It is hard to know what to say to those who ask about one’s experience of the 30-day Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. The experience is profound, intense, and deeply personal. It is also experience, not knowledge or information that can be transferred to another. To be sure, the retreat does have objective content–the life of Christ, God’s creation of the world, the moral law. It is not just a process for personal growth; it is an encounter with the Son of God who revealed himself in first century Palestine, who we know through the accounts that his followers handed on to the Church. Fundamentally, the content of the retreat is simply Christianity, nothing more and nothing less.
That said, the experience of encountering that content varies from person to person. We can either look at Jesus from a distance or approach him, talk to him, get to know him. The Spiritual Exercises are a way of getting to know him–spending time with God with other distractions removed, recognizing God’s work in our lives up to this point, discovering his hopes for us. Like meeting your future spouse or holding a newborn child for the first time, you can describe what happened, but the experience itself can never be fully captured in words. Spending thirty days getting to know Jesus more deeply in prayer is a similarly ineffable experience.
Of course, some aspects of the retreat can be more easily shared, and I thought I’d start with one that might seem secondary but isn’t–the location. Christianity is an embodied, incarnational religion that acknowledges the influence of where we are on who we are. During the Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius frequently invites us to begin by imagining the places where Jesus lived, “the synagogues, villages, and towns” where he preached or the hills and valleys between Nazareth and Bethlehem. Even on an interior journey, location matters.Continue reading “The Spiritual Exercises in South Australia”