Ignatian Spirituality

Ignatian spirituality has its roots in the experience and life of St Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). His first encounter with 'the things of God' is described in his autobiography. He was convalescing after a serious injury and finding himself bedridden and bored asked for something to read. He was hoping for his favourite tales of bravery and chivalry but was given instead the life of Christ and the lives of the saints. To pass the time he daydreamed of being in the court of a noble lady, behaving wittily and bravely, going to the ends of the earth in her service. But he also daydreamed about the lives of the saints and their difficult deeds. With typical bravado he thought how he could outdo the likes of Francis and Dominic in his austerities. Some time he spent imagining one course of action and some time the other. He found after a while that though he enjoyed both kinds of daydream while they were in play there was a difference. His worldly courtly desires once passed left him dry and dissatisfied but after he had dwelt on going to Jerusalem barefoot in imitation of the saints he was left joyful and satisfied. He began to ponder the difference and see one set of daydreams coming from God and the other from the enemy. And he prepared to choose one course over the other.

You can see in that vignette a number of characteristically Ignatian approaches to spirituality: it is about desire, even wild desire and where it is directed; it is about choices made in the world, how to live a whole life but also how to spend the next moment; it is about daydreaming and imagination, not just as distraction but as a way to discern God's particular desires for you. We can also see there power of generosity, a desire to make a difference, and the incipient sense that God can be found in all things, even dreams of ambition.

Ignatius' genius was to distil his own experience of the way God worked with him and he with God into a practical form that anyone could use to find their own way forward with God.

Perhaps this simple practical example, loosely based on the Spiritual Exercises, will give a flavour of Ignatian spirituality. An Example Exercise: Conversational Prayer

Make yourself comfortable. Let this consciously be a time of prayer...

As you sit there now, how is God looking at you? Not so much how do you think God looks at people in general but, when you ‘look’ at God how does God actually seem to look back? Give it a moment...

What does that look stir in you? Maybe you want to pull back in some way but maybe you find yourself desiring something, some response? What do you want now you find yourself having glimpsed the gaze of God? Feel that even if it is hard to articulate...

Maybe you want to ask for whatever it is you desire? Then ask. Maybe you want to respond in some other way? Give it a try. Maybe you feel doubtful or otherwise ambivalent? Try saying that to the God who has looked at you...

Does God respond in any way? Does God say something? Does the way God looks at you change? Notice…

Is there more you want to say? Does it feel like there more God wants to say? If so let the dialogue develop. If not, bring this brief spiritual exercise to a close.

Ignation Spirituality - James Hanvey

'What Ignatius gives us is not a scholastic or academic theology; it is not a theory, but a theology that is lived and experienced. In this sense, too, our theology becomes a daily action, shaping and making our lives.' To celebrate the Feast of St Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, on 31 July, Rev'd James Hanvey, SJ exposes the theological vision manifested in the Spiritual Exercises and in Ignatius’s life. Read more