This past Christmas, we did a lot of baking, both at home and at my mother’s house when we went to visit her and her husband. We also as a family managed to break a lot of glass. No, we were not carousing excessively over the holidays. Once the dog knocked over a glass on a table, in his excitement to leap onto someone’s lap. He is an enthusiastic dog in all things! Twice an unnamed family member broke glass dishes with baking ingredients when creating what nonetheless turned out to be an amazing lemon meringue pie. When all three events happened on the same day, it started to feel like a bit of a curse. I don’t believe in poltergeists but started to wonder. In reality, though, we were not used to the environment we were in. At home, our kitchen island is a little bigger, so we are used to placing more items on it when rolling out a dough nearby. At home, we sadly do not have a dog, so we don’t think about how far onto the table we ought to place that glass.
The mishaps made me think about the importance of balance in Ignatian spirituality. Balance comes up in a number of different ways. First, we have to recognize that good discernment requires making choices between different kinds of goods, not trying to pile on all the good things that we might choose to do. To borrow from the baking metaphor, if we put too many dishes onto the countertop, eventually one is going to break. Instead, we can be deliberate in what we choose to do. In times of social or personal stress, this is even more important. I can take time to prioritize what really matters and acknowledge that sometimes, if I have “too many dishes on the kitchen island,” maybe it is time to set some aside, at least temporarily. That way I can do well what I am already doing.
Second, we experience times of both consolation and desolation throughout our lives. Though I wish it were otherwise, with all consolation if I only worked at it hard enough, in reality, life has its ups and downs, and so do our interior movements. St. Ignatius advised that we store up consolations for times of desolation, and use consolations well to prepare for times when desolation will strike again. He offered this advice because our human reality provides times when we experience God’s peace, love, and joy, but then, even if we are faithful to prayer, there will inevitably be times of sadness, dryness in prayer, or feeling discouraged. That is life. But we can respond to both consolation and desolation by holding them in balance and not focusing on one or the other as what is “real.” It is God—and the places where we know God in our lives—that is the genuine object of our love.
Third, we also have to hold created goods in balance. In the Principle and Foundation, Ignatius asks us to recall that we have to regard status, wealth, and even the length of our own lives with a degree of indifference. Indifference does not mean not caring at all about these things. But it does mean that when something breaks, we don’t fuss too much over “spilled milk” or even broken glass. When the kitchen items broke, those of us who heard rounded up the dogs into a different room so that they would not step on any shards, went and cleaned up the mess, and moved on. There were other little glass dishes with which to work, and the pie turned out to be delicious. Similarly, we are invited to care for that which God gives us in our everyday lives and also to be able to let go with some lightness that which “breaks,” so that we can love God and others today.