Beginning My Ignatian Prayer Adventure

An Ignatian Prayer Adventure online retreat

This is a guest post by Michelle Francl-Donnay, as she begins An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

I am standing in front of the chair in my study, the materials for this time of prayer close at hand: my Bible marked with a passage from Isaiah, a sheet of paper with the instructions for the day, and a cup of tea, its steam swirling up like incense, its bitter sweetness promising equal measures of courage and comfort for the next half-hour. I am ready—or perhaps not.

Suddenly I am 16 again, standing on the edge of a 10-meter diving tower on a mountainside near Oaxaca, my friend urging me, “¡Vaya, vaya!” Go, go! The view was amazing, the cool water below enticing in the summer’s heat. Still, I hesitated, not sure whether to dive or head back down the ladder to the three-meter board. Could I control my dive well enough to knife cleanly into the water? Or would I end up cart wheeling into the pool, the breath knocked out of me?

Back in my study, on a winter’s day, the thought of diving into this time with God is similarly enticing—and intimidating. I have embarked on adventures with Ignatius before, and know that once launched, God will work on me with the inevitably of gravity. My trajectory is not entirely in my own hands, and the results may indeed take my breath away. I hesitate, wondering if I should retreat now, until I remember St. Augustine who, setting out on a similar journey to seek the Lord, prays:

Say to me in the fullness of your mercy, my Lord and my God,who you are for me. Say to my soul, “I am your salvation.” Say it in such a way that I hear and understand. I will hasten after that voice. (Confessions, Book I, Chapter 5)

With Augustine’s words echoing, I take a deep breath, collect myself, and dive into Isaiah: “And now, thus says the LORD, who created you…I love you, I give nations in return for your life. Do not be afraid.”

Oh. God is so anxious for me to join him on this journey that he offers to trade entire nations for my life, that he promises me safe passage through fire and water. Why did I hesitate? “Come, come!” he says, and I hasten to hear God’s voice.

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Michelle Francl-Donnay
Michelle Francl-Donnay is the mother of two 20-something sons, a professor of chemistry, an adjunct scholar at the Vatican Observatory, and a regular contributor to Philadelphia Archdiocese’s, where she writes about the joys and struggles of trying to live a contemplative life in the midst of everyday chaos. Michelle blogs at Quantum Theology.


  1. I,too, love the quote of St Augustine and think it is so timely for the Lenten season. I must say your post today has me excited about getting ready for the dive, the deep, and the push forward! I welcome the challenge.
    And then, the words from Isaiah -“I give nations in return for your life.” We are so loved…..

  2. Oh, Michelle, I have never been able to dive, at 16, 40, or 65…
    I guess for me maybe it’s more like the call of the Camino and answering it.
    I thank you very much for the quote of Augustine. I have read his Confessions a long time and could probably read them again. At any rate, the quote you give here is beautiful and fitting quite well these new beginnings.
    Many thanks for this. It is nice knowing we will travel together during this Lenten season.

  3. Congrats Michelle on your lovely first post here !
    I included this quote from Leonard Cohen as part of my post for Ash Wednesday “If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day.” which I like as a way for me to help reflect on how I can enter the mysterious dimensions of Lent this year.
    I look forward to more of your dives !!

      • Michelle, actually I am all over the place with the Lenten programmes, this morning I did the first session on Sacred Space retreat posted this morning. I think that’s why I burned out last year after about two days here, too inundated. So this year I have it down to two sites. Or three. Or something. There were changes nonetheless.

        • Linda G…hope you can find a good menu to settle on for the season. My spiritual director sometimes refers to himself as a waiter for the Holy Spirit, helping you sort through the menu of many good things!

          • I did. Ashes to Glory, and the Sacred Space one too (that can all be done in a day or a week actually) then there’s the Creighton running retreat (months long) but that’s a background thing that came with a divine inspiration to do it.

  4. Many times we sift through all the clutter to hear God’s whisper, when in reality the Lord may not only be nudging us to take that leap, but is actually holding our hand to take that leap together (am image of Paul Newman and Robert Redford come to mind).
    Wonderful reflection Michelle…

  5. Our celebrant’s homily this Sunday focused on the apostles taking their boats out into the deep, even though they were tired and had been fishing for hours with no results. So I think the key for me is to paddle out to the deep this Lent, even though I am tired and have tried and tried to take my spiritual life to the next level. Wouldn’t it be easier to just sit on shore or go a lower point and not expect so much? What pushes me forward is knowing that the place I long to be might just be found out there in the deep.
    Inspiring as always Michelle!

  6. It seems that experiences with water — diving from high boards, sliding down waterfalls, submerging into the depths — provide a wealth of metaphors for our lives of prayer. Re-baptisms, perhaps?

      • This is how water showed up in one of my latest meditations. I suddenly found myself walking through a familiar, but at times scary forest, that I walked countless times as a child on my way to a natural spring of water. I found myself kneeling in front of the spring remembering what my mom instructed me many times: “very carefully move away all the leaves at the surface and then you will find the clear water.” I did so and as I was moving the leaves I started seing the face of Jesus reflected in the water and myself reflected in his eyes. I felt such a tender love and had the insight that everyday brings an accumulation of “fallen leaves”, those shortcoming of all sorts that hide from us the self that we are meant to be in God’s eyes. The examen is a way to help us move those leaves on a daily basis and ask for God’s grace to see ourselves through his eyes. Since then I actually look forward to the time of my daily Examen.


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