Today, I bought a suitcase! A nice big one with plenty of room for souvenirs to bring home from Jerusalem.
I have two study/prayer projects I’ve been working on during this sabbatical, in addition to reading the (long!) reading list that St. George’s College sent as preparation for my course in Jerusalem. The one that’s been occupying me for this first part of the sabbatical is learning about and doing the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I think I mentioned in a previous post that I’m working on this with a spiritual director at Bethany House of Prayer in Arlington.
I had no idea how little I knew about the Spiritual Exercises and Ignatian spirituality in general. I sort of thought I knew a lot about Christian prayer traditions, but this one is new to me and very different from what I’m used to. I did know that Ignatian prayer is characterized by using your imagination in prayer. St. Ignatius strongly believed that God is vitally and vibrantly present in creation, and in each one of us. So when we use our imagination and five senses in prayer — imagining how, for example, if we were with the Samaritan woman at the well, the day would have smelled, sounded, and tasted, what Jesus might have said to us and we to him — then the Holy Spirit moves in and through our thoughts and imagination to bring us closer to God. It’s a lovely idea, but for a person who has spent the past 20 years engaged in centering prayer (in which you try to empty your mind of any thought to be open to God) it’s very challenging! Kind of a whole opposite way to pray.
I also knew that the Spiritual Exercises are a way of praying with the Bible through the life of Jesus. Basically, there is a scripture passage to pray with each day that takes you from the birth of Jesus through his death and resurrection. One book I’m reading pointed out that “Biblical theology as a saving encounter with the mystery of Christ is the bedrock of the Exercises.” This is what really attracted me to the Exercises. What better way to prepare to visit the Holy Land.
Lastly, I knew that the Exercises in daily life consisted of two prayer periods each day; praying with the scripture in the morning, followed by a colloquy or conversation with Jesus or God, then doing the Examen each evening. The Examen is an end-of-the-day thanksgiving for all of God’s gifts and a review of where God has moved us in our day, or where God has been working in us. Ignatian experts say these two prayer periods are vital to each other. As the same author puts it, “examen without regular contemplation (daily prayer) is futile. If you aren’t praying, how can you listen to where God is calling you?. . . It is true on the other hand that contemplation without regular examen becomes compartmentalized and superficial and stunted in a person’s life. The time of formal prayer can become a very sacrosanct period in a person’s day but so isolated from the rest of his life that he is not prayerful (finding God in all things) at that level where he really lives. The Examen gives our daily contemplative experience of God real bite into all our daily living.”
When I read this, I thought that was a bit of a challenge to our Daily Office tradition! Is there a danger of letting the Daily Office be a “sacrosanct period” but isolated with no “bite” in our daily living? It also reminded me of how in EfM, we are constantly reminded to *apply* our prayer and scripture study (and Sunday worship, too) to our actual daily life. It doesn’t mean much if we don’t apply it. In the Ignatian tradition, the Examen is a way of doing this and asking “did I live what I prayed today?”
However different it may be, Ignatian prayer shares with all prayer traditions the goal of aligning one’s self with God’s will for you. Next time, more on what I didn’t know about the Spiritual Exercises!