Tag Archives: Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius: What must be received and left behind

For the next three weeks I hope to keep my hands up and open to receive what God has for me. But I also want to let them turn down when it is time to let something go.

We will end up our Spanish pilgrimage in the Cave of Ignatius in Manresa in a few weeks (above). But all along the way we hope to symbolically pray with him on the bank of the Cardoner River. His biographer describes what happened there:

He sat down for a little while with his face to the river—Cardoner—which was running deep. While he was seated there, the eyes of his understanding began to be opened; though he did not see any vision, he understood and knew many things, both spiritual things and matters of faith and learning, and this was with so great an enlightenment that everything seemed new to him. It was as if he were a new man with a new intellect.

No one knows for sure just what happened because experiences with God are generally rather indescribable. But we know Ignatius changed his life and went a new direction from then on.

Looking back toward Montserrat from Manresa

When he left Montserrat, Ignatius left his aristocrat clothes and his soldier’s equipment behind. He went to the hospital in Manresa to further heal and to further practice the spirituality he had discovered while reading the lives of the saints in the famous mountaintop monastery. He found a cave where he could be alone with God and practiced a severe version of the penance rituals common to monks and others at the time (around 1522). The children called him “the man in sackcloth” as he wandered among the poor. He damaged himself with his asceticism and villagers came to his rescue, as he lay in a fallow state of contemplation.

The vision at the River Cardoner by Carlos Saenz de Tejada (1897-1958)

He got better and took his meditation to the river, as I have often done on the Schuylkill. Ignatius left it to speculation as to what the River Cardoner revealed to him. But he soon abandoned his severe fasting and harsh penitence, and embraced a more balanced spirituality. His new understanding led directly to his decision to write the Spiritual Exercises, which are still an inspiration to many people. The last chapter of his guide, “Contemplation to Attain the Love of God,” probably contains the essence of what was affirmed by the river. God is present in all things, and labors to continually transform what is broken and create what is good. God bathes all of creation in a ceaseless flow of blessings and gifts, like the light emanating from the sun.

I am inspired to take another pilgrimage with my mind and heart open to wherever it leads, because God will be there and I will be focused and free to meet up with Jesus along the way.

Even though the order Ignatius founded became rich and powerful, I can overlook that. They did not gild the banks of the river like they did the cave. So Ignatius the wounded soldier, disciplining himself for the duty of transformation, will not be completely obscured in Manresa. The Cave is a thin place, no matter what kind of human with whatever kind of motives has visited. We will add our faith in Jesus and likely leave with more than we brought. May your May be a similar journey in faith, hope, and love.

Group meditation: A development story

The men have jumped into our newly-formed spiritual direction group. Month by month our capacity to listen to God with and for each other is growing. We are encouraged and challenged. We are also learning we are as different in character as we are together in purpose, and that seems just right.

Chronos and Kairos

Some of us are more tuned into linear or “chronos” time. (Chronos and Kairos in Greek Thought). If you are an engineer or scientist of some kind, you’re probably prone to emphasizing sequential, goal-oriented and, perhaps, scarce or developing time — maybe you are even wearing a chronometer! Your orientation to time might be as it is because you are more attuned to left brain processes, along with much of the Eurocentric world (Left and Right Brain Thinking). I’m not sure this always follows, but maybe you will be more aligned with an “apophatic” approach to meditation (Apophatic and Kataphatic Meditation). I told the group I would be in big trouble if I were not linked with people who lean this way, since I pretty much lean the other direction.

Let’s not make an “either/or” distinction, here. But the “other direction” is being more tuned into “kairos” time. I think fewer people “land” here these days (pun intended). The disposition seems out-of-date. Not too many of us are farmers, but if you are, you probably tune into the seasons and see things according seeds sprouting and crops ripening “when the time is right.” Like a farmer, you may feel an immediacy about time, like “right now,” like “It rained last night and it is the right time to plow.” You might have expectations of time based on intuition or your experience. You might orient this way because you are more attuned to right brain processes. Maybe you are more of an artist, an ardent listener, or a seeker of timeless things. Or maybe you are searching like the mother in Everything, Everywhere, All at OnceI don’t agree meaninglessness is at the heart of the universe like that movie does, but I respect their right brain pursuits. I’m not sure this always follows, but if you’re built in this way, you might have more of a “kataphatic” approach to meditation.

