As a young Christ-follower, I actively explored a variety of ways to know more about Christ. Knowing about Jesus became desiring to be WITH Jesus and I began to grasp that those are different things—knowing about and being with—yet both are vital to the soul’s faith walk of creating habits for the heart.
During my journey, I have created these heart habits:
- space for growth
- space for wonder
- space for relationship to deepen with Jesus
Habits of the heart offer adventures for the soul. I remember back then stumbling across mentions of Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises. I dropped those into the folder in my mind labeled: “All Things Monkish or Catholic.” I was neither monk nor Catholic. That was out of my comfort zone.
Decades later, sitting in seminary grad school classes, learning the stages of faith, how to offer spiritual direction, and the ways of soul care, The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius reappeared, this time as a topic on the syllabus. As a Protestant, I was highly skeptical, thinking, “What in the world could this ancient Jesuit’s school of prayer and spiritual thought have to do with my very Protestant soul and my life with Jesus? Wasn’t this just for folks in the cloistered life?”
With a professor that expected my attendance at a weeklong retreat as part of the coursework at hand, I felt discomfort make its home in my days. Yet, in the safety of folks I trusted, I entered into the readings and discussions about assorted parts of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. Not one to allow seminary students to stay only in our heads, our professor, a marvelous man who exuded a lightness of joy, invited us into a heart experience. My skepticism moved to savoring a different habit of being with Jesus.
Knowing about the Spiritual Exercises, along with that brief dip in the pool of Ignatian spirituality, led to a deep dive into the Exercises over a yearlong retreat. This wasn’t a short weekend retreat. It took place in my everyday life, the 19th Annotation of St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises.
Like any retreat, it was costly. It required sacrifice of time, energy, financial resources, and comfortable habits. A-ha-s and oh-no-s of a long, prayer-saturated retreat experience repeated, week by week, month by month, for a year, or sometimes more, can’t help but shift what’s been the easy habits of the heart. Whereas weekend retreats often toss us high then watch us land low when we return home, the length of the Exercises encapsulates us in our ordinary moments, in the day-by-day, and acts in transformative ways.
Each morning I’d rise early to sit with Jesus. In the silence, in the wonder of the scriptures offered, in the daily hour of prayer, deep heart shifts occurred. Imaginative prayer, also known as Gospel Contemplation, invited an adventure deep and wide. Journaling about my dialogues with Jesus captured these early morning encounters with Jesus as together we traversed interior places of my soul.
Evenings with the prayer of Examen traced trails I’d walked with God that day. I was startled to notice places where I had simply missed, dismissed, or even resisted His Presence. My familiar habits had created stagnation. This place beyond my spiritual comfort zone revealed unexpected quagmires, quirks, and questions.
Weekly, my spiritual director listened deep as I dove into my soul’s raw anatomy. Questions asked allowed yet deeper probes into soul spaces.
These regular intentional interactions with God over a long period of time changed my perceptions and perspectives about God Himself. Invited deeper in, I grew to love places of deep delight within as I saw afresh who God is, finding new dimensions of the wildness of the Trinity. Likewise, I discovered myself anew, seeing where I ached and where I acted out of sync with God, or in tandem. Worship and wonder wove themselves through my days.
Over a decade later, my hunger for more of Jesus and more interior transformation found me back again, eager to step beyond my comfort zone into the ways of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius yet a second time. I experienced exotic places of the soul of Jesus, and encountered wild wonder in my own soul as well. Learning to notice movements of the soul gives clues as to God’s invitations. I held my emotions, will, memories, mottos, myths, and lies up to the light of God, becoming holy curious about the life I so desired with the Trinity.
Sometimes transformations inched along slow like a glacier. Other times, breakthroughs tumbled fast, the way an avalanche breaks things loose and carves new paths on the mountainside. And always, the way the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius—marinated in scripture, presence, and prayer—revealed the splendor of God and the stunning interior landscape of myself, a place that is ever yet unfolding.
With my love of offering Spiritual Direction, the depth of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius brought about a deep desire for specific training so I could turn and offer them to others. I looked at the underside of the tapestry of the Exercises, guided by wise spiritual directors versed in this sojourn, along with reading from books and journal articles. For my practicum, I offered the Exercises to another person. This showed forth the intricate wonder, the layers, the intensity, and the intimacy with Jesus that transforms and transforms and transforms.
From a different vantage point, beyond my habitual comfort zone, I was being trained in that which I had experienced and now want to accompany another in. Over the course of a year-and-a-half of training, I sat with Jesus in silence, in wonder, in heart spaces, watching my heart, the heart of my colleagues, and my retreatant’s heart. There I gazed at shifts and shimmers full of soul depth. To learn to accompany another’s soul through the Exercises requires attentiveness to their soul (and mine) across a number of disciplines, much like a sherpa accompanies someone up the heights of Mt. Everest and back down to the valley by engaging with a variety of disciplines in the journey.
What this means in my life now
For over fifteen years, I’ve offered Spiritual Direction, a place for soul care and holy listening to occur. This includes:
- Meeting with people monthly who want a relationship with a long-time listener, a spiritual director, who will hear and help them explore their ongoing journey with God.
- Meeting with people who come away to our local retreat center, being with them for a brief hour in the midst of their personal rretreat time alone with God.
- Creating individual hand-designed retreats for people who want something tailored for their particular season of life as they desire to be stretched into the likeness of Christ. I then meet with them between their times of being with God alone.
Now, I’ll offer the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, a 9-to-12-month long retreat, where a retreatant can trace their interior life as they step into praying through Christ’s life. Accompanying another through the Exercises means I have a holy, glorious, mind-glowing, heart-delighting, front-line view of soul transformation.
Stepping out of my comfort zone, stepping into the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, I’ve discovered the exotic world within God and within myself. I have savored prayer and presence with Jesus in unique ways. Life with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is the most exotic of all travels, where experiencing God’s Presence brings about thoughtful transformative delights and significant reflective habits of the heart.
I’m wondering what your comfort zone is with Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. I’m wondering what would happen if you took a step just beyond your comfortable place with God.
We all have comfort zones. Sometimes comfort zones become stale zones. Where do you notice a staleness that might reside, due to the familiar being the comfort zone where you so easily live? Sometimes the smallest step can create space for a new way forward with our God.
- What would that tiny step entail for you?
- What might transpire in the process?
- What ways might transformation occur?
Does soul depth with Jesus pique your interest? Let’s explore what format of spiritual direction might best suit your life at this time:
- one-on-one times monthly
- an individualized retreat that stretches you to explore new interior spaces
- the long retreat of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, meeting weekly over a year or so
Let’s step together past your spiritual comfort zone into that space where you meet with Jesus and yourself in fresh transformative ways.