Growing up Jewish in Northern Jersey, what did I know about St. Ignatius Loyola? Not much. Fast forward to the late 1980s and I’m at his feet, sort of literally. Where? At the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, Massachusetts.*
Unless it has been blasted out, there’s a ginormous mosaic of St. Ignatius in what was once Kripalu’s main chapel, once a Jesuit novitiate house. The saint’s gaze is lifted to heaven in a way that invites us to do the same. His arms are raised and hands opened to welcome a descending dove. Veni Sancte Spiritus Jai! I’ve heard the towering icon is usually hidden from public view and that Kripalu is more resort than spiritual community these days. I hope I’ve heard wrong.
When I was at Kripalu, it was an ashram and yoga-based retreat center. The saffron-colored drapes around St. Ignatius Loyola were rarely drawn shut. He was almost always visibly present—during morning meditation for residents and programs for our guests; during community-only darshan with the guru as well as evening satsang and aarti open to whomever showed up.
This was back in the day when we had a guru and 250 residents. Yours truly was one of many community members who lived locally and helped to serve nearly 20,000 visitors each year. In time, I would become one of Kripalu’s first paid staffers, but that’s another story.
I spent many hours contemplating that glorious image of St. Ignatius over the course of 15 years—while the guru sat in front of it and then after the guru was gone. We had to fire our guru and that, too, is another story.**
On the day our community gathered, brokenhearted and infuriated, to witness our teacher’s ignominious departure, the curtains over St. Ignatius Loyola were wide open. As far as I was concerned, they could never again be shut, something which might explain why I am here and no longer there.
*I wouldn’t be surprised if you’re surprised by this. By 2008, I’d basically stopped writing anything about my yoga ashram years. You can read more here about why.
** For the best and most beautifully written ethnography about Kripalu Center and what happened, I recommend reading Yoga and the Quest for the True Self by Stephen Cope.