Le prophète Isaïe — Marc Chagall (1968)

It started with a story

All those thoughts and links above come from the story I now carry about how our group gathered. I enjoyed listening to the interplay of all those dispositions as we prayed, sang, and took each other seriously. Several of us offered a story about a loss we had commonly experienced. We were in varying degrees of being unsettled or moving on. It was moving to share such a profound subject with someone, in which our deepest loves and suffering were surfacing.

I won’t tell you the substance of our dialogue, of course. But one of us named what they were doing to themselves as a “purity test.” This jogged another person to describe a scene in the Bible in which God purified someone’s mouth with a live coal during a vision in the Temple (later noted as Isaiah 6). This caught my attention because I had just that day been singing along with an old song on YouTube about that scene:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lofty, and the hem of his robe filled the temple. Seraphs were in attendance above him; each had six wings: with two they covered their faces, and with two they covered their feet, and with two they flew. And one called to another and said,

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory.”

The [doorposts] on the thresholds shook at the voices of those who called, and the house filled with smoke. And I said, “Woe is me! I am lost, for I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, yet my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts!”

Then one of the seraphs flew to me, holding a live coal that had been taken from the altar with a pair of tongs. The seraph touched my mouth with it and said, “Now that this has touched your lips, your guilt has departed and your sin is blotted out.” Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” And I said, “Here am I; send me!”

Of course Isaiah’s story has been repeated for centuries and music has been written for the angel’s to sing! If we have not had such an experience ourselves, yet, we long to!

Left brain folks focused on the prophet’s lips

Everyone had their own way to enter into our mutual discernment.

Some were more “left-brained.” If you have a linear mindset, which is characteristic of left-hemisphere processes, then what is past is lost and what is not yet realized can be disappointing in that you don’t have what you need.

The specificity and constraints of language are instigated in the left brain, so it is no wonder some people noticed and were most were moved by which words were spoken in the story above: “Woe is me, I am lost,” and then by the Lord speaking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for us?” The left brain is where wild thoughts go to be tamed and abstractions go to become projects.

We were listening together, and some people leaned more into apophatic mediation. It is a wordless and imageless way. As you become empty of what distracts or upsets you (usually the energies of left-brained processing), you become one with the love of God you seek. When teachers help us to do this, they often start by helping us find a centering word or phrase that supersedes the din of our inner dialogue and the many voices that lead us to judge ourselves and which assign us self-improvement projects. That kind of meditation helps us stop our endless self-examination and self-centeredness (An example from Martin Laird).

Right brain folks having their own revelation

Others were more “right-brained.” If you tend to experience the world with your heart and senses first, your instinct is to seek the thin places and turn into them.

The experience of the prophet in the temple was eternal; it has that sense of “kairos” even if you just read it for the first time a minute ago. It happened in God’s time, so much so, it feels fresh to people reading about it 3000 years later. It is a promise, not just history. As our group met, we made a thin place and we entered into that eternal now. Our thin place experiences do and should have a staying power like Isaiah’s. I was very happy to be reminded that. Even though I felt the loss of my previous spiritual experience, it was good to accept how amazing it was for the season it lasted. Whatever touched eternity in it could not be lost. What is gone is still beautiful in kairos time; it flowered in is season.

As we were listening together, some people leaned more into kataphatic meditation. It is a image-rich way to pray. As you connect with the eternity of this present moment, you become united with the Creator in creation. The experience of God’s grace grounds you in the One who was and is and is to come. When teachers help us do this, they often start with a story or a metaphor, not a principle or a manual. Visual, musical, or literary art, a statue, a tree, a sunset, etc. are all aids (like the icon, below) all help us connect. Jesus is the best example of this kind of mentoring. He leads us to know God beyond our arguments for or against such knowing. He helps us to become an “I am” in love with “I am” (An example like Ignatius of Loyola).

Both/and “Trinity” by Andrei Rublev (ca. 1411). Click for info.

