I love television’s Grand Designs. New Zealand has its own and this week I found myself watching construction of a contemporary, four storey home fit for a queen. It was perched on a rocky cliffside above Lake Wakatipu in one of the South Island’s epic tourist spots. Digging the foundations alone took the workers more than 18 months. They dug in all weathers, machinery dangling off the edge to ensure that it was well-rooted into the rock.
Lake Wakatipu in the south of New Zealand's South Island. Image by Bernd Hildebrandt
In fact, the fourth floor was a surprise, created by the extra depth required to get an adequate footing.
For some, spiritual direction is like this. Some people come, their (spiritual) houses already well-built. They want to offer hospitality and comfort from a home and just enjoy the opportunity to share those over months or years. A few suspect that something has been badly built, or isn’t functioning well and needs some attention. Perhaps it’s renovation or redecoration they want.
My own spiritual direction went on for some time in the first category. I’d had years of therapy and enjoyed the opportunity to talk occasionally but regularly to someone who had the important bits of the story.
I didn’t expect to find that my house, built over decades on Christ’s rock, had even more potential, even more space spiritually and a whole new floor underneath if I wanted it.
What is Ignatian Spirituality?
The first principle of Ignatian spirituality is that Creator/Father/Mother/Spirit God loves us fiercely, passionately and unconditionally. Because of this love, God's desires and hopes for us are based on who we are: our gifts, talents, preferences and joys. What God wants for us is the same as our deepest desires.
Ultimately, it is intended that life involves God, who is that Power and Purpose and Presence beyond our self-contained selves who calls us to let go of fears and live in freedom.
Ignatius’s motto is Ad maiorem Dei gloriam inque hominum salute, or "for the greater glory of God and the salvation of humanity." The two are inextricably linked as a philosophy of doing more for Christ and therefore doing more for others.
Personally, I found a form of spirituality rooted in deep, daily, living relationship with the spiritual Trinity of creation and specifically, the person of Jesus who walked, an historically real human being, before rising from the dead and walking with me into 2024 as Spirit.
Ignatian spirituality finds God in the moments of everyday life, just as Jesus did. While it seems that God is hidden in the ordinariness of everyday life, Ignatian spirituality helps us to have a sensitivity to God's presence and God's grace even in the small matters of life. We find God in the hard and painful things as well. Ignatius says that by speaking about them honestly and openly and safely, we bring the things that weigh on us into the light where deceits can be revealed.
What are the Spiritual Exercises?
The Spiritual Exercises are a training ground and use prayer, contemplation, spiritual direction, discernment and the daily Examen. (Note that spiritual direction is only a part of the Exercises. In all, God helps people find direction, not the “director”.)
One way to make the Exercises is to incorporate these practices into daily life (another is a 30 day silent retreat) as a journey through conscience, competence, commitment, compassion and character for life. They generally take between a year and two to make although that’s not compulsory. To complete even the earliest stages is to find very real personal joy and freedom.
I’ve heard the collection of practices described as scaffolding (back to Grand Designs metaphors) which enable the building of lofty structures. The job of the spiritual director is to help the one building to find a way with God up and out, in any direction in fact, and then to help support them to get there. The scaffolds (the Exercises) are withdrawn on completion, because the house now stands up unaided. Access is gained from the interior, not from outside.
But that’s another blog…