Spirituality: Seen + Unseen

Photo taken during the St. Patrick’s Day parade at River Forest [Nate Sullivan is 3rd from the right]

Photo taken during the St. Patrick’s Day parade at River Forest [Nate Sullivan is 3rd from the right]

A Reflection from Nate Sullivan, L’Arche Assistant

One of the most meaningful moments in my days takes place when dinner ends. Together at the table with friends that I share a home with, we pass a glowing candle around in prayer. One by one, we share words or silence and then give the candle to the person beside us. We might ask for peace in the midst of hard things, or give thanks for the joys of the day. After it has been passed to each person, we share a moment of silence. Then, we join hands or arms and say the Lord’s Prayer.

It’s our joining together.
It’s the flicker of the candlelight on all of our faces.
It’s our voices in diverse unity - in and out of sync - harmonizing.
It’s God with us, and us with each other.

This shared time is full of a special kind of vibrancy, at once both deeply embodied and profoundly spiritual. By this, I mean that our bodies and souls - in some grounded and transcendent way - are caught up together in a single experience of loving community and prayer.

I used to believe that what is immaterial and invisible is far more “spiritual” and valuable than any thing or experience we can hold, feel, or touch. This understanding of spirituality left me unable to recognize much of the real good that exists in my day-to-day life with God and others.

But I have begun to embrace spirituality differently.

As I started to open myself to the possibility that spirituality can include much more than I once thought—both the unseen as well as the seen—I began to recognize the many ways that my own Christian faith tradition celebrates the connection between the visible and the invisible. What is human and what is divine, coming together. Again and again.

Sharing life at L’Arche is continually revealing to me the deep value of this kind of spiritual life. It includes all of our selves, our interactions, and our efforts in the process of learning to love and be loved well. Even the simple, ordinary, material, and mundane parts of our existence matter in this spiritual journey. Jean Vanier reflects in his book, The Heart of L’Arche:

“The community we live [at L’Arche] is rooted in simple, material things: cooking meals, spending time together around the table, washing the dishes, doing the laundry and the housework…thousands of little things that all take time. These little things can often be seen as insignificant and valueless. However, all these small gestures can become gestures of love that help create a warm atmosphere in which the communion of hearts can grow. In this way, community life becomes a school of love.”

There is power in the simple, communal experiences that occur when lives are shared. These moments have given me space to discover more of the true beauty of a spiritual journey with God and with my neighbors that includes all of who I am—heart, soul, mind, and body—as a human being. Once we recognize that spirituality is not only the mysterious and the unseen, but also all of the simple and material parts of our lives together, we may discover new glimpses of beauty in places where it has been all along.

Maybe that’s why the candlelit prayer time after dinner has been so powerful for me in my discovery of a more whole spirituality. Not just because we have spoken with God together and leaned into the invisible, but also because we are seated around a dinner table, and we are together, hand-in-hand, with the smells of our shared meal still in the air. In this quiet, ordinary space, there is room for the communion of hearts. Whatever the day has been, whatever joys or pains have filled it, we conclude it by coming together in seen and unseen ways. And we will come back together the next day, and the one after that.

Nate Sullivan