We are both/and beings

Obviously, we all have left and right hemispheres to our brains, barring some catastrophe. But if you are an American or under 35, you are probably more oriented to the left brain.  One of the reasons we love the character Data so much in Star Trek: Picard is because he is succeeding in developing his right brain, too; he is becoming fully human, like we want to be.

By nature, we are both/and beings, right and left, spirit and material, time-bound and timeless. If we live in love, we can be a big help to each other as we find our own way into wholeness. We often see ourselves best when someone who loves us sees us. When we seek God together, we rarely end up oriented the direction we began. Our various starting points often combine to lead to a startling and encouraging new place.

In our group the other night a deeply felt problem, a focus on woe and a snippet from a story about a vision left me moved to turn again today and find joy in the presence of God in me and around me. I hope my story helps you find the hope in your own.

Active imagination can deepen your life: A four step process

L’atmosphère Météorologie by Camille Flammarion, ca. 1888

Most of us could use a tool (or twelve) to deepen our spiritual awareness. What I mean by “spiritual awareness” is the ability we all have to experience the Spirit of God. If you don’t relate to God personally, then I mean your ability to experience the “numinous,” the outside-my-understanding events that stay with us throughout our lives, even after we’ve tried to explain them away. You may have been ordered to repress or deny that capacity for a variety of reasons. For instance, one genius-of-a-friend reported for med school at Jefferson U. and was quickly told his faith had no place in the upper realms of research for which he was headed. The order to squash his spiritual awareness was direct and not implied! You may have been squashed too!

So most of us could use a tool to help us deepen our spiritual awareness. We’ve all got it, but we have a lot of reasons we have not been using it. Active imagination is such a tool (much like dream work last week). The idea is fairly easy to understand, since it relates to the fantasies that regularly run through our head. We may entertain or dismiss our fantasies, but most of us rarely take their energy seriously, try to harness it, or learn from that common experience of what is going on inside.

According to Robert A Johnson in Inner Work:

Active imagination is a dialogue that you enter into with the different parts of yourself that live in the unconscious. In some ways it is similar to dreaming, except that you are fully awake and conscious during the experience. This, in fact, is what gives this technique its distinctive quality. Instead of going into a dream, you go into your imagination while you are awake. You allow images to rise up out of the unconscious, and they come to on the level of imagination just as they would come to you if you were asleep.

Active imagination is a common experience in the Bible

Before you Christians get nervous about being self-centered and lost in a perpetual search for elusive meanings in your inner world, let me remind you that people with the most active of imaginations wrote the Bible. At least that is what Eugene Peterson (of The Message fame) told Krista Tippet that time during On Being. If you cannot ponder metaphor, or cannot see yourself in the Bible, or cannot imagine how the Spirit of God is relating to the part of you which is also beyond your ordinary awareness, you might be religious but you’ll be a dissatisfied Jesus follower. Our imagination is a beautiful part of us and is a doorway into the deep realms of the Spirit into which God calls us in Jesus. And let’s not forget God calls all sorts of people who don’t know Jesus, too, who begin their journey by knowing their own capacity to be aware of spiritual things.

And before I get to my very-abridged summary of Johnson’s steps to practicing active imagination in service to our growth, let me add a couple of warnings. On the one hand, most of us will probably have a tough time getting the process of active imagination going. We’ve been “ordered” to repress it, after all, by secular and religious authorities. It may take some experimenting. On the other hand, and this is a real warning, some of us might go too far, get lost in the realm of purposeless fantasy and have trouble getting back to the here and now. If you suspect that is likely to be you, enter into the process holding the hand of Jesus and definitely holding the hand of a therapist or friend who can bring you back if you get lost. I compare this necessity to the rope people tied to the high priest when he went into the Holy of Holies in the Jewish Temple so they could pull him out if he got lost somehow, or died. The legend of that practice is not true; there is no evidence people really did that. But you get the idea. Active imagination needs to stay tethered to a real-time purpose, or it is something else.

