Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Things the Spiritual Exercises Taught Me About Jesus

This month's 31 Days with Saint Ignatius festival at Loyola Press (see the sidebar and click on the badge) highlights a wonderful post by Becky Eldridge, a spiritual director and retreat leader, on "Five Things the Exercises Taught Me About Jesus."
It took me the course of about a year to make the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, in the company of a wise and experienced older Jesuit - a year of daily prayer and weekly discussion through the pattern of prayer devised by Ignatius 500 years ago.  It's hard to remember now, without going back to that year's worth of journals, what I learned from the Exercises themselves and what came later, as the Exercises have shaped my life of prayer ever since, but I think I could trace some of it back to the following:
Jesus is extremely persistent.  I was not a particularly devout and certainly not any holy kind of person when I embarked upon the Exercises.  I had the sense almost immediately that I had dived into waters way, way over my head.  But Jesus kept after me.  You can say all you want about God being a God of invitation rather than a God of imposition, but I can tell you that Jesus is a tenacious pursuer.  Which reminds me . . .
Jesus is also extremely creative.  An elder in the Presbyterian Church and a teacher in a Jewish school gets the idea to hang out with a Jesuit and pray through Scripture for a year.  Really?  How weird is that?
Jesus is interested in each of us as an individual.  Try settling in with some of those narratives of individual encounter for awhile.  Do it the way Ignatius would: sights, sounds, odors (well, okay, not having a sense of smell meant that I could never do that one). Touch, taste.   Zacchaeus, Nicodemus, the Woman at the Well, Bartimaeus,  Mary Magdalene, Thomas. Was that well water icy cold or was it sort of lukewarm?  Was the sky clear that day, or was it overcast?  Pay attention to the details as you experience them.  Sooner or later it occurs to you that Jesus is paying attention to the details in your own life, and you should, too, because he can make something of them.  In fact . . .
Jesus wants us to do stuff.  Mostly he wants us to tell other people how much he loves them, in whatever way we are called to do that.  It turns out, and this has been a startling discovery for me in ministry, although I should have known it from my own family and friends, but people in church have surprised me ~ anyway, it turns out to be harder than you might think, because a lot of people don't believe you.  They think there are all kinds of rules. So Jesus wants us to do stuff  ~ doctoring and nursing and parenting and teaching and grocery bagging and typing and lawyering and farming and building and even ministering ~ to share his love in ways that might help people get it.  It would be nice to sit around all day and talk about prayer, but he wants us to do other stuff, too.  He really does want us to be contemplatives in action.
Jesus will sit around with you when life becomes almost completely unbearable and when all you want to do is die.  That one I didn't learn until later.  My year of the Exercises was one of the most optimistic and open-hearted years of my life.  I can't say that I experienced the portion of the Exercises (it's called Week Three, but it isn't really a week, which  doesn't matter for our purposes here) in which you pray through Jesus's passion and death ~ I can't say that I experienced it with much depth or fervor ~ but a lot of people don't.  Not then, anyway.  I was a pretty average Week 3 person.  I was a lot more interested in Mary Magdalene at that point  than I was in Jesus.  But later I got dealt a Week 3 life, and when I came up gasping for air eighteen months later, I found that the Jesus I had gotten to know a little during the Exercises was someone willing to sit around with me for a long, long time.  Despite my own utter lack of hospitality.  (An understatement.)
There's more, but I think that Becky's limit of five is a good one.  And we have most of the month of July left.  So I'll leave it at this:  Getting to know Jesus is an excellent way in which to spend a year.



  1. Thanks for writing about this. I'm a relative newcomer to spiritual direction and find it life-bending.

  2. I loved Becky's post and yours is a wonderful compliment to it - thank you Robin.

  3. As I read this, I thought that the Spiritual Exercises have certainly been pivotal in my spiritual life; however, at the time I didn't realize that in the way in which I do now. As I look back I see how God has integrated what I learned in the Spiritual Exercises into the way in which I live now. I can see that in what you wrote as well.

  4. thank you for this, Robin. I know this teeny little bit about Ignatius and Spiritual exercises from studying John Donne in college, but you make me want to know and practice more.

    Now I will have to look for Becky's post, too.

  5. Nice to see Becky inspire you as well. Wonderful post.