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Vol. 6 - Ignatian contemplation
April 04, 2010

A blessed Easter to you! On this joyous Easter morning I've put the finishing touches on this letter to you.

Here's what's in this edition of Refresh Your Soul:
A journey with Ignatius
The official launch of my website

A Journey with Ignatius

Over the past six months I’ve engaged in a very special spiritual journey. Each day I’ve considered a text of Scripture in an order woven together almost five centuries ago by Ignatius of Loyola. Each week I’ve met with a spiritual director to reflect upon what I’ve gained. Over and over I’ve been amazed by Ignatius’ mastery in combining Bible passages in ways that offer new spiritual insights.

Not many of you will likely take the eight month journey through the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, but in this edition of Refresh Your Soul I’ll share some insights from what I’ve gained which could be applied to your own times in the Word.

One of the trademarks of Ignatian spirituality is contemplating the Scriptures. This offers a way for the scene to come alive to us in fresh ways, and for our eyes to be opened up to the Word's personal application to our lives for the present moment.

Here is how you can go about it:

Place yourself in the biblical scene

Taking a short passage of Scripture, slow down and try to place yourself in the scene. Use your senses and imagination as you allow the scene to unfold before you. What might you have noticed if you were there? What can you see, hear, smell, taste or touch around you?

Imagine what might have been said besides what is recorded in the written record. What more does the literary snapshot of the scene which we're given have to tell you? Try to feel the emotions, enter into the thoughts of the people involved, realise more of the struggles and celebration which were experienced, the doubts and the lessons learned. Doing this will deepen your understanding of the passage.

Record your thoughts

When I am placing myself in the scene, I let my thoughts unfold in my journal. This helps me to stay focused with the experience and keeps my mind from wandering.

I often write my thoughts as questions, which gives me freedom to engage with the characters and to sympathise with their experience. Posed as questions, my thoughts don't 'have to be right'. Once I see them articulated on the page before me, I can weigh them out, correct them, and bring them to prayer. My reflections also serve as a means to take the next step….

Take the challenge to make it personal

Often when studying a passage I've come to a deeper rational understanding while I've kept the text at a distance from my heart. It’s safe that way.

Truly making the text personal is less safe. It involves some risk. But doing so leads into rich territory. I’ll illustrate with a couple of examples:

The Last Supper As I reflected upon Jesus' final night I was moved by the love he showed for the Twelve. And for Judas.

My guidebook suggested to try to ‘discern what is treacherous among us’. It's easy to identify the treachery when we read about Judas. I could also easily see treachery around me.

When I brought that to my session with my spiritual director, one sentence from him made me stop in my tracks. “And do you also see any treachery in yourself…?” My eyes had been so much upon other people that I’d been blind to what Jesus wanted to show me about my own heart! It's much safer to keep it 'out there' when 'in here' in my own heart there is work to do.

Gethsemane Another day I contemplated the scene in the garden. Jesus knew Peter’s desire to stay true to him. He knew Peter's weakness and his great need for empowering. But when he and the others fell asleep, they weren't present for Jesus when he needed them the most. They also weren’t alert for the spiritual battle.

It’s easy to make observations and conclusions about Peter, about what might have made his experience different, but what about my life? How am I doing? Am I able to ‘watch one hour’ so that I can withstand the things which press in around me? When ‘this hour’ feels long, do I stay awake in faith or do I ‘cave in’ to sleep, to complaining or criticism, to lack of hope, lack of faith?

In my time set aside I chose to sit with Jesus in the garden. I felt some of his pain, and I didn’t shrink away from my own pain either. I chose to live within the dissonance of my trouble. I ceased trying to solve it or to escape it. In doing that I experienced Jesus’ presence in a new way. I think I touched a little on what it means to ‘share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings’. Not that my hardship is anything like his, but I feel more willing to live in the darkness without insisting that the darkness lift. I shared in the garden experience, wanting with all my heart to be a faithful friend who sits with Jesus and shares his pain.

Official launch of my website

I made the official announcement of my website's launch this past week. It's been 'live' for a couple of months but it is now quite finished. I feel like a proud parent, and I look forward to the new ways it will serve both me and my visitors. Be sure to come by soon for a visit!

A few links that may be of particular interest to you:

  • The spiritual direction section is the most extensive. On one of my favourite pages I tell my spiritual direction story which I hope will lift some of the mystery surrounding spiritual direction and encourage others to be more intentional about caring for their souls. Last week I posted this page in Dutch.
  • If you would like to stay up with my life personally, check out Refreshed!. March was a pretty amazing month, and this blog page captures my enthusiasm.

Until next time, may the presence of the risen Christ be with you richly, through thick and thin.

Elizabeth de Smaele
Deeper Devotion
Amstelveen, The Netherlands

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