To look at moments in our lives when we have been totally loved in spite of ourselves is to discover a covenant time when God touches us and we touch God.
Canadian Jesuit, Monty Williams, gave a workshop in Wellington as he passed through the country last month, and talked of approaches to spiritual literacy.
We use our imaginations to create meaning in what we see of the world around us—to interpret the interpretations of reality with which we are presented.
When looking at a film, for example, the moments in the film which move us, tell us who we are and where we are on our spiritual journey. They also tell us whether we are facing towards God and community on this journey or towards a narcissism that captures God and puts God into a particular theology, perhaps liberalism, fundamentalism or sectarianism.
The awareness of what involves us is the start of spiritual literacy. God communicates with us through this sense of involvement.
Monty talked of seeking an intimacy with ‘the mystery we call “Father”’. One way to do this is to sit with what he called ‘incarnational moments’ when God has touched us, through our sense of being held in love, and we have touched God.
In spending some time looking at moments when we have been loved in such a way that we discovered that we are lovable and allowing those moments the space to occupy us, we move towards God and God moves towards us.
‘I think it’s not incidental that the Eucharist is called a memorial. We need to remember those moments of encounter because these establish our identity. Often our understanding of our identity is established by the traumas we endure in the world.’
Monty says that in spiritual direction ‘almost everybody sees out of their hurts. It takes a long time to see out of the love that holds you.’
When you have spent enough time with those moments that you feel somehow a profound sense of being held and loved, you can start looking at those moments where you have not experienced love. In the vulnerability these moments of hurt create in us, God touches us.
Spiritual exercises a guide
The Ignatian Spiritual Exercises provide the basis for Monty’s spiritual direction.
Ignatius of Loyola suggests that one way of seeking complete union with the Divine is through incarnational contemplation.
The contemplation begins with a prayer: ‘I will beg God our Lord for the grace that all my intentions, actions and operations may be directed purely to the praise and service of His Divine Majesty’ (#46).
‘The prayer does not ask us to look at God but at how we relate to the world. The value of the praise and service is incarnational. Our energies in the context of the prayer are directed to contributing to the work of the Trinity engaged in creation.’
In contemplation our interest is engaged and we become involved. We can then, as it were, transcend our senses’ engagement to achieve a level of intimacy with the Divine.
‘It is at this level that we understand the particular grace we are praying for in this contemplation, which acts as a template for the whole of the Exercises and is the root of Ignatian spirituality.
‘We pray for our desire to be united to the Desire who desires us.
‘We pray for “an intimate knowledge of Our Lord, who has become man for me, that I may love Him more and follow Him more closely” (#104). Out of that intimacy comes love, and out of that love comes service. It is important to note that the intimacy is the foundation of the love and not vice versa.’
Next month we will look at the myths which shape our lives.
Monty Williams SJ was in New Zealand at the invitation of the Society of Mary. His paper, quoted here, is available from firstname.lastname@example.org.