Many of us are familiar with Ignatius of Loyola and his teaching on entering the Bible story as an active participant, especially when it comes to records about Jesus. Active imagination is a similar kind of exercise, only the context is not outside us but in us. We are entering into the interesting interchanges happening within us, walking and talking with the persons we find in our unconscious, confronting and arguing, making friends and probably fighting. We consciously participate in the drama of our imagination. You can see this is not passive fantasy, like worrying, or like repeating negative messages. We are acting as that observing and relating “I” we all are, getting to know all the territory of our unconscious, and so deepening communication among all the parts of us.

Four steps

Robert A. Johnson has some fascinating examples of active imagination in his book. They are all examples of personifying some content from the unconscious that arises to the surface, putting it into image form so one can dialogue and deal with it. For instance, when you have stomped off from a heated argument and sit sulking somewhere, you might turn to the anger, which likely comes from someplace deep, and ask it who it is. You might find some lonely child, or some power-hungry tyrant, or some confused priest. You wouldn’t judge them before you got to know them, just see who is there and honor their right to be you.

Here are the four steps. Like when we were talking about dreams, the explanations are abbreviated, but I hope they whet your appetite and give you and idea of what you might try. You might even read Johnson’s book.

Step One: Invite the unconscious

Invite the inner persons to start the dialogue. Take your mind off the external world and focus on your imagination and wait to see who shows up. When you let yourself rest in Christ, you might find yourself in what I call my “inner landscape” where my encounters often take place. Be patient and stay alert. If something comes up, don’t judge, just go with it. If it feels productive, hang with it. If it is just a fantasy, or you are not ready for it, move on.

Step Two: The dialogue

A helpful dialogue with personified images from your unconscious is very much like a healthy conversation with anyone. You demonstrate a willingness to listen and actively do that. This is best done with a journal. As I was in the process of writing this post I had a very useful time of active imagination in which I managed to turn into a feeling, ask who it was and listen. But when I went back to it this morning, it was a hazy memory. Writing out the main things being said and experienced helps to make the most of the process.

Sometimes we’ll have an argument and that might be when we are really getting somewhere. However it works out, a problem will be revealed, different viewpoints will be noted and a response of some kind will come. This could take a few minutes or days or even years.

Step Three: The Values

This step is important for everyone and especially for Jesus followers who are no longer alone and usurping God’s place. Johnson says:

Once the imaginative process is launched, once the primordial forces are invited to come up to the surface and be heard, some limits have to be set. It is the conscious ego, guided by a sense of ethics, that must set limits in order to protect the imaginative process from becoming inhuman or destructive or going off into extremes. (Inner Work)

Hold out for what is good. Don’t let one energy take over at the expense of the others. Nurture what serves human life, practical needs and healthy relationships. Do it all in Christ.

Step Four: The Rituals

We always want to incarnate our active imagination so it gets out of the imaginary and gets connected to the earthbound. When we have an insight or a resolution, we do something to make it concrete. My active imagination often makes me feel better, but it is best when I do better. Remember not to act out some fantasy or project some inner conflict on someone else. We’re talking about integrating the essence, the meaning, the principle we have derived into our practical life.

I hope this brief intro (or reminder) encourages you to do some inner work this week. The world needs deep people. Plus, this activity is great for times of stress and confusion. We can gain a lot of confidence for what we need to do on the outside when we are in less turmoil inside.

Opposition: The Bully, The False Lover, The Shrewd Army Commander

Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)

I had a spiritual director once who was trained in the “Ignation School” of spirituality. Our relationship was a nice experience for me. He was a chemist, by education, and brought much of the personality and expertise of his field with him into our relationship. Being almost the opposite of a chemist, in training and typical personality type, I benefited greatly.

