This blog, by San Diego Ignatian Volunteer Geri Gies, is a reflection on the spiritual readings and guide being used this month by volunteers in all regions across the country.
It is fascinating to observe the display screen on the dashboard of my hybrid car. The whirl of arrows flows from the battery to the motor, from the gas engine to the motor, from the rotating wheels back to the motor, circling back to the battery, a complicated choreography that indicates the energy source that propels the car along the road. A computer discerns how these sources of energy function as I control the speed and guide the car to our destination.
Contemplating what message I am supposed to share with you about my experience as an Ignatian volunteer, that image of circulating arrows came to mind. I am a novice on this journey to develop my awareness of God/Jesus/Holy Spirit, who is the energy source propelling me down my own path to my destination. God provides the energy source: love, joy, patience, generosity. I channel that energy into action by serving the poor, which leads to contemplation, and on to more action and seeking God. Then monthly we volunteers all meet at the spiritual filling station as we share and reflect on the month’s experiences and assigned readings, and attend Mass together.
The readings this month (Discernment; pages 151-191) brought this into focus for me. As a novice on the IVC highway, I have yet to experience the Spiritual Exercises. And until now, I have not disciplined myself to devote much time to reflection, contemplation, to discernment. There is little quiet in my hectic mind as it whirls through the day, and God frequently gets a busy signal when he attempts to speak to me. God knows me well, and that to communicate with me, he needs to reach me through others, to send concrete messages in the guise of a needy client, an e-mail about an unjust social issue, an invitation to write a blog about discernment. He places people and events in my path to invite me, guide me, along the stepping-stones to my purpose in this life, to a better life, to a joyful life.
Most evenings, I pray The Daily Examen. Until this month, until I read these pages on discernment, #3. Prayer for Self Knowledge always perplexed me. What am I to ask for? A deeper relationship with the Holy Spirit? What do I need to know? Are evil spirits lurking? Then after pondering a while, I turn the page and read, re-read, and re-read the Fruits of the Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. As a novice to Ignatian spirituality, those words bring me peace. These Fruits of the Spirit serve as my standards as I evaluate my day. Most days, my daily activities, my ministry, truly bring me consolation. Some days I realize I missed the mark.
When I began as an intake worker at Catholic Charities food resource center, I was prideful in believing I knew how to work with the poor. I was delighted to serve the Spanish-speaking mothers, being able to communicate with them in their native language and direct them to additional services after they had received their food. But, due to my lack of experience, I sometimes feared those clients who were recently released from prison, or who were suffering from mental illness, or who were caught in the clutches of addiction. During my training period, I witnessed the veteran intake workers show compassion and respect for the dignity of every client no matter his/her circumstances or appearance, and at night I would reflect and write in my journal and pray the Daily Examen. Over the weeks, I realized I had nothing to fear, that many clients are fearful themselves, that they hunger not only for food, but for respect, for someone to listen to them, to have faith in them. Through experience, through contemplation, through discernment, my fears were transformed into tolerance, into love.
The gifts of the spirit are moving in both of us as the hungry one sits with me at the food resource intake desk. I am blessed by being able to serve him/her, and I hope her/his life is blessed by the food and service (s)he receives. God’s love flows. Sometimes I drive home wondering how (s)he arrived at that spot, and I at mine. Which seat we occupy at that intake desk was determined by choices we have made, circumstances, blessings.
The veteran IVC volunteers I have met at the monthly meetings and my Spiritual Reflector, most of whom have completed the Spiritual Exercises, are models of how I hope to grow in faith and love. Regular contemplation of the Daily Exercises, “a constant accounting of oneself to the unseen Other,” has made me change and grow more conscious of my tone of voice, my eye contact, my listening. I thought I was sensitive to the needs of the poor before, but now I know my eyes and ears are just beginning to open.
Last week, I stopped at a red light and the whirl of arrows on the dashboard screen ceased. In front of me was an SUV and in the window was an emblem from a pet rescue organization. The circular sticker displayed a large dog’s paw in the center. The words, “Who rescued who?” were imprinted over it. The light turned green, I accelerated, the dashboard arrows resumed their dance. My mind spun, I smiled. “Thank you, God, for another concrete message. Again, You reached my heart. My volunteer work, my serving clients at the food resource center, has given my life purpose, joy, consolation. How lost, lethargic, desolate, my life would be without Your guidance.”
Geri is a retired bilingual teacher and she worked with the Migrant Education Program. She currently volunteers as an intake worker at Catholic Charities Food Resource Center in San Diego. She is married to retired dentist John Geis who established a dental clinic dedicated to treating the underserved. She loves travelling with John, playing bridge, and hanging out with her Cursillo groupies.