There once was a man named Inigo. A poorly-educated youngest of many children who turned to a military career as a likely source of fortune and fame. A man inclined to the pursuit of women and wine. A headstrong and impulsive leader who was badly injured after a most unfortunate decision to charge forward where retreat would have been warranted.
And THIS is one of my heroes in faith? A failed Basque soldier of the early 16th century?
Why not Martin Luther, ardently nailing his 95 Theses to the door? I do, after all, believe in the possibility and hope of always reforming and always being reformed. Why not John Calvin, with lawyerly and scholarly precision writing and re-writing his Institues? I am a lawyer, and a little bit of a scholar, with two advanced degrees in hand. Why a man at all, for that matter? Why not St. Brigid, or Julian of Norwich, both of whom brought healing and learning to others in difficult times?
Oh, each one of them has his or her place. But Ignatius, as he came to call himself . . .
Ignatius spent those long months of bedridden recovery learning to pray. He learned to meld two stories, that of the Biblical narrative and that of each individual's, into a form of prayer that emphasizes human experience and emotion, that recognizes God laboring in all things that we encounter, that seeks the companionship of Jesus Christ, and that embraces the Spirit's activity in all that we do, and say, and ponder, and hope.
It's not surprising, I think, that as I recover from this wretched surgery and anticipate months more of treatment, I would re-connect with Ignatius.
After he got out of bed, Ignatius had some rather dramatic experiences and did a few weird things. He made some mistakes, and he returned to school to remedy his academic weaknesses. He formed a small band of followers during his studies in Paris, and the Jesuit order was born. He transferred his own passion and desire for mission and travel to his men, sending them around the world (and yes, we studied Jesuit missions extensively in my Presbyterian seminary!) while accepting that his own role called for him to remain in Rome, drafting documents, organizing Jesuit activities, and writing ~ more letters than anyone else in the 16th century.
And how did Ignatius become a hero of mine? Because one person ~ one elderly, wise, and wickedly funny Jesuit ~ took the time to share his deep love of his spirituality with me. The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius are, at their very best, a matter of oral tradition, handed from one person to another. I am often awed by the fact that they made their way from Ignatius to his first followers, to others across the oceans and down the centuries, to a Jesuit who became a key figure in their renewal in recent decades and who gave them to me, and now are passed from me to others.
One-on-one. There are other Jesuit companions in my life now, and in them I have seen the same generosity, the same intense desire and commitment to share in the prayer and lives of others. The same willingness to recognize the presence of Jesus in the lives of others. The same gift of the spirituality of contemplation in action that made it possible for me to move forward, with much help, after the death of my son.
And so, as I emerge from the haze in which I've spent the past week, that's who and what I'm thinking about. I'm disappointed that I won't be spending the first Sunday of Advent with my congregation, but perhaps this little respite is exactly what is called for, a transition from the self-absorption of illness back to openness to others.
I would rather be spending my retreat time in a state of good health at Wernersville than in recovery in on the recliner in the living room ~ but then, Ignatius would have preferred India to Rome.
Image: Ignatius the Pilgrim at Guelph (ONT) Retreat Center