Wednesday, 13 November 2013

Calling All People to Life

By John D. O’Brien, S.J. 

Photo: John O'Brien

Coming so soon from watching one of the most moving and remarkable films I’ve ever seen, I was inspired when I received a song by Canadian songwriter and musician Erin Leahy that explored similar themes. Leahy’s “Calling All People to Life”, like the movie Gravity, dwells upon the idea of the inherent fragility and value of human life, pivots upon the power of prayer, alludes to the fundamental choice between life and death, and has great exultant motifs of baptism and rebirth. Already getting radio-play, this new song from the Juno-award winning artist also captures several basic themes from the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I invite readers to first take a moment and listen to the song for themselves, which is posted here with her permission:

(As an alternative, you can download the song here.)

In addition to the more straightforward and tender pro-life dialogue between mother and child, there are other spiritual layers that reveal themselves upon reflection. First, we should notice that the entire song is like a colloquy, that kind of dialogue recommended by St. Ignatius to finish every meditation, a person-to-person talk between oneself and God. Here, the voice shifts from child, to Mother, and to Christ -- who begins the dialogue. Consider the following from the opening lines and chorus:

Calling all people to life / giving all people my life / to be loved by me. 

God is life, and in the Exercises, we meditate upon the call of the Lord. He calls us out of our complacency, our status quo, our habits and occasions of sin, our artificial comfort zones. We are encouraged to gaze upon the Lord and see how desirable it is to follow him. To where? To the fullness of life and love. As Christ says in John 10:10: “I have come so they might have life, and have it to the fullest.”

The perspective then flips to the child, who cries out: Mother, mother, hold on to me / Give me the chance to be, all I was meant to be / 'cause there is a plan for me / for all of eternity. 

This relates to the second part of the Exercises, where we begin to make colloquies to Mary as well as to God, for she knows how much we are loved, and will assist us along the way. Furthermore, the entire Spiritual Exercises is premised on the assumption that each of us has a particular vocation in the eyes of God, for vocation means growth in personal identity by obedience (which is the attuned listening of love). In the third part of the Exercises, we recognize that sadly some seeds they never grow / but are buried in sorrow, and we accompany Christ in his redeeming passion and death.

The song goes on to urge a contemplation of flowers of the fields, and the glory of their colours. Near the end of the Ignatian retreat, one does a “contemplation to attain love”, in which we consider all the gratuitous – freely-given-ness – of everything, literally meditating on “how God works and labours for me in all things created on the face of the earth … as in the heavens, elements, plants, fruits, cattle, etc., giving them being, preserving them, giving them vegetation and sensation…” Recognizing this basic truth can often be a powerful awakening: to our own contingency and to the sublime generosity of God.

We end our spiritual journey in a joyous epiphany, which the song seems to acclaim when it bursts into exultation:

I am alive! / I’m breathing inside! / Forever alive! 

This is the ultimate miracle of existence. We live only to die, only to live forever. Our wonder at the gift of existence that becomes our most basic stance. And, like the final line in Gravity, if we are humble enough, we muster our own word of thanksgiving.

“Calling All People to Life” can also be acquired from iTunes and Amazon.


  1. It is just so beautiful. Thank you for reminding us to keep ever in front of us the gratuitousness of God's wonderful, boundless gifts to us. I never would have thought to walk the song through the Exercises, but it fits beautifully - thanks for that, John!

  2. Thanks Regina. I'm sure you recognized many parallels from your own experiences -- both of retreats and from life itself.