This is the preface to God Finds Us, my book about the Spiritual Exercises:
A few years ago I made the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola with the help of a cheerful Jesuit named Dennis. I had always thought of the Exercises as the spiritual equivalent of Navy SEAL training or hiking the Appalachian Trail—something for highly trained, disciplined, ambitious people who aren’t satisfied with anything short of the toughest challenge. I’m not one of those people. I’m a baseball fan in the Midwest with a mortgage, a family, two cars, and a full-time job. I’m a pretty ordinary guy, but I made the Exercises anyway, and they did me a lot of good. If I can make the Spiritual Exercises, just about anybody can. That’s the main reason why I wrote this book—to plant the idea in your mind that the Spiritual Exercises might be something for you too.
The Exercises don’t feature theology, doctrine, devotional practices or other “churchy” stuff. Ignatius assumes a Christian outlook; he was a European Catholic writing in the sixteenth century, after all. But Ignatius was more interested in what you feel rather than what you think. His Exercises aim for a changed heart more than a changed mind (though it’s certainly true that you’re going to think about things differently as a result of making the Exercises). He built the Exercises around certain ideas and themes that he thought would bring about a “conversion of the heart.” These themes are my gateway into the Exercises. I’ve built this book around them. By explaining them, I hope to give you a sense of what the Exercises are about.
I also hope that reading this book will give you a sense of what making the Exercises is like. Maybe it can be a kind of retreat for you. To that end, I’ve drawn on my own experiences of the Exercises, and I talk about the themes in roughly the order that you’d take them up if you were doing the Exercises yourself.
I hope you do that. I’m an unabashed fan of the Spiritual Exercises. I think they are very “modern.” They fit the temper of our times very well. But they don’t fit the times perfectly; if they did, they wouldn’t be worth the trouble. In fact, they appeal especially to people who don’t feel perfectly at home in our humdrum secular world, people who aren’t satisfied with the conventional wisdom, people who are looking for something different. If that’s you, read on.
I had to laugh when I read this. I was so clueless about the Exercises when I began — a good thing! After a few weeks, I said to my director, “This is quite a commitment.”
“You don’t have to continue,” he responded mildly.
Huh, I thought; you underestimate me! That was all I needed to forge onward.
Yes, you do have to make a commitment when you make the Exercises. But it’s a manageable commitment. That was a pleasant surprise. For years I thought that I couldn’t make the Exercises because they required too much time.
I did them last year but felt so done about a third of the way through, things just seem to move soooo slowly. I think I expected a university level zoom zoom instead of a gradual patient (therefore stressful) evolution. This morning I looked over my notes from a year ago and see that a few things have changed like they were supposed to. Others did not. At the same time I am doing the Creighton retreat, that is I read and then think about it a couple of times until the next installment.
There is so much out there now that it’s fun to read it all ….
Does anyone have a recommendation for where I can find someone to go through the 19th Annotation with? Is it necessary to meet with someone in person for that or could I communicate via email?
I know someone who gives the Exercises via Skype, Patrick. (There are probably lots of people who do, actually.) If you want to email me, I’ll put you in touch.
In December Becky Eldredge posted a video on this blog about Finding a Spiritual Director.
This is a great introduction to the amazing experience that the Spiritual Exercises can be. The 19th Annotation was transformational for me and I’m so grateful to my spiritual director (also a Jesuit) who gave his time to journey with me. This sounds like a great book!