To Know, To Love, and To Follow: Wonder and Wander in (un)Ordinary Times

August 16, 2020

This month’s blog series focuses on the grace we pray for in the second week of the Spiritual Exercises: to know, to love, and to follow Jesus. Today Jenene Francis shares with us how we can wonder and wander with Christ.

They are called earworms, tunes you can’t get out of your head. I suspect God sends them to loosen the soil of my heart.  A recent gift was this haunting Christmas carol:

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

That Jesus my Saviour did come for to die

For poor ornery people like you and like I

I wonder as I wander out under the sky

I have wandered a lot since mid-March. More than 1,500,000 steps according to Fibit, nearly all within 1.5 miles of home. I have been pretty ornery some days, too, struggling to find new ways of relating to neighbors and colleagues, friends and family.  Initially I felt quite aimless, attempting to establish new routines, trying to figure out how to work from home and struggling for focus.  During the Easter season I progressed to coping.  While never quite experiencing Christ’s resurrection, I planted seed trays anyway, nurturing summer hopes.  After Pentecost, as we resumed the regular numbering of days in Ordinary Time unimaginable when we paused at the end of February for Lent, a subtle sense of purposefulness took root. 

Reflecting on the challenges of these very un-ordinary times, my sister reminded me of one of the touchstone practices in a book she co-authored, The Courage Way: Leading and Living with Integrity, “when the going gets rough, turn to wonder.” Throughout the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius encourages us to be present with Jesus and the women and men around him through imaginative prayer and conversations.  He invites us to notice what is happening, to go deeper, to wonder.

Matthew’s summer Sunday Gospels, repeated in weekday readings, have given us opportunities to wander with Jesus, the itinerant preacher, imagining scenes unfolding, experiencing him teaching, mostly through metaphors and parables, and to wonder what he was trying to tell us about living as beloved children of God. Maybe some of what I have wondered about in prayer resonates with you: 

  • How might I see with the eyes of my hearts, looking into the eyes of others, seeking clues to what’s going on behind their masks? 
  • What do seeds and sowing, weeds and wheat, yeast and bread baking and bread breaking mean during a pandemic?
  • What kind of suffering does Jesus help me endure, and when does he want me to choose a different kind of suffering, the kind accompanied by courage he provides to say goodbye, shake off dusty feet, and head to another village for a new beginning?

I have also been wondering about the ultimate paradox at the heart of so many examples Jesus used to convey his love: that experiencing fullness of life and joy, our own and as a gift to others, is a journey through death on a cross promising resurrection so that Jesus’ “joy will be complete.”  It’s a mystery, this paschal cycle of living, dying and rising. 

Many of the seeds I carefully sowed in April died to their tiny former selves, but happily achieved the end for which God created them.  I celebrated French breakfast radishes with baby salad greens. Cilantro was plentiful, ready to harvest with the first serranos. They inspired an aromatic Asian soup with homemade shrimp wontons that made my nose run!  I had given up on parsley when three of countless seeds in that packet tentatively unfurled. Still delicate, they are cautiously making their way to maturity.  I was disappointed nasturtiums never germinated, but lo and behold, petunias and coleus sown by a hand other than mine appeared.  Happily I waited long enough to discover the mystery sprouts were not weeds, otherwise I would have missed out on their colorful companionship.

Wandering through social media I notice “WWJD?” seeds being sown by sometimes ornery, but mostly well-intentioned people, grappling with important complicated questions, wishing for straightforward answers.  Their question leads me to wonder, what if we asked instead, “Jesus, what would you have me do?”  As I listen for his response, some ways my heart is moving include:

  • witnessing the importance of wearing masks for our common good health; 
  • learning from ministries pursuing both high-tech and high-touch care for the communities they serve;
  • striving to become an anti-racist person alongside family, friends and Jesuit Province colleagues.

I find cultivating a desire in prayer “for an intimate knowledge of our Lord, who has become [human] for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely” is leading toward a joy-filled spiritual harvest.  I wander through scripture, city streets and gardens, tilling the soil of these extraordinary times, to remain grounded in daily life, better able to turn to wonder when life gets rough, grateful I am a little less ornery and a little more patient with myself and others.  And it helps knowing even Jesus could be a bit cranky at times. Thanks be to God!

Go Deeper:

  • You can read a pray with this beautiful poem, Planting Seeds, by Alden Solory.

Photo by Jenene Francis.

Jenéne Francis is an aspiring contemplative in action who finds writing creative non-fiction and short fiction a fruitful spiritual practice. She also enjoys adapting and offering the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius for days of reflection and retreats. Jenéne recently retired from the Midwest Province of the Society of Jesus after many years supporting Jesuits and colleagues who serve retreat houses, spirituality programs, parishes, and as hospital chaplains and other pastoral ministers. Having spent her first career at the Procter and Gamble Company in product development and manufacturing, followed by more than 20 years in Jesuit ministry, Jenéne gets great satisfaction offering her engineer’s head and poet’s heart for “the greater glory of God.”

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