to the little family. When they tell everyone about the angels’ message, their listeners are amazed. Mary, the young mother at the end of a long day, “kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:18-19). 

 —by Catherine O’Connell-Cahill, from the pages of At Home with Our Faith, Claretian Publications’ print newsletter for parents on nurturing spirituality in the home. At Home with Our Faith is the winner of the 2010 General Excellence award from the Catholic Press Association. Here’s a sample issue.

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