Frances Tilly from Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia offers some tips for understanding and embracing the spirituality of St Ignatius ahead of his feast day on 31 July.
1. It begins with experience
Experience is where it starts for Ignatius. His study, theology, the founding of the Society, all come later. His spirituality begins with a consideration of his own experience, reflecting on it, paying attention to the feel of it, the movements and shifts of the Holy Spirit, what lasts, what satisfies.
‘In any moment, the heart of a person hears what gives life, and what draws life away’, writes Marlene Marburg in Principle and Foundation.
In this way, Ignatius finds patterns and possibilities, looking for what brings life, against whatever cripples it. God is in this pull to life, drawing Ignatius (and ourselves) into a bigger reality and purpose. This permeates his approach and the Ignatian way.
To follow this path, trust what is happening in your heart, your body right now; look into it, look at what’s brought you to now. Choose the way that increases love, hope, peace – often a quieter way, and certainly courageous.
Reflecting, listening, and paying attention lead Ignatius to recognise a loving way which he identifies with God’s way. He develops guidelines for finding this way forward and rejecting what leads away in quite the contrary direction. He says we must know both so as to be able to keep choosing the good way forward.
2. Seek out accompaniment
The Spiritual Exercises are given by a companion who walks with you, listens with you so you both look at your experience to see what it holds and find the next steps.
Though Ignatius began alone and, thinking of himself as a pilgrim, determinedly set out for Jerusalem to be where Jesus was, his approach changed. It was in deep friendship that the Society was formed. He came to know God as an intimate friend and encourages us to talk with God this way when we pray.
3. Don’t forget your imagination
Ignatius always had great dreams and an audacious imagination. He was a man of his times. In his lifetime the world opened up and there were great voyages of discovery to different continents and cultures. Our vision of the earth, and its place in the universe, were expanded.
Consider the ship that was drawn on a wall in the Loyola castle (pictured right) – telling a story of adventure and possibilities, far off lands to which Ignatius would later send Jesuits on Christ’s mission. He even sent his best friend, Xavier, though it cost him to do so.
In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius gets us to use our imagination in prayer. Sometimes people react against praying this way. Can I trust my imagination? Isn’t it all fantasy? Yet we imagine holidays, a new job, a future spouse, a birthday celebration, don’t we?
Ignatius wants us to use all our faculties, pour the whole self into our relationships – with others, with God, and myself. It’s all in play, as in any great friendship or intimate, loving relationship. It’s a significant way to get close to Jesus in his humanity, and find my own.
For a reflection exercise, enter a gospel scene as a character or observer, just as you might a movie scene or a moment in a book or documentary. Use all your senses and instincts to experience how the scene unfolds. See what is there, what develops and how this moves your heart and stirs your desires. Then talk with Jesus about it all, as with a friend.
Frances Tilly is Coordinator for Mission Formation at Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia.