LAURA: There’s a lot of stuff in the media right now about Ignatian Spirituality because of Scorsese’s new film Silence. I’m wondering if anyone in the group has ever done a Jesuit retreat or gone through the Exercises?
KAREN: I am a Jesuitical trained spiritual director who had to complete the spiritual exercises (either 30 day or 19th annotation) before I could receive my certificate of training. I subsequently have led people on 19th annotation (which takes 6—9 months) as well as given 5 and 8 day silent retreats at Jesuit Retreat Center. I also completed the 30 day Silent Retreat in discerning a call along a different path. The silent 30 day retreat has been the highlight of my life, one I often long to return to, and do at times thru meditating on my journals.
CHARLOTTE: Yes. Both in a short silent retreat form, and in the extended 19th annotation form over 9 months. But I work in a Jesuit university and belong to a Jesuit parish (in addition to having been Jesuit educated myself), so I’m in it deeply all the time. It’s a very rich spiritual tradition.
LAURA: Follow up question: it is obviously something that requires commitment and spiritual discipline. How do you discern if you are “ready”?
CHARLOTTE: It’s something that grows with you as you grow. I started working with the exercises when I was 18 (and not terribly mature). I would say that if you desire a deeper relationship with Jesus, you are “ready”, but that different forms of readiness will bear different fruits from the process (and over time). It’s important to find a skilled director, though, and that can take time.
BRIGID: Yes, I did an 8 day retreat and then the 19th annotation with a spiritual director who also trains Jesuits to give the exercises. Both were demanding and rewarding. I wanted to try both because I write for a Jesuit magazine, but also just because it seemed like a challenge. I’ve never done the 30 day retreat, however, so can’t speak to that experience.
KAREN: James Martin, SJ, wrote a book – Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life. I have lead readers groups on this book.
Laura, I think a beginning requisite might be meeting monthly with a spiritual director. Through mentoring and discernment you will know when you are ready. Three, five and eight day Jesuit retreats are good formation sessions for the kinds of prayerful meditations involved. It is not difficult but helps develop a rhythm that is spiritually nourishing.
LAURA: Does anyone have any advice for searching out a spiritual director? If one is interested in eventually doing the exercises or at least a Jesuit retreat, does the director have to be a Jesuit? Would my parish priest help me find someone?
BRIGID: My director was a Sister of St Joseph who trained in giving the exercises, so, no, doesn’t have to be a Jesuit. But you do want to find someone who’s specifically trained in the Exercises.
LAURA: Thank you this is all very helpful.
KAREN: You can go online to Spiritual Directors International. They have a section on how to select a spiritual director and a Seek and Find Guide that lists spiritual directors worldwide by countries, states/sections and cities. A spiritual director needs to be trained in giving the exercises and not all directors have this background and training.
KAREN: Yes I have skyped with people who did not have access to a spiritual director. I have also used Skype in being supervised by a Jesuit priest during my training and now when I do not live close to a director.
There are many nuns who lead the exercises. And many excellent online resources. Creighton University has a great online Ignatian spirituality resource.
Not trying to sound like an authority – just passing on what has been my experience — all coming from different places and experiences. Had some less than perfect experiences with finding good directors in my day lol.
LAURA: You are being immensely helpful to me and I am so grateful!
BETH: I’m hoping to do a 5 day silent retreat at St Beuno’s this year. This thread is really helpful.
JOAN: ‘Andrew Garfield played a Jesuit in Silence, but he didn’t expect to fall in love with Jesus’: http://www.americamagazine.org/arts-culture/2017/01/10/andrew-garfield-played-jesuit-silence-he-didnt-expect-fall-love-jesus.
LAURA: Reading that was one of the things that inspired this post! Also did you see his interview with Stephen Colbert? Really fascinating and profound. https://www.facebook.com/FrJamesMartin/posts/10154091089596496?hc_location=ufi.
KAREN: The daily Examen is a great exercise and requires very little time. Quiet one’s self in God’s presence and then examine your day — both God “present” and “absent” moments and expressing gratitude for both types of moments. I do it in conversation form with God. Think that movie and the conversations about it are going to spark a lot of interest in Ignatian Exercises. Also, liked Colbert’s comments about receiving Eucharist via a woman priest (Anglican).
LAURA: Oh yes, he made some really good points in his remarks on that and came at it from a different angle that I thought could be really effective in trying to persuade priests and bishops who are resistant to women’s ordination!
CAROL: Laura, but a shame he did not receive himself that day. I would have.
LAURA: When I go to episcopal and Methodist churches I do.
CAROL: I made the 30 day exercises in what I believe is called the 19th annotation? Not sure. I did it while working, from home, raising two children. Took twice as long, doing two sessions each day skipping one. I had a very strange experience. I was going on only 6 hours of sleep during the week catching up a bit on the weekends. I found it impossible to do the imaginative work, I’m so pragmatic. How could I imagine what it felt like or sounded or smelled like 2,000 years ago? The hour of prayer was painful and long and yet I looked forward to it each day. It was really an experience of stick to it ness. I dragged through for sixty days, I had two wonderful meditations out of 120. I think I had poor direction, at the time I was doing a contemplative prayer an hour a day, I think I could have shortened the meditation and relaxed into contemplative prayer more quickly but I didn’t know that then. Anyway I was depressed for two months, Dec and Jan after that. Then suddenly the depression lifted. And yet … I loved the exercises and would never do any other kind of retreat. It was a life changing Blessed event in my life. Not sure how you make sense of all that.
CHERYL: I did the 8 day version many years ago, given by a brilliant Marist priest, and it was life-changing … not immediately, but the graces and gifts became apparent over many months and even years. I’ve done it twice since, not so mind-blowing, but always fruitful, and a source of unexpected insights and graces. Powerful stuff.
GERALDINE: I did the exercises in the 19th annotation over a period of about eight or nine months with an excellent spiritual director who was a sister of Notre Dame and found them challenging, fulfilling and well worthwhile. Changed my image of and my relationship with God. I hadn’t had spiritual direction before but had done some courses run by Ignatian spirituality centre. I have continued to meet monthly with the same director.
PAM: I did a Jesuit retreat a year and a half ago. Practice the Daily Examen for many years.
BEATRICE: I have made a 7 day retreat but would love to do the exercises. I found the 7 day one in silence very fruitful and also a healing experience. A grace filled time. I use the examen at night. There is a short Ignatian inspired daily meditation at www.sacredspace.ie.
ELAINE: While you’re finding a SD you may like to read a book by one of our own: Margaret Blackie,. I’m finding it a really interesting introduction to the spirituality and practices. Rooted in Love: Integrating Ignatian Spirituality into Everyday Life. It works well with my daily meditation and journaling. I would dearly love to experience an Ignatian retreat at some point.
CELIA: I have found this online retreat helpful — http://onlineministries.creighton.edu/CollaborativeMinistry/cmo-retreat.html. I also listen to a Jesuit podcast almost every day: http://pray-as-you-go.org/home/#, which works through the liturgical year and helps me to find God in all things.
FIONA: I’ve been on two Ignatian guided retreats and done various Ignatian prayer sessions of different sorts. I do think it has important things to offer, but it’s very easy to manipulate, both by oneself and others. I am very imaginative, which isn’t always helpful. I prefer the Dominican emphasis on reason.
CAROL: I’m not imaginative and therefore found it very very difficult. So I’m wondering…
KAREN: I am sincerely curious about your comment “easy to manipulate.” In what way(s)? Also, imagination is one of the key tools to use in meditation so when would this not be helpful? Not being critical just seeking understanding.
FIONA: Easy to manipulate: well, you are dealing with very deep stuff, potentially with someone who has no training in psychology, and you give someone you have perhaps only just met the key to very deep places in your soul without thinking too hard about it, because the method encourages you to. And then they can start telling you that God wants you to do x, or the Devil is tempting you to do y. I would call that manipulation –and one can also do it to oneself. Suppose you are thinking of the love of God for you, and you start thinking of an old boyfriend. Nothing wrong that that in itself. But Ignatian spirituality is fundamentally set up for drama, to make things happen, to move you on. So you persuade yourself God wants you to get back in touch with the person, even though objectively it’s a terrible idea because you are now married to someone else. You persuade yourself you are ready for anything, and then it all goes horribly wrong.
GERALDINE: Fiona, that was definitely not my experience at all when I did the spiritual exercises and is not my experience now, with the same (Ignatian) spiritual director. I can honestly say I have never felt that I was being manipulated nor told what to do … in fact quite the opposite, being gently challenged to think for myself and discern what God, not my director, wants for me. I have not experienced Ignatian spirituality as being set up for drama but rather as a wonderful way of deepening my relationship with God.
FIONA: Geraldine, I wasn’t saying that was a necessary experience with Ignatian spirituality, just that it was a possible experience (and one which I had – being told the Devil was sending me temptations, that is). I believe I also said that Ignatian spirituality ‘has important things to offer’ – which is also my view. I had a good experience of it on another occasion, besides the bad one, and I think it does some things very well. But it has also been my experience that many of those who are really wedded to it cannot see or admit that it isn’t for everyone, or that it has potential for misuse.
GERALDINE: That all seems fair, Fiona, and I certainly didn’t mean to suggest you were saying it was an inevitable experience with Ignatian spirituality. I also struggle with the Devil terminology which can be used sometimes, but reinterpret that for myself!
KAREN: Had a counsellor tell me “no wonder you are here for marital counseling, you are all screwed up” (or words to that effect). Duh! Would I be there if there were not issues? We were there to deal with the effects of alcoholism on our marriage. Was there for an exit interview because of worse things she had done. I urge anyone to be careful and attentive when seeking a director – usually pay attention to gut feelings around trust and revelation of your deepest self.
Sorry but good spiritual directors do not “tell” or “lead” others to actions. Think your understanding of spiritual direction and Ignatian spirituality may need a little tweaking. God is the real director in sessions — we try to stay out of HER way lol. It takes awhile for trust to build up between director and directee, just as it does in counseling. And they are different dynamics entirely.
FIONA: What I was giving you there, because you requested it, was not my ‘understanding’ of Ignatian spirituality but my experience of it. Untweakable, therefore, because it has happened and is not going to unhappen. The other case was one that involved a friend of mine. ‘Sorry but good spiritual directors do not “tell” or “lead” others to actions’ – of course, but bad ones also exist. The system is open to abuse of the vulnerable – it’s important that those of you who are fond of it take that on board.
KAREN: Fiona, I am truly very sorry you had such a bad experience. I know how that feels – both in counseling and in seeking directors that has happened to me. In both instances I persisted in order to obtain what I was seeking. Even some teachers of spiritual direction sometimes have a difficult time stepping back from “instructing.” It was why I asked you and am glad you shared so others too can know to beware of what can occur. I hope someday if you have a need you can have a positive experience via direction or Ignatian spirituality.
GERALDINE: Fiona, my only experience of spiritual direction is through Ignatian spirituality and while as I said my experience has been very positive yours sounds horrendous and manipulative and had I had that I too would have left. I’m interested in what you say about Ignatian spirituality lending itself to manipulation. Is it not possible that any spirituality/method lends itself to this in the ‘wrong’ hands? I’m asking because as well as spiritual direction I’ve also done some courses and attended events in the Ignatian Spirituality Centre here where I live and have not felt any manipulation or over dramatisation. Or have I just been fortunate? And having said all of that, I strongly believe that different ways suit different people.
KAREN: I have even walked out of confession when I recognized a truly flawed confessor. When I was young I did not have such courage. I am glad you had the courage to walk away Fiona.
FIONA: Karen, thanks! I am sure I will have a positive experience of Ignatian spirituality in the future as the other time in the past. I think the Exercises and the retreats that go with them are a really useful and potentially beautiful part of part of the mosaic of Christian spirituality, and they do a number of things well (e.g. the desolation/consolation analysis) that pretty much nothing else in the tradition does, or does as well. I have lots of friends who are Ignatian.
MARGARET: I am currently leading a retreat. I find very profound joy in doing and giving the Exercises.
LAURA: (several months later): An update on my Jesuit “quest”: coincidentally I just watched Silence for the first time, streaming, last night! In spite of being fascinated by it when it was in theaters, I was unable to see it in theaters because here in the States many theaters did not carry it or if they did so it was only for a week or two and with very limited screening times.
I have not done the Exercises or any variation of them yet (I do not have enough vacation time to do the 30 day retreat and am hesitant to try to do them while also working full time and being “in the world”). I do not yet have a Spiritual Director, but I DID do a one day retreat on Ash Wednesday at a nearby Jesuit retreat center which was lovely. It incorporated Taizé prayer, liturgy, confessions, directed reflection, silent communal meals. I am thinking of doing a weekend retreat at a Jesuit centre next month which has an environmental focus! And most importantly, for several months now I have been journaling the Examen every night before I go to bed. I have really seen its work in helping me improve how I treat people and helping me be more expressive in my love for my friends and family. It has also managed to get me to do something that, as a creative writer and one who was trained academically to be so, I have been kind of ashamed to never have had the discipline to stick with before: keeping a daily journal of my thoughts and experiences! I start out by journaling the narrative of my day and then I do my Examen. I have not missed many days journaling since successfully making the Examen routine.