Today’s guest blogger, Joe McHugh, is a spiritual director, retreat leader, teacher, and writer based in the Twin Cities. He contributes regularly to the National Catholic Reporter. His book, Startled by God: Wisdom from Unexpected Places, will be published by Franciscan Media in September 2013. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
When I was in my mid-twenties, I made a directed retreat with a Jesuit who taught me as an undergraduate. He was a brilliant, provocative American literature teacher who habitually filled up every square inch of blackboard space with indecipherable scribbling when he taught—probably more therapy than teaching device.
He thought hard about his faith and could easily give the impression of being dismissive of most traditional forms of spiritual practice. But there was a fierceness in religious desire I found compelling and attractive.
About halfway through the retreat, he told me, “Spend tomorrow with the parable of the mustard seed.”
“That’s it,” I thought, “one day with one story about seeds?”
I took it as a challenge, so next day I read the parable over and over, trying to figure out what I was supposed to get out of it. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t figure out what I was supposed to get out of it, and I came up empty.
The next day he asked, “So what about the mustard seed?”
I made a couple of stabs in the direction of piety, but I had to admit: “I don’t get it.”
“Joseph,” he said, “did you ever think living in God’s reign isn’t about the seed at the beginning or the shrub at the end, but what happens in between? God comes to us as growth born of change, conversion, surrender.”
Grace, I started to learn that day, is less a “thing” and more a “process” in our growth from our in-between places.
Photo: Sanjay Acharya/Wikimedia Commons