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A Critical Moment to Ask Ourselves Not Just “Who are We?” but “Who Are We Becoming?”

I engage some kind of reflective process at the turn of each year. But the end of 2016 left me craving solitude for a deeper “sifting” of all of the dust, settled and still swirling, all around us. It was a year that convinced me even more of our deep need for spiritual practices that serve authentic identity formation and re-formation. Now is a critical moment to ask ourselves not just “Who are we?” but “Who are we becoming?”

The Ignatian tradition helpfully encourages us to see our lives as being created “momently.” This word suggests that we can live in awareness and participation in all of the “moments” of our lives that shape or form us in some way. When we think about it, our lives are made up of many significant “moments”–moments of decision, moments of joy, moments of loss, moments of quiet victory, moments of longing, moments of peace, moments of connection. We are constantly being created and re-created, by God, by our relationships and by and in the concrete circumstances and choices of our lives. In fact, the fully engaged person can live into each and ever moment as a profound space of encounter and transformation. This is both awesome and, at times, overwhelming.

Yet ultimately there is something very freeing and liberating about the realization that it is never too late for us to change. At the core of our being, we are part of a creative relationship that gives us possibilities that we alone could not even imagine for ourselves. We are here to dream God’s dream into the world, to realize that our deepest longings for peace, fruition, and the flourishing of all creation are but the smallest echo of God’s desires as they filter through God’s own image in us. Imagine what our communities and our world would look like if we lived toward the possibilities that take form and shape as we know ourselves in the light of our relationship with God. These possibilities emerge as a direct result of the choices we make each day.

Each day we are asked to “choose toward what better leads to God’s deepening life” in ourselves and in our world. This is called “the Principle and Foundation” of Ignatius Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises (paragraph 23), and we are asked to make it the principle of our daily lives, both for our own flourishing and for the health and well-being of the world around us. The Principle and Foundation is not simply about our relationship with God, as if that relationship were a private affair. We are meant to diffuse the love of God into the human community, especially in the places where people have been trampled down by neglect, abuse, injustice, and all that disappoints God. How will we attend, momently, to ourselves and to others in ways that contribute to a greater flourishing of the human race?

The knowledge that we are being created momently asks us to take greater care with the momentary details of our lives, the intricacy with which our life is strung together, the causal effects of experiences in our lives, our sense of what those experiences ask of us, and all of the relational implications of our lives. And when we recognize that God is at least as attentive to the details of our lives as we are, we gain a deeper appreciation of God’s love. A beautiful daily reflection for us to engage consists of remembering and honoring the ways that we have felt the tender touch of the divine hand in our lives: have we been kept, somehow, from making a serious mistake? Given an opportunity to contribute to something larger than ourselves? Brought back to our senses with a keen realization or awareness? Stirred to love in a way that surprises us? Such realizations help us to remember that we are cherished and being continually formed through the many moments of our lives. This kind of examen gives us a sense not only of who we are but of who we can become, empowering us to choose toward the fruition of the love that gives life to our world.

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About the author
Gillian Ahlgren
Dr. Ahlgren has been teaching the Christian mystical tradition to college-age students, graduate students, and adult learners for over 26 years. She is an internationally-recognized scholar of the tradition, an experienced spiritual director, and engages a regular practice of contemplative prayer. A popular teacher, public speaker and writer, she also gives several retreats per year. She is the Founding Director of Xavier University’s Institute for Spirituality and Social Justice.