Today begins the Ignatian year. As part of my own celebration of that year, I thought I would post, over the coming weeks, a series of reflections on various elements of Ignatian Spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises. As regular readers of this blog know, my spirituality has been formed by Ignatius and his Exercises, so the themes of many of these posts are ones I have explored here at various times. Nonetheless, their value is such that any possible repetition does no harm.
When people talk about Ignatian Spirituality, it is common to hear the phrase “finding God in all things,” a phrase meant to capture a vision of how God operates in the world.
Ignatius’ conception of God is not a “wind ‘em up and watch them go” God, who, having completed the task of creating the world, simply sits back and observes it (or who passively calculates our virtues or our vices for future reward or punishment). Rather, his vision is of a God who is always active in human lives and in the world, a God who desires relationship with us, and who can be experienced anywhere and everywhere. Joseph Tetlow phrases this understanding of God by saying that we are always “being created momently by God and Lord in all concrete particulars.”
Ignatius’ vision of God actively operating in the world has some important implications. Perhaps most importantly, finding God in all things implies that we can experience God, not only in those times we designate as times of prayer or meditation, but in every moment of our existence, in everything we do and encounter in the world, however nonreligious or nonspiritual that activity may seem viewed through an ordinary lens. Gerard Manley Hopkins captures God’s presence in all things in the opening line of one of my favorite of his poems, writing: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.”
If God is present in all things, then part of our task is learning to develop an awareness of God’s movements no matter what activities we are engaged in. This, at least in part, explains the emphasis Ignatius puts on including in our daily prayer the Examen, a technique for prayerfully reflecting on the events and movements of one’s day. Ignatius viewed the Examen as a gift from God and includes a technique for that prayer in the Exercises. However, its value is not limited to its use during retreat, and those formed in Ignatian Spirituality include the Examen as part of their daily prayer. It has been part of my own daily prayer for over fifteen years, and it has made an enormous difference in my awareness of God.
Doubtless some of many of you already make the Examen part of your day. For those who don’t, a great explanation is provided in an old article by Dennis Hamm, titled Rummaging for God, which you can find here. There is also a terrific app titled Reimagining the Examen, based on Mark Thibodeaux’s book of that name. A description of that can be found here.