Monday, July 2, 2012

Ignatian Spirituality for Protestants

Ignatius the Pilgrim ~ Jesuit Retreat Centre at Guelph, Ontario

You may have noticed a new link in my sidebar ~ the folks at Loyola Press are offering a second July packed with posts and links celebrating Ignatian spirituality.  I expect that I'll respond to some or several of them here, and you can look for a book giveaway a little later in the month: a new book by Margaret Silf, one of my favorite authors!

For today, though, I thought maybe I'd post a brief introduction to Ignatian spirituality, especially for Protestants.  We Protestants, especially those of us in the Reformed churches, aren't terribly familiar with the term "spirituality" (other than in the context of the ubiquitous phrase "spiritual but not religious") as it refers to for what our sake I'll call various schools of prayer, worship, and general approach to life which have tended to emerge out of the gifts, experiences, and leadership of particular people.

To the extent that we have much knowledge at all, we Protestants are probably most aware of Benedictine spirituality, with its emphasis on daily Scriptural prayer, its historic hospitality, and its role in the preservation of learning in western Europe after the fall of the Roman Empire.  We may not know the historical context (I used to teach high school world history, and Benedictine monasticism was part of our curriculum)(yes, even in an Orthodox Jewish School!), but many of us are familiar with Kathleen Norris's book Cloister Walk, wherein a Presbyterian poet provides an elegant introduction to Benedictine monastic life.  We tend to go blank, however, when names like Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross come up, when someone makes a reference to Augustinian or Franciscan spirituality, or when asked to think about mysticism or contemplation.

My own way into the richness of the church's wealth of spiritualities came, predictably, through the Benedictines; Joan Chittister, O.S.B. was a frequent speaker at The Chautauqua Institution during the years our family vacationed there, and I'm a longtime Kathleen Norris fan.  But I can't claim to have pursued any of what either of them had to say other than via books and lectures and sermons.

Ignatian spirituality came my way, as do most things of great importance to most of us, because someone whom I admired took the time to introduce it to me. He accompanied me through the Spiritual Exercises,  and he and a couple of his fellow Jesuits have generously brought their vast training and great gifts of listening, counsel, and prayer to bear on the rather considerable challenges of my life for the past several years. 

Those of us who are Protestants have been more or less well schooled in the importance of Scripture and its study and proclamation, in the value of community worship, in the history and theology of the Reformation, and in the essential roles played by baptism and communion in our lives.  All good.  

So what has Ignatian spirituality added to my life as a person of faith?

An insistence on God as one who gives, dwells, labors, and embraces us in all things;*

The concept of the "contemplative in action" -- that a person of deep prayer is also naturally a person of prophetic words and action, and that a person of words and action must be grounded in prayer;

The high value placed on the imagination, especially on the use of the imagination in prayer;

The profound importance of listening, of availability, of attentiveness to the God who speaks and acts through all things;

An understanding of the ups and downs and ins and outs and wanderings of the spiritual life through the concepts of spiritual consolation and desolation;

A deeply religious, faith-oriented understanding of what in the last century we came to know as psychology ~

And I wish that I could add to this my understanding and practice of detachment and indifference but, you know . . .  baby steps.

I've had a Jesuit look at me and ponder, "Hmmm. . .  Ignatian and Presbyterian . . .  both prophetic . . .  makes sense."   I've had someone else comment, "I don't see any way that you can combine those two."  What can I say?  It doesn't always make sense and sometimes one gives way to the other, but this particular combination in my own life seems to me to be one of God's great gifts of willingness to be in the midst of all things.

So: This is your invitation to visit 31 Days!  Have a great month!

(And . . .  did I leave out matters of discernment?  Well, yes and no.  Another post!) 

*Credit for that particular formulation goes to Howard Gray, S.J. in A Jesuit Retreat (Now You Know Media).


  1. What a great explanation of the contribution of Ignatian Spirituality to your faith life.