26th February 2017 – 8th Sunday of the Year – Year A
A prayer we had last week spoke of doing what is pleasing to God while “always pondering spiritual things.” This seems to imply that it is a good thing to ponder spiritual things, but what does it mean? A dictionary definition of ‘spiritual’ includes: “having the mind fixed on higher things; with one’s head in the clouds.” If that is what it means – Gerard Hughes once asked – would you wish to have a spiritual pilot if you were going to travel on an aeroplane? Or would you not prefer an honest-to-goodness atheist who does not have his head in the clouds but is, so to speak, down to earth and keeps his eyes fixed on the instrument panel?
Like many of our religious terms, the words spiritual and spirituality can be used in misleading ways. I once led a Centre for Spirituality and when starting the work I tried to think how I could present it. The definition I suggested for spirituality in the Christian sense was: our human awareness of God who is Spirit as a reality in our lives. That is, spirituality is almost the exact opposite of what most people suppose it to be. It is not being concerned with so-called higher outré things, but knowing God in the only place where we can know him – the reality of our lives as they really are. A writer on the way of St. Benedict, Esther de Waal, put it like this: “God is exceedingly concrete reality, and it is only in the concrete reality of my life as it actually is that I can know him.”
We often think of God as only having to do with unusual, ‘spiritual’ things which are not part of our ordinary lives, but St. Ignatius of Loyola suggests that we need to become more aware of God in all things. We could spend time, even daily, reflecting on our experience, as he did, and asking God to show us where he has been in this day. What have been the moments when we became aware of another, deeper dimension below the surface of life that alerts us to the reality of God, who is both other but also closer to us than the air we breathe? They may be otherwise unremarkable features of the daily round, but have this special quality.
The infinite variety and mystery of the created world, for example, is both ordinary, around us all the time, but extraordinary in that we see it as the work of God. No wonder that Jesus says in this Sunday’s Gospel that if we want assurance that there is a loving God we should go to the natural world. Consider the lilies of the field and the birds of the air, he says. Time doing that will be well spent, as it is indeed one of the best ways of pondering spiritual things.
Wishing you every blessing,