Gracious Goodness: Living Each Day in the Gifts of the Spirit

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Overview

A wholly different way of living in the Holy Spirit’s gifts

 

Melannie Svoboda, SND, takes seriously the traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit—but she believes that the Spirit’s gifts are far broader and more common than we realize.
In Gracious Goodness, Svoboda lists fifty-two gifts of the Spirit, many of which will surprise readers: childlikeness, common sense, pleasure, relaxation, zeal . . . even anger, failure, and guilt are included ...

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Overview

A wholly different way of living in the Holy Spirit’s gifts

 

Melannie Svoboda, SND, takes seriously the traditional gifts of the Holy Spirit—but she believes that the Spirit’s gifts are far broader and more common than we realize.
In Gracious Goodness, Svoboda lists fifty-two gifts of the Spirit, many of which will surprise readers: childlikeness, common sense, pleasure, relaxation, zeal . . . even anger, failure, and guilt are included as gifts! Each two-page meditation, based on Scripture and real-life experiences, begins with a relevant quote and ends with application questions, followed by a short prayer.
Ultimately, Gracious Goodness encourages Christians to fully trust the unending goodness of God as they learn to recognize and embrace the abundance and diversity of the Holy Spirit’s gifts in every person’s life.

“The Latin phrase nota bene (n.b.) means ‘note well!’ Sr. Melannie Svoboda not only knows that phrase—she lives it. In Gracious Goodness we have fifty-two n.b.’s that will enrich our spiritual treasure troves.”
—Bishop Robert Morneau, Auxiliary Bishop of Green Bay

“In Gracious Goodness, Sr. Melannie Svoboda offers accessible meditations to today’s Everyman and Everywoman. These meditations come from life’s daily gifts and they range from kindness to whimsy. Anyone who wants a spiritual companion for the new millennium could do no better than to turn these pages.”
—William J. Bausch, author, The Yellow Brick Road: A Storyteller’s Approach to the Spiritual Journey

“Sr. Melannie herself is one of God’s treasures as she so ably demonstrates here. She delights us, encourages us, and surprises us with her inspiring insights and homey images. A wonderful book!”
—Gwen Costello, author, A Prayer Primer for Catechists and Teachers

“We are once again indebted to Sr. Melannie Svoboda for opening our eyes to the beauty of life. Prophet-­like, she guides us in fifty-two brief essays, from Abundance to Zeal, to consider the Spirit’s gifts and qualities with fresh insight, with a new slant. She peppers the chapters with stories, poignant quotations, and references to Jesus’ words and example.”
—John van Bemmel, author, Prayers about Everyday Stuff,
coauthor, 100 Prayers for Making Faith Connections

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780829427196
  • Publisher: Loyola Press
  • Publication date: 5/1/2008
  • Edition description: First Edition
  • Pages: 120
  • Sales rank: 475,262
  • Product dimensions: 5.40 (w) x 8.30 (h) x 0.40 (d)

Meet the Author

Sr. Melannie Svoboda, SND, is a popular speaker and workshop leader as well as the author of six books. She is the former provincial superior of the Sisters of Notre Dame in Chardon, Ohio.

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Read an Excerpt

Introduction

Dear Reader:
This is a book on the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But I use the word “gifts” in a broad sense. I include the traditional seven gifts of the Holy Spirit, but I also include other gifts such as attentiveness, beauty, diversity, intimacy, leadership, and patience. The book even includes some gifts of the Spirit not always thought of as gifts: bereavement, common sense, death, desire, guilt, failure, relaxation, and levity.

The fifty-­two gifts are arranged in alphabetical order with the exception of the last selection: death. I’ve placed death at the end of the book since death is, in a way, the last gift, the final gift, the ultimate gift.

Each chapter begins with an appropriate quotation from a wide variety of sources followed by a meditation on the particular gift, a meditation rooted in both Scripture and daily life. At the end of each meditation there are one or more questions to facilitate personal reflection on that gift in your own life. And finally, each chapter concludes with a short prayer to encourage your prayerful dialogue with God about each gift.

I call this book Gracious Goodness, for the gifts of the Holy Spirit are given to us by a God whose goodness knows no bounds. How blessed are we to be the recipients of these gracious gifts.

May this small book help you to discover the grace, goodness, and surprising diversity of the Holy Spirit’s gifts in your own life.

