Saturday, February 2, 2013

The Ignatian Tradition

In the spiritual direction program in which I trained, the academic year begins with a September week-end retreat: an introduction to the program for first-year students, an introduction to the internship year for second year students, and a launching into the world for those completing the program.
During the Sunday morning mass, the homily is replaced by words from the graduation class.  My class of September 2009, a cantankerous lot inclined to debate, could not agree on a speaker to represent us, and so we decided that we would all speak ~ limiting ourselves to two minutes each (there were fourteen of us.)
Yesterday, I found the sheet of lined paper on which I had scrawled what I had to say:
Tradition ~ my word.  We have become part of a remarkable tradition.
Imagination being a big part of Ignatian spirituality, what I imagine is Ignatius at his desk in Rome, putting the finishing touches on the Exercises and thinking, In 450 years, somewhere on the North American continent, which we Europeans have only just encountered, there will be a woman ~ a Protestant, a group which is only just emerging ~ who will have some questions and be making some decisions ~ and she'll be about as adept at decision-making as I was on that donkey ~ and will need some help, and so I will send forth my little volume, and somewhere it will find its way to her.
It was like sending a message in a bottle ~ and the Exercises did make their way, and continue to do so, from Ignatius, to his immediate followers, to theirs through the centuries, to the person who gave the Exercises to me ~ and now from me to those with whom I have the immense privilege of sharing them.
My director always uses Ignatius' own language and speaks in terms of giving, rather than directing, the Exercises.  I think that one of the reasons is that they are indeed a gift, the gift of the Holy Spirit through Ignatius to the whole church, the gift of one person being present to the journey of another, a tradition of gift passed down through the generations ~ a tradition in which we are all now embraced.
Image: Ignatius the Pilgrim, Wernersville (PA) Jesuit Retreat Center


  1. The Spiritual Exercises have had a great impact on my spiritual life. Ignatian Spirituality has been part of my life for a long time but the Exercises were transformational and I am incredibly grateful to St. Ignatius for his discipline in laying them out. What a gift! I pray the St. Ignatius is aware of the impact and the gratitude of so many.

  2. Imaginative prayer experiences have not loomed very large in my own life as a Jesuit, and I don't typically give them any particular pride of place in discussing Ignatian spirituality with others, so I wouldn't personally describe imagination as the sine qua non of Ignatian spirituality. I'm also not at all sure that Ignatius would have expected Protestantism to be present in 21st century North America, but that's a question that will never be answered.

    1. Thank you, Joe, for provoking a passionate lunchtime conversation in a retreat setting!

      For myself, imaginative prayer has been THE transformative aspect of Ignatian spirituality in my prayer life. I am sure that it was foundational as well for the woman who told me, upon completing the Exercises, that she felt that she had "learned to pray in 3-D."

      Of course, it is not the only way to pray, in the Exercises or in any other context. But it seems to me that it is through imagining our way through the gospels that we come to know Jesus in a deeply personal way, and it is through the imaginative prayer of the Two Standards -- whether in its original format or in a variation -- and from that meditation back to the Principle and Foundation and forward to the Contemplation, that we come to grasp the thematic flow of the Exercises.

      It is through the gift of the imagination that conceptual aspects of Ignatian spirituality such as "God in all things," "desire," and "indifference" come to life -- at least for me, and for many others as well.

      I might add that my own experience of imaginative prayer tends to be fairly wordy and in the nature of discourse; I am not much for sensory imagination in prayer and I don't have a great artistic capacity. But to each her own. I'd be interested in your own experience and analysis of what is meaningful.

      Insofar as Ignatius' ideas about the Americas, I would suppose that he hoped that the Jesuits would fan northward from South America and eventually spread Catholicism across the entire hemisphere as well as throughout Europe, Asia, and Africa. He could not have know that Protestantism would grow as it did in northern Europe nor that Protestant missionaries would follow his. (Nor that we would study Jesuit missions in Protestant seminaries.)

      But I'm talking about imagination; my own, in particular, in which Ignatius looms large as a friend and guide. And since I move in a much more ecumenical and interfaith world than he did, I tend to transpose him into mine rather than vice versa -- although I have imagined the latter as well.