In this post, I'll give an overview of the methods of spiritual encounter with God, that Ignatius uses and recommends to those who are going through the Spiritual Exercises. Then, in the following weeks, I'll explain each one with some more description and guidance for practice.
I have already posted on this one, in a series of eight posts, so I won't cover it in any detail at this point. The Examen is one of the chief methods Ignatius used to find God in all things. It was the retrospective look over one's day. It was a slow, prayerful, attentive look at the experiences, the events, the encounters, the gifts, the conversations, the emotional responses, the struggles the choices… that were a part of one's day. And slowing down to consider where God was at work, what God was saying and what you were invited to choose. But in the moment, you were busy, it was noisy and you were distracted.
As you practice the Examen over time, you will discover that you are learning how to pay attention in the moment, to what God is doing and saying. You will be learning to "practice the presence of God" (Brother Lawrence, not a Jesuit by the way.)
Since I have a series of eight posts on this practice, I' won't cover it in upcoming weeks. If you missed those posts, you can click here for the first one in that series.
I have said it before, but Ignatius was fond of the imagination and saw it is a rich way of encountering God. This one needs a bit of explaining, for the word - contemplation - is used in a variety of ways in different spiritual formation approaches.
For Ignatius and the Spiritual Exercises, he is teaching an imaginative engagement with the text and stories of Scripture, and especially the Gospels. Keep in mind that this was a time when many people did not have a copy of the Bible (the printing press had been invented about 1440) and many people were illiterate. But they knew the stories and their memories were better than ours for the oral tradition.
By the way, globally, far more people are skilled as oral learners than as visual learners who learn by reading. We wrongly assume that analytical study and rational examination is the best (if not only) way to learn. It isn't. And even for those who do learn in this way, they can enhance their learning with the imaginative engagement of stories.
Ignatius wanted people to enter into the biblical stories using their senses to see the events, hear what was going on, feel the environment. Ignatius encouraged retreatants to put themselves in the biblical story. As a bystander observing what is going on… or as a participants who is a part of the story.
And from that vantage point, encounter Christ and his personal dealings with them.
Ignatius was not the one who developed Lectio Divina. The phrase means "sacred reading" or perhaps, "spiritual reading." If Bible study, inductive study, exegetical study are analytical and rational in their focus and method, lectio divina is more reflective, meditative and prayerful in its approach to the text of Scripture.
The point is to relish and savor words, phrases, ideas and use them as a stepping stone to go deep below the water line of your life and discover what God is doing and what Christ is saying to you.
In the previous post I said that evangelicals have a strong docrtine of Revelation and a weak doctrine of Illuminiation. Lectio Divina is a way in which one part of the normative, absolute truth of God becomes real, relevant, immediate, up close and personal for your life. It is a way you move from assenting to biblical principles as "generally true for all people," to experiencing the reality of particular biblical ideas personally and relevant in the real time of your life.
It is my favorite way of encountering Christ. The Daily Examen is my second.
While Ignatius used and taught centering prayer, this approach has actually become more popular through other spiritual traditions and I'll mention those when I talk about this approach in more detail.
For now, I'll just say that the premise is that God is within us, the presence of Christ is with us and in us. We are in Christ and Christ is in us. Therefore, we must learn how to be attentive and responsive to the present of Christ within us.
Centering prayer is a way of quieting oneself and moving away from the busyness, noise and distractions of the day. It is a way of simply being with Jesus. This is the one approach that is most "content free" of the practices.
This one is a more occasional practice for me…
It is a practice that many find quite difficult to learn…
This is a practice that is launched out of the fact that God has placed within us, "eternity in the heart." We have holy longings that have been suppressed, denied, corrupted and damaged. But still, they are there and our longings and desires are a powerful indicator of God's presence and work within us.
In addition, it is a practice that is launched out of Jesus' encounter with Bartimaeus, the blind beggar and Jesus asking, "What do you want me to do for you?"
Ignatius believe that our desires/longings are very important for progress on the spiritual journey and that we need to become aware of our desires and name them to Christ. So Ignatius has retreatants constantly asking for what they desire as they begin a new spiritual exercise, confident that God will guide them to naming their deepest desires and meet them in the conversation.
Again, more on this in a later post. I have found this to be a deeply rewarding and formative spiritual approach.
Ignatius uses an unfamiliar word throughout the Exercises. It is - colloquy. It simply means an intimate conversation with Jesus. At the end of each Exercise, Ignatius wants us to imagine we are having a conversation with Mary, with Jesus and with God the Father. As an evangelical (and with no disrespect at all toward the Jesuits and larger group of Roman Catholics) I simply exchange the Holy Spirit for Mary and my prayer becomes a Trinitarian prayer.
I imagine myself having a conversation with the Spirit, then with Christ and then with the Father on the very things the Exercises has brought to my attention. I speak my heart to the Trinity and imagine God speaking back to me.
So, these are the Ignatian ways of encounter, of experience and of relational engagement with God that we will explore in the upcoming weeks.
Because this is a blogsite, these posts are really just entry points or stepping stones into each issue. I'll recommend resources for each one, for those who would like to go further in studying about a particular practice.
And as a final note, the Exercises that I am writing follow the Ignatian pattern very closely. For each one, after I give a brief explanation of the day's Exercise:
I provide guidance for a Centering Prayer,
then space for you to ask what you desire,
then guidance for using either an imaginative engaging of the text or lector divina reflections on the text (or doing both),
and finally invite you into Colloquy.
Brian K. Rice
Leadership ConneXtions International