 

O Lord, it is you who are my portion and my cup;
It is you yourself who are my prize.
The lot marked out for me is my delight:
Welcome indeed the heritage that falls to me!
(Psalm 16:5–6)

 

1 On Abundance

We have all benefited from the rich blessings he brought to us—blessing upon blessing heaped upon us.
—John 1:16

Astronomers tell us there are between 50 billion and 100 billion stars in our galaxy. (One billion is 1,000 million.) What’s more, there are an estimated 50 billion galaxies in the universe (the known universe, that is). That means, if every galaxy has 50 billion stars (a conservative estimate), then there are 50 billion times 50 billion stars swirling around in space—that is, 2,500,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. That is a heck of a lot of stars!

From the sheer number of stars alone, it is pretty obvious: Our God is a God of abundance. It seems that when it came to creating stars, at least, God got carried away. God couldn’t stop with two or three or even a few dozen stars—as reasonableness would dictate. No, God had to keep churning them out, star after star after star. And it is not just with stars that God got carried away. The numbers are just as mind-boggling when it comes to other things God made—like grains of sand, snowflakes, orchids, bees.
God’s apparent lack of restraint when it comes to creating things is but a symptom of a deeper “problem”: God lacks restraint when it comes to loving, too. In fact, God is most unrestrained when it comes to loving. Put another way, God cannot love except abundantly.

Isn’t that what Jesus was all about? Jesus’ life was one big show-­and-­tell of God’s abundant love. What is the parable of the ­prodigal son, for example, but a proclamation of the abundance of God’s love? What is Jesus’ agony in the garden but a graphic demonstration that, when all is lost and nothing makes any sense any more, the only proper thing to do is to fall backwards into the arms of the God of Abundant Love—and trust, trust, trust. We are meant to love abundantly—just as God loves—with sweeping gestures, to the max, as if there were no tomorrow.

In her book The Writing Life, Annie Dillard says: “One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. . . . Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.”

Good advice for writing, great advice for loving.

 

How have I experienced the abundance of God’s love in my life? What hinders me from loving more abundantly? What helps me?

 

Spirit of Jesus, fill me with your abundant love.

 

2 On Anger

If we had been better people, we would have been angrier oftener.
—Richard Bentley

Anger gets a lot of bad press these days—especially in religious circles. For many people, anger is a negative emotion, a shameful thing. After all, anger makes individuals speak hurtful words, scream profanities, throw dishes, brandish baseball bats, and even kill.

That may be true. Sometimes. But sometimes anger can be good. It can even be a gift of the Spirit. Just look at Jesus. He got angry. Remember how he cleansed the Temple?
Even the phrase “cleansed the Temple” is a euphemism—as if Jesus strolled in with a little plastic pail and began to mop the corridors or something. Not so. When Jesus cleansed the temple, he stormed up the steps like a madman, waving a whip around his head. He screamed at the moneychangers while hurling their tables and chairs.
Some people are quick to say, “But it was okay for Jesus to get angry. After all, he was God.” Others excuse his anger by saying, “His anger was justified.” The truth is, many of us are uncomfortable with, or even embarrassed by, this image of a raging, quasi-­maniacal Jesus. We prefer a gentler Jesus, the Good-­Shepherd-­cuddling-­a-­white-­wooly-­lamb Jesus. But we must be honest: the raging Jesus is just as real as the cuddling Jesus. And sooner or later we must come to accept this anger in Jesus—as well as the anger in ourselves. We must see how, at times, anger is the only fitting response to a situation. Anger can be a friend.

Anger is our friend when it shakes us out of our complacency. There is an innate tendency in many of us to let things be, to not rock the boat, to keep things just as they are—no matter how ridiculous, awful, or unjust. That is where anger can come in. If we spot something that is not right, our spontaneous anger might just be the spark we need to act; that is, to do something about making things right, or at least better.

Anger is our friend when it draws our attention to something that may be wrong within ourselves. Sometimes our anger is a red flag, alerting us to a deeper problem we may be avoiding. Persistent anger can be a way of cloaking other emotions that might be too painful for us to name, let alone deal with—emotions such as hurt, grief, loneliness, or fear. When we are angry, then, it makes sense not to dismiss our anger immediately. Rather, we might want to sit with our anger for a while, walk around it, and explore its roots. We might be surprised at what we discover.

A few years back I found myself complaining to my spiritual director about a particular situation in my life. Month after month, I complained—with considerable anger. Then one day I said to her, “You know, I’m sick and tired of hearing myself complain about this thing.” (No doubt she was, too!) Then I found myself saying, “I guess I’d better either do something about this thing, or shut up already!” My anger eventually led me to take some definite steps, albeit difficult steps, to better the situation I was in. There is a point where patience ceases to be a virtue and a point where anger becomes one.

