Friday, June 19, 2009

Ignatian Spirituality

I've now officially completed The Ignatius Spiritual Exercises (ISE) for the first time (A side note: Henri Nouwen did the 30-day retreat twice, I found, when I read The Road to Peace: Writings on Peace and Justice). I started the 9 month long retreat, as it is called, last September 2008. My commitments were simple: 1) to spend one hour alone daily with God and journal this experience, 2) to meet with the Facilitator/Spiritual Director and the group once a week and share, and 3) attend 2 workshops on 2 Saturdays during the year. May 6 was the final group (retreat) meeting and June 13 was our final workshop. I'm now reviewing what I went through these 36 weeks and, as is characteristic of the ISE, I focus on my feelings. How do I feel after completing the ISE? Listen to Bach's Sleepers Awake (below) and you will get a tiny inkling of just how life-transforming ISE has been for me. I echo Ephesians 5: 14b.

What are the Ignatius Spiritual Exercises? Well, Vatican II (1960s) changed the Catholic Church and its relationship to the world. As part of this change, the ISE, which had previously only been given to the Jesuits, could now be given to the laity. Finally, the commoners, ordinary, married, daily life enjoying, struggling, you and me, were now included in Christ's priesthood of believers! The Spiritual Exercises were the brainchild of Inigo of Loyola (1491-1556), a 16th century Spanish aristocrat. Today, he is most well-known as the Founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). Ignatius lived at the same time as Martin Luther (1483-1546) of Protestant Reformation fame; like Luther, Ignatius too was calling for reforms in the Catholic Church, particularly in the Spanish laity. How Ignatius became a soldier of Christ and as a layperson came up with the Spiritual Exercises as a way of finding God in all things, God active, working in all things, and that we're always under the loving gaze of God is an amazing story beautifully told by Charles J. Jackson, S.J., in An Overview of Ignatian Spirituality [pdf]. It is also one that miraculously touches and fits our postmodern sensibilities. The version of ISE that I did is Choosing Christ in the World by Joseph Tetlow, S.J.. Ignatian spirituality is about discernment of the spirits (affective movements within us), discernment of God's will (finding hidden deep within ourselves our original purpose), and living the resurrected Christ's life under the Reign of God (the fruit of the Holy Spirit).

Three key Ignatian practices that I continue today are: 1) the practice of the Examen - Examination of Consciousness - to see where God is in my daily life; this is a critical daily practice that most people who've gone through the ISE do twice daily, usually at noon and before going to bed, 2) using imagination and visualization to brings God's Word alive; that is, reading Scripture with the heart as opposed to the head search for knowledge, information by using techniques like lectio divina, contemplative Bible study, etc.), and 3) spiritual writing - journaling and spiritual reading. Granted most of us are busy and cannot do all these things but we can at least try to do one or two of them. Ignatius encouraged his brothers (when they were sick/dying) that if they could only do one then they do the Examen daily. Watch this 6 minutes video about the How-To Examen and perhaps give it a try?

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