Be Attentive

Mantra to pray: Our hearts are the ground where God’s word takes root.*

Stories and questions are a great way into our vocations. Our deepest vocation is to be human, therefore what places, people, environments lead me to my best self? We need to support each others’ exploration of our stories and our questions. Often times our questions lead to deeper questioning.

Make yourself a cup of tea and take a moment to journal, sketch, or collage about the following invitations: Pay attention to your day dreams…what excites you about them? Pay attention to when you

Discerners following the Spirit...

Discerners following the Spirit...

feel most alive—what was going on in those moments? Pay attention to when you feel most unlike yourself—what was happening there? Pay attention to what you are doing when you lose track of time. All of these serve as clues, invitations, and exploration for the different callings you may hold in your life that will bring you and others the greatest joy. What are your gifts and limitations? How do you integrate your passions into your everyday life? What is your next best step? St. Francis de Sales wisely shares, “When we are too intent in our search for something…we can look at it a hundred times and not see it.”

Have you ever worked with or been served by someone who is not in a position that they love or enjoy? What is that experience like? Versus when you work with people who truly desire to be there. Usually there is a significant difference in the level of joy that occurs. We do the world and ourselves no great service by limiting ourselves. Sharon Daloz Parks asks, “What is a Dream with a capitol D worthy of my attention?” We need to envision dreams that are not only big enough for our own welfare but so that they might bless others as well.

What is your story? (Notice how you tell your story, the words you choose.)

What are your questions?

What Dream might be emerging in you?

Part of being attentive, or paying attention is noticing the movement of the spirit within. This is also called consolation and desolation. Simply put consolation leads us toward God, self, and others, and desolation away from God, self and others. However, it can be tricky because sometimes consolation can hurt while we heal, and desolation can feel temporarily good. Margaret Silf from her book Inner Compass, an Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality describes the symptoms of desolation and consolation eloquently. Retreats are an incredible way to look at the larger patterns of your life’s consolation and desolation, as well as just building in moments of reflection during your day.

Discernment is both a skill and a spiritual gift, it is something you can become better at with practice. You start to notice patterns in your life you hope to repeat and others you hope to outgrow. However, you have  to listen before you can act on and interpret what you hear. And consider who it is that is calling you, in the Judeo-Christian tradition it is God calling. You may ask, why bother listening? Centuries of spiritual traditions–not just Christian–teach us that following the divine will for our lives generally results in more freedom, more joy, and more fulfillment than following our own will or someone else’s will. We pay attention to our feelings, to how the world moves our hearts. God speaks to us in our experience. That’s what St. Ignatius calls, “Finding God in all things.” The ultimate goal of listening and interpreting, is to name and see grace: God at work in our lives and in the world, to develop a way of responding, and to learn to distinguish between consolation and desolation.

In closing, I share a letter that Maryknoll Sister Ita Ford wrote to her niece shortly before she was martyred in El Salvador on December 2, 1980.

I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you. Something worth living for—maybe even worth dying for—something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can’t tell you what it might be—that’s for you to find, to choose, to love. I encourage you to start looking, and support you in your search.

Suggested texts for your prayer around attentiveness:

  • Isaiah 55:10-11 [NRSV] What is being accomplished in your life and the world around you?
  • Deuteronomy 30:15-20a How do you know when you are choosing life?
  • 1 Samuel 3:1-19 When you are listening what do you call that which you are listening to?
  • Psalm 95:7-8 What does it feel like when your heart becomes hardened?
  • Jeremiah 29:11-14a What are you seeking?

May you find God in your consolation and seek him in your desolation,

Elizabeth Eilers Sullivan, Visitation Alumna ’93


*A colleague and myself developed a five week discernment series when we worked together at Santa Clara University. Over the next few weeks I will share portions of this work for your own vocational discernment.

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