 

What makes me angry? Have I ever sat with my anger, walked around it, or explored its roots? If so, what did I find?

 

Jesus, you got angry too. Help me to befriend my anger, so that it may lead me to work more actively for the coming of your kingdom.

3 On Attentiveness

To pay attention, this is our endless and proper work.
—Mary Oliver

There’s an old joke about a farmer who bought a mule that was supposed to listen to whatever it was told to do. The farmer told the mule to pull his plow, but the mule refused to budge. The farmer yelled at the beast, pleaded with him, cajoled him, but to no avail. Frustrated, the man called the previous owner to come over. “I thought you said this mule listened to whatever you told him to do,” he complained. “But he won’t listen to me.” Without saying a word, the former owner walked away and returned with a big stick. He took the stick and swatted the mule once across the rear end. Immediately the mule began to pull the farmer’s plow. “See?” said the man, “He listens real good. But first you’ve got to get his attention.”

The word attention is an interesting word. Did you ever notice that, in English at least, we say pay attention? Ordinarily we don’t say do attention or even give attention. Certainly we never say loan attention. No, attention is something we pay. The verb pay implies that every time we focus our attention on someone or something, we pay a price.
And we do pay a price—our time and energy, both of which are very valuable. They are also limited. Consequently, we cannot pay attention to everything that clamors for our attention on a given day or we would go insane. No, we have to be selective in what we pay attention to.

The ability to be attentive is a gift. It is also essential for salvation.

Jesus knew this. Although he may never have yelled, “Pay attention!” he did say, “Behold!” on a number of occasions. “Behold the lilies.” “Behold this child.” “Behold that poor widow putting in those two coins.” “Behold, I make all things new.” Jesus’ “behold” was his way of saying, “Pay attention now! This is really important!” In fact, Jesus’ entire life was bent on directing our attention, focusing our time and energy on the things that really matter in life: the love God has for us, the love we should have for each other, our personal relationship with God in prayer, and heeding the cry of the poor. In other words, the things necessary for salvation. Salvation begins with attentiveness to the things that really count.

 

Who or what is getting my attention these days? Do I know what the priorities are in my life?

 

God, help me to be attentive today to the things that really matter.

 

4 On Availability

 

God does not ask for our ability or our inability, but for our availability.
—Anonymous

Years ago I took an Old Testament course with a professor who made the Scriptures come alive. I still remember the day he did a dramatic reading of the call of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 6:1–8). He explained that Isaiah was praying in the temple one day when he had a vision of God—complete with singing angels, a scary earthquake, and lots of billowing smoke. Realizing he had seen God, Isaiah was overwhelmed with the sense of his own sinfulness. As he cowered in a corner, one of the angels came to him and touched his lips with a burning coal, thus purifying him of his sin.

It was then that Isaiah overheard God asking himself, “Whom shall I send to speak to my people? Who shall be my prophet?” After my professor spoke those words, he became Isaiah. Rising slowly from his desk, he pointed dramatically to his chest and cried out, “Here I am! Send me!” That image of Isaiah volunteering to be God’s prophet has stayed with me all these years. It is a stunning example of availability.

Availability is the gift of the Spirit, which enables us to offer ourselves to God. It means we place our time, talents, and energy at God’s disposal. Availability is not easy. Why? First, when we volunteer ourselves to God, we never know what we’re getting into. Availability is like handing God a blank check. We don’t know what amount God is going to fill in. Little wonder we balk.

Availability is also difficult because it often involves changing our plans—and if there’s one thing we like, it’s making plans. It is fine to make plans, of course, as long as we remain open to change.

What can hinder availability to God? Fear. Instead of saying, “Here I am, God!” we may say, “But I’ve never done anything like that before” or “I feel so inadequate to the task.” At such times we should remember: if God is truly asking us to do this thing, then God will give us the graces we need to do it—or the graces we need to accept failure if we can’t do it.

Jesus was totally available to God. In Gethsemane he said,
“Not my will, but yours be done.” In other words, “Here I am, God! Send me!”

 

How do I make myself available to God? What hinders me from greater availability?

 

Here I am, God! Send me!

5 On Beauty

Of all psychology’s sins, the most mortal is its neglect of beauty.
—James Hillman

Two old friends were walking down the road one evening when they began to argue. As they went along, they shouted at one another as each tried to impose his view upon the other. Suddenly, one of them caught sight of the setting sun. He pointed it out to his friend. Immediately the men ceased their arguing. They stood side by side in silence, gazing in wonder and awe at the beauty of the sunset. When the sun had slipped beneath the horizon, the two friends started on their way again. Only now, having forgotten what they had been arguing about, they walked together cheerfully and at peace with one another.

