God is in all things whether we know it or not. The chapter we read in IVC this month from An Ignatian Spirituality Reader by George W. Traub, SJ helps us to know how to find God’s presence while we are working, living and functioning in the world, not removed to a monastery or separated from the world. In the intro, we hear a simple model from Howard Gray, SJ (p.48):
1. be attentive to reality
2. reverence (that is appreciate) what you see and hear in all its particulars
3. and “then you will find devotion [what Ignatius also calls “consolation”], the singularly moving way in which God works in that situation.”
My personal initial introduction to the Spiritual Exercises was through the 19th annotation when I found myself as a single nurse at the age of 30, looking to make sure to the best of my ability that I was following God’s will. I had an experience of God’s presence in a way I had never had, hearing God speak to me.
I was very touched by Gray’s beautiful description of how Ignatius experienced God speaking to him, and came to believe that God communicated directly with people (p. 78). The Sunday after my experience of God’s presence I went to Sunday mass in my local church, and a visiting Jesuit said, “When you pray, don’t just talk to God. Take time to listen, and God will speak to you.” I had never heard those words from the altar. I thought God only spoke to people in the past, or through events or other people or through the bible. When Fr. Dan McDonald spoke that Sunday, I knew that either he had that experience or he knew that it was possible. Through him I connected with a priest at St. Joseph’s college and he guided me through the exercises. From that moment on, every major decision and many of the minor ones I made only after hearing from God.
In my IVC experience, I recognized God’s timing when we initially started the LI chapter about 10 years ago. Everything opened up and clicked so that we started finding placements in the spring and had a chapter going in the fall. We found God on Long Island in those running the agencies, those being served, in those volunteering to serve.
In my volunteer service, I frequently call on God to know what to do. A woman we will call Lilly, in one of the support groups I facilitate, had her husband removed from her home a few years ago after an incident of domestic violence. She is from Mexico and has 2 daughters, a 12 year old and a 4 year old. At the end of September they moved into a tiny house and were so happy and excited to be living above ground, having lived in basements for years. To celebrate, she invited us to have our meeting in her new house one November day. It would be our first meeting after hurricane Sandy. All of the women lost power for at least 7 days, some for almost 2 weeks, lost food, lost work, and many got sick because of the cold. Power was finally restored, so we could meet.
Lilly called me the morning of the meeting very upset. She said the landlord wanted her to move out immediately because her rent was not paid up completely. Lilly’s Spanish is much better than her English especially when she is stressed, so she asked if I could come and meet with her and her landlord whom we’ll call Ray. I agreed to come early to the meeting.
When I arrived, Lilly gave me all her papers and receipts from all the payments she had made, thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, she still owed thousands of dollars, and only had hundreds on her at the moment. She had not been able to work because of the hurricane, and was just getting back.
I prayerfully read every scrap of paper and the lease. I found that Ray and Lilly had both signed a paper that said she had 3 months to pay the original money. I also saw that he had reduced the broker’s fee and had really tried to make it easier for her. I saw that he really wanted her family there and was very accommodating and understanding. I saw a reflection of God in the patience he had.
As I sat with the papers, I began to wonder about the urgency of the landlord at this moment. I heard, “hurricane Sandy”. This meant nothing to me in connection to his urgency in getting her out. Then I saw it. Many wealthy families were desperate for rentals because they had lost their housing in the hurricane. I was not sure where the thought came from, but it clicked and made perfect sense.
I went again to God to know what to do. In our reading, one of the lines was ”Reverence is the exclusion of exclusion.” I felt that there was an attempt to exclude Lilly without going through the proper legal procedure because of her poverty. I saw also that she had made an agreement and not kept her part. I wondered what God was calling me to do. I was tempted to judge the landlord or Lilly, but judging seemed not to be of God.
When Ray the landlord came, he was upset. He said he had a translator with him when he came before and Lilly had agreed to pay certain amounts at certain times and had not honored the agreement. He wanted a realistic plan.
Again I saw God’s presence in the care he took to bring a translator and to come to her place instead of making her come to his office. I saw God in her as she invited him to see her as she was, and let her poverty speak for her and her children.
I reverenced Ray by sharing what I had gleaned of God’s presence in his interactions with Lilly. I told him I saw that he had been very understanding, had fixed the place up beautifully, had kept to his part of the agreement in allowing them to put off the payment of the back money. He started to relax when he saw that I was not attacking him. He kept saying that he wanted a realistic plan.
I translated everything and they came to a new agreement. Ray did mention that he had many people eager to rent because of the hurricane and I appreciated his honesty and realized that I was hearing the truth earlier. I was seeing God in him, in his efforts to work with Lilly. I was happy to be helping both of them. She gave him what she had, and he accepted it graciously.
The day of the next payment, she told me when she would have the money, I told him, and they both thanked me. And I thanked God. I was in consolation.
At the time of her next payment, she did not have the money, so I arranged to have her hold the Christmas party for our group, and arranged to pay her ahead of time. She made the payment.
She is still there. Her landlord called me as I write this and I have not called him back. She is still way behind and his message said, “It is not working.” I ask God to guide me once again as I prepare to call the landlord and ask how can we work together to make this work. Or, if God can find another place for her little family. I am relieved to be in God’s care and to have God to turn to when I don’t know the answer. I am back at step one, being attentive to reality. What is the reality? Will she ever be able to stay here, to keep up with the rent and the expenses?
God, please guide me as I serve you through serving your little ones, the anawim, the marginalized, the poor. As we gather gifts for those who have no resources, help me to help Lilly to do the right thing, to live with dignity and honesty. Thank you for the cooperation of her landlord. Help him to do what is right as well. Please help us to do the right thing today, to listen to your voice. Help me to find you today in Lilly and Ray and myself, in their little house and in all things, because you are there.
Louise M. Sandberg is a IVC Spiritual Reflector and Volunteer, as Director of the Mary & Elizabeth Center which reaches out to women in need on Long Island, NY. She is a pediatric home care nurse, and facilitates Wildflower groups for women healing from childhood abuse, praying for healing of feelings and memories.