This Advent, Ignatian writers from across the Jesuit Conference are sharing 25 days of reflections on Ignatian heroes. You can receive these reflections directly in your inbox by signing up here.
Day 23: Brian Doyle
By Shemaiah Gonzalez
Writer, friend, dad, husband, brother, son, birdwatcher, basketball enthusiast and lover of favorite pants, Brian Doyle is the perfect person to guide us through Advent. Before his death at age 60 in 2017, Brian wrote 14 books of prose, six of poetry and eight novels. In every single one of his writings, he found the imprint of the Creator in the ordinary. Herons, hair scrunchies and spatulas somehow became holy objects, conduits of God’s grace present in the world. Through Brian’s eyes, I learned to see.
As a result of chronic back pain, Brian did not venture far from the highways of his home in the Pacific Northwest yet became known for his nature writing, revealing nature as something we can encounter right outside the window of our home or car. There was something of the Psalmist in Brian’s praise and glory for the wonders of God’s creation he spied right outside his window or on a neighborhood walk with his children.
And for Brian, stories were prayers. So much in fact that he often concluded a story with “Amen.” Each time a story is told or listened to, we invite each other to notice where God is present — where his glory shows through for a moment.
I’ve spent the last few years with Brian as my guide, while writing a biography on this marvelous man. Pouring over his writing and hearing stories from his family and friends, the soundtrack of his life plays in a loop in my heart.
In these final days of Advent as I choose a tree with my family or tell stories of Christmases past, I wonder what Brian would see in these moments. Would he laugh at the broken snowman ornament we dare not throw away? Or notice the tenderness in the cookies my best friend mails me each year? I think he would. He’d notice that these stories of love are a reflection of Christ’s presence and love.
Reflection: Where do you notice God’s presence in your family rituals or stories? Lean in close and listen. You will find him there in those moments you feel most alive.
Shemaiah Gonzalez’s work has appeared in America Magazine, U.S. Catholic and Loyola Press, among others. She thrives in moments where storytelling and faith collide. Her biography on beloved Catholic writer Brian Doyle will be published with Liturgical Press, Spring 2023. She is currently working on transforming her popular Substack Undaunted Joy into a collection of essays. A Los Angeles native, she now lives in Seattle with her husband and their two sons.