Within the Exercises, daily instructions include various meditations and contemplations on the nature of the world, of human psychology as Ignatius understood it, and of man's relationship to God through Jesus Christ. The Exercises are divided into four "weeks" of varying lengths with four major themes: sin, the life of Jesus, the Passion of Jesus, and the Resurrection of Jesus. the "weeks" represent stages in a process of wholehearted commitment to the service of God. During each day of the Exercises, a typical retreatant prays with a particular exercise, as assigned by the director, reviews each prayer, and, following four or five periods of prayer, reports back to the spiritual director of the retreat who helps them to understand what these experiences of prayer might mean to the retreatant. The goal of the Exercises is to reflect upon their experiences and to understand how these same experiences might apply to the retreatant's life. - Wikipedia
I mentioned on Day One of the Challenge that I'd spent more than a month away on retreat last autumn, at St Buenos Jesuit Retreat Centre in North Wales, making the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, that set of prayers and meditations set out by St Ignatius of Loyola as a means of helping you live and reassess your relationship with Christ and your calling to follow him in the world. At risk of sounding like something out of Sesame Street, today's blog entry is brought to you by the letter I. In the past few years, two of the most formative experiences on my journey have begun with the same letter: I've written elsewhere on various blogs about Mr GP and my trip to Iona, and here I was, less than five years later, living, or attempting to live what if you'd suggested it to me even then, I'd have never imagined myself doing in a thousand years, at least not in its full form, (I blame an extended mid-life crisis!) Or maybe, more positively, it really has been a case of When I'm calling youuuuuu!!!! I remember some of my early vocational meanderings, and, looking back now, even I can see that I've moved on since the days of my Vocational Self-Assembly Pack.
Since I got back, I've been unpacking, or trying to unpack, what was going on for me. I'm well used to silent retreats, but even so, this had such a different dynamic to it from anything I've experienced previously. I've noticed since that although on the web there's a proliferation of material on the Exercises, very few people appear to have written about their journey . Which in some ways, is quite right. It's an intensely personal experience in many ways. Wittgenstein's "Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent."comes to mind. (Though probably not with the philosopher's intended meaning!) So often on retreat, I really have to restrain my urge to define, analyze and summarise my spiritual journey into neat soundbites, thus killing it stone dead in the attempt. My inner 'Martha,' if you like, my urge to 'doing' at the expense of my 'doing.' Not to mention my ability to focus on the moment; I'm an expert on the 'if onlys' and the 'what ifs?' at the expense of the present.
People decide they wish to make the Exercises, as to other retreats for many and differing reasons: it could be a time of intense change, of vocational exploration, an important decision that needs to be made. When it came to the point, I'd already made mine prior to going into the retreat: that, sadly, my time as a Franciscan tertiary had run its course. The time apart simply affirmed this. Not that all was plain sailing - we'd been warned beforehand of how tiring - physically, spiritually and psychologically the best part of five weeks intense prayer can be, and that was no exaggeration. I struggled with much, learned much about myself, good and not so good, but I can say I came out knowing myself....just a little better. Everybody's experience is different, as I said. I'll continue to reflect and pray out of my memory of those days for years to come As far as I was concerned, there were no fireworks (well, relatively few!), no messages from the Almighty written large in the sky, (although my most memorable moments were spent sitting looking out over the valley at sunrises and sunsets). The messages I received were gentler, quieter, simple affirmation of the rightness of me, as myself and of the place where I am and what I'm doing. That'll do me for now.