The National Catholic Review
Margaret Silf

"Funny,” she said, “How much right-side-up can come from upside down.”

This hopeful message greets me every morning when I sit down at my desk and reread the card a very understanding friend sent to me during my recent upheavals. The picture accompanying the caption shows someone bending over backward, her head upside down, with a bemused, but not overly fearful expression on her face and a Ferris wheel in the background. My friend inquired: “Could this be you?”

Five centuries ago, if the greeting card industry had been flourishing then, one might have sent this card to Iñigo de Loyola, whose feast day we celebrate on July 31. His knee, his pride and his burgeoning military career had just been shattered by a cannon ball while he was defending the fortress of Pamplona against a French assault. From one moment to the next, everything he thought he was about and had well under control was in pieces. It brings to mind Humpty Dumpty, who, after falling off a wall, could not be put back together again, even by all the king’s horses and all the king’s men.

The right-side-up from this particular upside down would reveal itself through a long and painful period of convalescence, a dramatic spiritual conversion and a total change of plan —from Iñigo’s plan for himself to God’s plan for Ignatius.

Humpty Dumpty seems to be an especially meaningful symbol right now. I have observed his various crashes on the world stage and in my own domestic arrangements, and I am left asking myself in the light of my friend’s card: “Is the egg really smashed, or is it hatching?” Might a chick be emerging from the broken pieces?

On the domestic scene, I am in the throes of moving house—but nothing so simple as moving from House A to House B. There is, as yet, no House B, and House A is no longer mine. I feel like Indiana Jones standing on a cliff and wondering whether a bridge will appear, knowing that the only way to find out is to step forward.

So for the intervening months I have become more than usually itinerant, partly travelling, partly gratefully receiving the hospitality of friends; and soon I will move to temporary accommodation in Scotland, where I hope to discover the elusive House B. The right-side-up of all this is a rediscovery of the importance and the difficulty of “detachment”—of sitting lightly to all created things, so that if and when it becomes necessary, they can be let go. The pain involved in that letting-go is a birthing pain. Something new is emerging, not just in where I will live but in how I will live.

Nationally, Humpty recently fell off the back of the sacred cow of bipartisan adversarial politics in the United Kingdom. To everyone’s complete amazement, we woke up one May morning to discover that we had no government. The message of the people had been resoundingly delivered: We want you now to work together, rather than against each other, for the greater good of us all and not just of your own parties.

It was a stunningly upside-down week, followed by months of adjustment to the new face of British politics. The right-side-up will show itself, we hope in a new spirit of cooperation. A lot of humble pie has been eaten, and words uttered in anger have had to be swallowed. Not a bad way to begin a new era.

And if all of that were not enough to contemplate, along came the infamous cloud of volcanic ash indiscriminately grounding our travel plans, leaving us stranded around the globe. The upside down was all over our television screens, even if we were not personally caught up in the disorder. The right-side-up began to dawn: “God is the creator and we are the creatures”—a first principle of life and of Ignatius’ insights. We may have all the plans in the world, but the eruption of a minor volcano in a remote land can bring them crashing down, and the chick that hatches from the mess is named humility, a call to return to a right understanding of the way things are—God-centered, not me-centered.

Jesus warns us often that things may have to break down before they can be renewed, that the seed has to fall into the ground before the new life can sprout, that the egg has to break before the chick can hatch.

What makes God laugh? People who make plans! Jesus knew it. Ignatius discovered it. We are learning it.

Margaret Silf

<p>Margaret Silf lives in Scotland. Her latest books are Companions of Christ: Ignatian Spirituality for Everyday Living, The Gift of Prayer and Compass Points.</p>