This story reminds us that beauty has the power to heal. Unfortunately, this healing power is not always recognized in our technological society. This fact is reflected even in the curricula of many of our schools. If educational budgets are cut, what goes first? Not science. Not math. Not even sports. No, the arts go first. Such thinking implies that the arts are dispensable. Beauty is something we can live without.

But is beauty dispensable? Thomas Moore, in his classic book Care of the Soul, argues that beauty is absolutely essential for the health of the soul. In fact, he goes so far as to say that if we lack beauty in our lives, we will probably suffer from familiar disturbances such as depression, paranoia, meaninglessness, and addiction. Moore writes, “The soul craves beauty, and in its absence suffers what James Hillman has called ‘beauty neurosis.’” The psychologist Carl Jung, also a believer in the power of beauty, once suggested to a colleague, “Why not go out into the forest for a time, literally? Sometimes a tree tells you more than you can read in books.”

Christianity at its best has always understood and appreciated the power of beauty to nourish the soul. Just look at our ancient cathedrals, with their stained glass windows and soaring spires, our solemn liturgies with their chants and incense. Just listen to the strains of Franz Schubert’s “Ave Maria” or behold Michelangelo’s Pieta. Just read the poetry of St. John of the Cross or the prose of St. Teresa of Ávila.

Jesus was remarkably attentive to the beauty in his everyday life. He appreciated, for example, the beauty in nature. The Gospels show him attuned to the weather patterns and changing seasons of his native land. He knew his trees, noticed flowers, and was even something of a bird watcher. Jesus also observed animals and often used them very effectively in his teachings.

Jesus appreciated beauty in other forms, too. The son of a carpenter, he probably knew wood very well and had an eye for color, line, and texture. The son of a homemaker, he was well acquainted with the beauty of freshly baked bread, a carefully sewn garment, and good wine.

But most of all, Jesus was attentive to the beauty of human love. He experienced love firsthand from his parents. Later, he encountered it in the men and women who were so devoted to him. Throughout his ministry, Jesus marveled at love’s power to do incredibly beautiful things. Jesus’ experience of human love made it easier for him to believe in the love that God, Abba, had for him. Beauty is a gift of the Spirit that nourishes and heals our souls, for ultimately, Beauty is but another name for God.

 

How do I make time for beauty in my life? Have I ever experienced beauty’s healing power?

 

Beauty, ever ancient and ever new, please nourish and heal my soul today.

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Table of Contents

Contents

        Introduction    xi

    1    On Abundance    2
    2    On Anger    4
    3    On Attentiveness    6
    4    On Availability    8
    5    On Beauty    10
    6    On Bereavement    12
    7    On Childlikeness    14
    8    On Commitment    16
    9    On Common Sense    18
    10    On Companionship    20
    11    On Compassion    22
    12    On Counsel    24
    13    On Daring    26
    14    On Desire    28
    15    On Discipline    30
    16    On Diversity    32
    17    On Failure    34
    18    On Faith    36
    19    On Forgiveness    38
    20    On Fortitude    40
    21    On Gentleness    42
    22    On Guilt    44
    23    On Healing    46
    24    On Initiative    48
    25    On Instinct    50
    26    On Intimacy    52
    27    On Kindness    54
    28    On Leadership    56
    29    On Learning    58
    30    On Levity    60
    31    On Liberation    62
    32    On Lowliness    64
    33    On Mercy    66
    34    On Modesty    68
    35    On Mystery    70
    36    On Patience    72
    37    On Piety    74
    38    On Pleasure    76
    39    On Prophecy    78
    40    On Relaxation    80
    41    On Responsibility    82
    42    On Sickness    84
    43    On Song    86
    44    On Stability    88
    45    On Surrender    90
    46    On Truth    92
    47    On Understanding    94
    48    On Whimsy    96
    49    On Wisdom    98
    50    On Wishing    100
    51    On Zeal    102
    52    On Death    104

        Bibliography    107
 

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  • Posted July 13, 2013

    All of Sister Melannie's perspectives on qualities of the spirit

    All of Sister Melannie's perspectives on qualities of the spiritual life are meaningful for me--very genuine, practical, positive. The titles of the chapters are in alphabetical order, and I especially loved the first chapter on Abundance. Most of this book is contained in the first edition, which was called Abundant Treasures, but a few chapters have been deleted and others added. Both are excellent and worth the repetition.

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