Spirituality and family life

POST BY AGuest

Michelle Ellison (right) with her family

Michelle Ellison, parishioner at Corpus Christi Boscombe, reflects on finding a deeper spirituality amidst a busy family life,as the parish prepares for its Hearts on Fire mission week in July.

Corpus Christi parish is situated in the heart of a very diverse multi-cultural community in the beautiful sea side resort of Bournemouth. Surrounding our parish are schools serving many of the local families from various cultural backgrounds.  Thus, we have gravitating towards the parish,  a myriad of families, including mine, with different needs, who come to celebrate the Eucharist, and sacraments of Baptism, Holy Communion and Confirmation.

Over the years we have often encountered parents asking, what does ‘Spirituality’ look like amidst their family daily pressures?  For some families, finding that deeper sense of spirituality within the everyday busyness of ordinary life can prove to be a daily challenge.  And I can relate to this as a married mother of four children ranging in ages from 18 to 7 years old. Trying to maintain a relationship with God and a grip on one’s own spirituality amid the rush of morning breakfast, school runs, mundane daily chores, work, manic dinner times and the evening routine, when exhaustion kicks in, can become disheartening. Moreover, family life does not sit still, it is constantly moving, growing and changing.  Children grow up and family members must keep adapting themselves to each other as well as to their new situations. 

Sometimes going away on a retreat to find the space, peace, stillness, and silence to reconnect with God, can be very appealing, but not always possible.  For some families retreats can be too expensive. Leaving children behind for three or four days isn’t always possible, especially for those who haven’t got an extended family at hand to help.  My family is at an advantage in belonging to Corpus Christi Parish which is run by a Jesuit community.  Here at Corpus Christi I have learnt so much about discovering and finding God in everything we do, in the real world, and I’m still learning.  Without realising it I have been discovering ‘Ignatian Spirituality’, and through a sense of curiosity I attended the first Jesuit parishes conference in Britain alongside others from my parish.

What attracts me about Ignatian spirituality is that I can progress on my journey of faith and explore my relationship with God at my own pace. I have discovered that faith is a personal journey, as well as a communal one. And it is not a linear journey, which has freed me to relax and let God work in me.   I am currently blessed to be doing a retreat, in the real world, in my daily life.  Meeting once every two weeks with my spiritual guide is helping me to stay focused and to prioritise how I spend my time, which benefits me and my family.  It is also helping me to discover the space and the time during the day where I can connect with God.  Most important, it is helping me become more aware of God working in me and my family, in the joys as well as in the hard times. In fact having the opportunity to explore and reflect has opened my eyes to something much deeper in our lives.

Over the years I have worked with families as an Early Years professional as well as on a pastoral level by initiating mothers’ prayer groups, leading our parish parent and toddler group and being a lead catechist on our First Reconciliation and Holy Communion programme.  I have come to learn that for some families the reality of their daily life can be far removed from the ideals presented by the church. Unfortunately this can result in them feeling alienated from the church community.  I have also learnt that there is no one magic formula to help people find God in the midst of all of their hardships and turmoil; and no such thing as a perfect person, let alone a perfect family.

Corpus Christi’s ‘Hearts On fire’ mission weekend last year saw a positive response from a few of the young families who attend our weekly parish parent and toddler group. These families were able to participate fully in some of the workshops to discover more about praying the Ignatian way because we were able to offer a crèche service.  It became apparent that families such as these and mine are searching for more from their parish community, besides attending Mass on Sundays.

This years ‘Hearts On Fire’ mission week aims to continue to raise awareness and the profile of our Jesuit roots. It also aims to move Ignatian Spirituality out of the building and onto the streets, or in our case the beach, as well as the homes of our local families; to continue to build strong relationships with all who encounter our community; and to facilitate and support families in their search to recognise that, in fact, God is already present in their daily lives, a notion often overlooked.  Ignatian Spirituality places great emphasis on discerning God’s presence in the everyday activities of ordinary life. It sees God as an active God who is always at work in and around our lives and who invites us to travel along our spiritual path in an ever-deeper way. 

I look forward with great enthusiasm to our upcoming Mission week …………

Michelle Ellison

Hearts on Fire team, Corpus Christi parish, Boscombe