In my family, school is out and it’s time for us all to slow down. While we often think of Ignatian spirituality as a spirituality of service, it is also deeply contemplative. One of the most formative times in Ignatius’s own life took place on the banks of the River Cardoner at Manresa. There, he experienced illumination in which God taught him spiritual truths de arriba (“from above”). That time was not only one of theological enlightenment, however. Before Manresa, Ignatius was more concerned with a sense of his own sinfulness, and often enacted harsh penances on himself. After Manresa, Ignatius became much more centered on love of other people. He recognized that his earlier habits were self-centered despite being superficially God-centered. Ignatius turned to study, works of mercy, the foundation of the Society, and a life deeply informed by friendship.
Contemplation is essential for us as well, not only at certain phases of our lives, but every day. By disposition, I am inclined to overwork while trying to balance the demands of the academic world with raising a family and running a household. When my efforts at care for others are not balanced with time to allow God to take care of me, watch out! God is constantly telling me to “slow down” and not to rush through life or to try to solve problems too quickly. For example, in interpersonal conflict, I am often tempted to rush through to problem solve when the situation may call instead for more time to find internal peace and good discernment. Contemplation nurtures my patience when I lack patience.
Practically, becoming more contemplative has meant setting aside specific times to pray both at the beginning and end of the day, as well as undertaking a yearly ocean-side retreat. As Francis de Sales said, “Every Christian need a half-hour of prayer each day, except when he is busy; then he needs an hour.” Such prayer can be active or simply being in God’s presence for a time, as one spends time with a friend or lover.
Just as importantly, an attitude of contemplation throughout the day helps to keep me centered. Contemplation can mean slowing down enough to look at the trees and flowers on a walk, listening wholeheartedly to a student or colleague, or savoring a meal with the family at the end of the day. God is always speaking to us, but we need to slow down enough to listen. In contemplation, we find that God is always at the center. As with Ignatius, we can then be freed enough from the sometimes heavy weight of the self to find God in all things.