Awakened, Arise to Love” – Contemplating the Love of God
As I continue to look for God’s consolation in these troubled times,
I reflect on my experience with the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola and am drawn to review its meaning for me.When I began the Extended Ignatian Exercises in September, 2014, I had two goals in mind: to expand my prayer discipline and deepen relationship to God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit. After I completed those Exercises in May, 2015, I realized that the 8+ month experience had far exceeded my expectations.
The Ignatian Exercises are “bookended” with meditations considering God’s love. In between them are four sections or, as Ignatius calls them, “four weeks.” The Fourth Week typically coincides with the Easter Season, from Resurrection to Pentecost. What was it about this Fourth Week of the Spiritual Exercises that seemed to launch me into new prayer disciplines and closer relationship to the Divine? Partly it was the new energy and interest in daily quiet prayer, practicing the Examen, contemplating the scriptures with imagination and using all my senses. In the end, the Spiritual Exercises left me with a firm realization that God is present in all aspects of my life, at all times, and everywhere. The Extended Exercises had become a catalyst for spiritual change and enrichment.
Through Meditation of the scriptures of the Easter season, Ignatius reminds us that Jesus wants to do for humans today what he did for his disciples in the early church.
The gift of the Spirit is “meant to be a gift of consolation, bestowing strength, light, and comfort.” (Fleming, 123) Indeed, we become Easter people when we open up to this deep well of God’s gift of Spirit.
The Fourth Week ends with Contemplation on the Love of Christ, with themes of God’s Gifts, Giving back in return, God’s Laboring on my behalf and deep Gratitude. Spending time in prayer reflecting on my own God-given gifts, and how much God is laboring or always being there for me, I was inspired to return those gifts to others from my grateful heart. I launched forward in new ways to serve. I was “refired”.
Reviewing other contemporary interpretations of the Spiritual Exercises from Louis Savary, Rubin Habito and Katherine Dykeman, Mary Garvin, and Elizabeth Liebert added broad perspective to the Fourth Week and the Contemplation of the Love of Christ.
In the Spirit of Pierre Teillard de Chardin, Savary’s interpretation of the Fourth Week was invitation for “all men and women, whatever their religious beliefs, to live the way of peace and justice…to show compassion and forgiveness to all, to build a better world for everyone…” (176)
From a Zen perspective, Habito described Contemplating Divine Love as a “contemplative exercise” to seek “’an interior knowledge’ of this unconditional Love that would thereby move us to live our lives as a way of loving back, out of deep gratitude…” (203) “being able to live in a way whereby every thought, work, and action is a way of allowing that love to flow out from me toward everyone and everything around me.” (204)
Dyckman, Garvin and Liebert, added Feminist perspective by claiming that exercises from the Fourth Week lead women to “mission and mutuality.” Grace of the Fourth Week asks “women to move out into the unfamiliar roles of witness and public mission…women must embrace all aspects of…God at work in the world.” (232)
Questions arise, in these days after Pentecost, 2020. I ponder, where have the graces from the Gifts of the Holy Spirit found a home in me? And how have I been nurturing them? …or not? How have these difficult months of Pandemic blocked my own Easter Joy? To what action out of deeper love of neighbor could these days and weeks of recent racial unrest and injustice be calling me?
Insight to my blocks came up loud and clear through prayerful promptings from that inner still voice of Holy Spirit, inviting me to consider “the Obstacles to Joy” from The Book of Joy by The Dalia Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Obstacles like fear, stress, anxiety, grief, suffering and adversity took their turns slipping into my quiet spaces quite uninvited, yet determined to stay awhile!
Where was God in all this? Intentionally, I have been giving each emotion a good deal of care, slowly working my way out of that “dark hole of negativity” into that indwelling space where I seek “light” to nurture God’s love and compassion.
God works in strange ways! Healing balm in the form of the Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu’s “Joy Meditation: on the 8 Pillars of Joy” (342-345) has been consoling. Those 8 Pillars invited me to ponder the roles of perspective, humility, humor, acceptance, forgiveness, gratitude, compassion and generosity while holding onto Easter Joy and renewed Life.
In this “Fifth Week” I strive to move forward, contemplating God’s love for me and for us all. “Awakened” by grace of the Spiritual Exercises, I seek to “Arise to Love…” God’s love for me, for my neighbor, all creation. I am deeply grateful.
This Pentecost, 2020 further challenges me to witness to and extend God’s compassion, mercy, peace and love. I share a quote from Pope John Paul II in 1972 that seems to speak directly to our circumstances today: “If you want peace, work for justice.”
To learn more about Extended Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola go to our website under the Spiritual Direction link for more information. http://loyolaspiritualitycenter.org/spiritual-exercises
Additional resources related to the Extended Exercises that I have found inspiring recently:
Dyckman, Garvin, and Liebert. The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed: Uncovering Liberating Possibilities for Women. 2001. New York: Paulist Press.
Fleming, David L. Draw Me into Your Friendship. 1996. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources. Fleming, David L. Like the Lightning. 2004. St. Louis: The Institute of Jesuit Sources.
Habito, Rubin L.F. Zen and the Spiritual Exercises.
His Holiness the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu with Douglas Abrams. The Book of Joy: lasting happiness in a changing world. 2016. New York: Avery Publishing.
Savary, Louis. The New Spiritual Exercises. 2010. New York: Paulist Press