Ignatian spirituality arose from an environment not so different from the one in which we find ourselves today. St. Ignatius endured long months of social isolation while he recovered from his war wounds. He struggled with the fact that his injuries had changed the world as he knew it. His former routines and social life evaporated. His job security went out the window. His illusion of control was completely shattered. Yet, those difficult days of confinement also gave Ignatius time to go deeper with God and gave rise to a practice of Christian spirituality so fertile that it is still being practiced today.
Within Ignatian spirituality, I have found that five particular practices have been especially effective in anchoring me during the pandemic and fostering resilience.
1. Flexibility in Prayer
Ignatius found God in all things, so all times and places could be occasions of prayer. He was clear in The Spiritual Exercises that our intent in the approach to God is more important than the particular posture in which we pray:
I will stand for the space of an Our Father, a step or two before the place where I am to meditate or contemplate, and with my mind raised on high, consider that God our Lord beholds me, etc. Then I will make an act of reverence or humility. I will enter upon the meditation, now kneeling, now prostrate upon the ground, now lying face upwards, now seated, now standing, always being intent on seeking what I desire. Hence, two things should be noted: If I find what I desire while kneeling, I will not seek to change my position: if prostrate, I will observe the same direction, etc. I will remain quietly meditating upon the point in which I have found what I desire. (SE 75–76)
Today, this flexibility is especially relevant as we stream Mass in our homes. Preparing our hearts for this sacred time is important. The particular place or posture in which we pray is flexible, as long as it leads to connection with God.
2. Practicing the Examen
St. Ignatius considered the practice of the Examen to be imperative. When we practice the Examen, we notice the waves of emotions that are arising within the waters of our soul and psyche, we notice the direction of the wind and where it is blowing us, and we spot the clouds that point to brewing storms. Noticing the conditions within helps us to spot the God moments in our days and reorient ourselves toward God when we go off course. In recent months, I have found that practicing the Examen has helped me to stay focused and positive during long days online and has helped me maintain optimism as I re-place my trust in God daily.
Ignatius recorded his thoughts and feelings in journals throughout his life. After many revisions, his journals from his time in the cave in Manresa became The Spiritual Exercises. Today, journaling continues to be a key aspect of the practice of Ignatian spirituality. I have found that journaling helps me to fight off disorientation in these days that lack the punctuation of outside routines and commitments. Journaling also helps me remember that God is with me even when I lack a sense of God’s presence and allows me to articulate my gratitude when God overwhelms me with love.
Journaling helps me to fight off disorientation in these days that lack the punctuation of outside routines and commitments.
4. Striving for Balance of Body, Mind, and Spirit
St. Ignatius learned from experience that we are most able to love, serve, and praise God when we are fully balanced. He encouraged novices in the Society of Jesus to be disciplined about striving for a balance among prayer time, studies, service to the poor, physical activity, social time, and rest. This sentiment continues today in the concept of cura personalis. Implementing this practice in our lives requires a holistic approach that includes taking care of our bodies by sticking to a schedule, getting adequate rest, good nutrition, exercise, taking care of our minds, focusing on gratitude, staying connected to friends who help us stay on course (even if the connection is virtual), and taking time to be with God daily.
5. Observing Sabbath
Observing Sabbath means setting aside a regular time for rest with God. Ignatius considered rest and leisure to be critical to balanced living. Today, perhaps more than ever before, observing Sabbath is vitally important. Working from home can make it difficult to separate oneself from work. And, for parents of young children, working from home while simultaneously helping children learn from home can be overwhelming and energy-depleting. When we observe Sabbath, we draw a line in the sand and claim our time to rejuvenate. We turn off the screens and spend time with family, in nature, listening to or making music, or in whatever leisurely activity renews us and reminds us of God’s generous love for us. While some people take this rest all day on Sunday, others set aside a small amount of time each day to rest in the living waters of God.
The practices of Ignatian spirituality foster resilience, a resilience that embraces reality even when it is a difficult reality. It is an optimistic resilience anchored in hope, the “hope,” as Pope Francis says, “that does not disappoint.” (The Joy of Discipleship)
What aspects of Ignatian spirituality have you found helpful during the pandemic? What practices would you like to adopt or try to engage in more regularly?