At one point, he told me about the three ways I could be tempted, according to Ignatius, and asked me to decide which way I was being tempted in the moment. I have never forgotten the imagery. Here are the thoughts from the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola paraphrased by David Fleming. I thought you might like to examine yourself to see how you are likely to be opposed this week. According to Ignatius three are Three Ways the Enemy Works:

Like a Bully

The enemy behaves like a bully who is a weakling before strength, but a tyrant before weakness. It would be characteristic of a bully to lose courage and take flight when confronted with someone who is determined and strong of will. However, if a person loses courage and begins to flee, the anger, vindictiveness, and rage of the bully will surge up and know no bounds.  In the same way the enemy becomes weak, loses courage, and turns to flight as soon as the one leading a spiritual life faces their temptations boldly. (SE 325)

I have been very encouraged this week by dear friends who have had the courage to face “the bully” in whatever guise he was taking. They make me remember the recurring dream I had for several weeks, long ago now, in which a “monster” was chasing me. Gwen suggested I prepare to turn and face it that night rather than dreading to run away from it in my dreams. I decided to do it, and in my dream I did it. The result was exactly as Ignatius said. I proved it had no power over me.

Like a False Lover

The Enemy’s behavior can also be compared to that of a false lover.  One who loves falsely uses another for selfish gains, and so people become objects at one’s disposal or like playthings for entertainment or good times.  A false lover usually suggests that the so-called intimacy of relationship be kept secret because of fear that such duplicity will be made known.  So does the Enemy often act in ways to keep temptations secret, and our tactics must be to bring our temptations out into the light of day to someone like our director, confessor or some other spiritual companion. (SE 326)

I regularly hear about the literal “false lovers” who lock people up. Porn is the undiscussed  false lover for any people. Many people have connected with a person who doesn’t love Jesus and that relationship is a secret love. Some people have many secrets about how they have satisfied their lust and pretended they didn’t to their intimates. Sex it a spiritual matter. Although many people are resolute in pretending otherwise, there are probably no inconsequential couplings or orgasms.

But our loves are not all sexual. We have many lovers who use us and leave us kicked to the curb. We trust our employers or addictions or abusers, even when they don’t love us like Jesus. We trust our false selves in all their delusions and bad heart-habits, even when they have repeatedly been proven self-destructive.

The solution is dialogue. We shouldn’t wait for our expectations of trustworthiness to be fully satisfied before we talk about our lovers. They are much less powerful in the light. Just because they fear the light, and they tell us that being secret is better, and they warn us of the terrible consequences of living in the light, that doesn’t mean they aren’t lying.

Like a Shrewd Army Commander

The Enemy can also work like a shrewd army commander who carefully maps out the tactics of the attack at the weakest point of defense.  The military leader knows the weakness is found in two ways:  a) the weakness of fragility and unpreparedness, and b) the weakness of complacent strength which is self-sufficient pride.

The Enemy attacks come against us at both points of weakness.  The first kind of weakness is less serious in that we more readily acknowledge our need and cry or for help from God.  The second kind of weakness is far more serious and more devastating in its effect upon us so that it can be a more favored tactic of the Enemy. (SE 327)

Peter says the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. This is a similarly threatening image. Our enemy is like an army commander scoping out the weak defenses of our walled city. Some places, like the gates we open to the world every day are well-defended because we know about them. But there are weak sections of the wall, perhaps, that defend places we never expect to be attacked, or don’t want to imagine being attacked because we’ve been hurt there before, that are much more dangerous.

Opposition is real

For instance, Circle of Hope is a relational network. We count on people loving one another. We have 50 cell leaders entrusted with nurturing the process of micro-communities. So, naturally, we can get complacent about how everyone supposedly loves one another and can be “sitting ducks” in the gun sites of an enemy shooting conflict at us. We can be so committed to our harmony that we don’t allow healthy conflict, or don’t even allow needed change to occur if it might create conflict – even though we have a proverb that says, “Everyone is recovering from the sin addiction – expect conflict.”

On a more personal level, each of us might be very unaware of our childhood defense mechanisms and just consider them “normal,” or even “my right to be who I am,” or even, nowadays, “my genetic disposition that I can’t change even if I want to.” We could all use a little more Ignatian attention to self-sufficiency. The enemy would love us to be self-sufficient. It is antithetical to serving God.

Ignatian spirituality is not for the weakly committed. It takes a lot of time to ponder all the ways we could be growing stronger in faith and becoming stronger opponents to the enemies of God. I am encouraged to take the time, because much of the time I am not spending becoming aware of my temptations I am spending conforming to them.

Subscribe to DevelopmentHit the “follow” button after you type in your email. Thanks for reading!