Ignatian spiritual exercises

finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
I am wondering if anyone has done the Ignatian spiritual exercises, and what the experience was like for you. I am wondering because I have done them myself in two parts, at a retreat centre. I did part 1 two years ago, and have just done part 2, so now have in theory completed the spiritual exercises, but I'm feeling somewhat confused. I had a different spiritual guide for part 2, whose approach was very different from the spiritual guide I had in part 1, and I am finding I have no sense of the two parts as an integrated whole. I'm even thinking I'd like to do them again, by myself without a spiritual guide, from a book - and I'm also wondering if anyone has done this and what it was like. I would find it very helpful to hear experiences of others who have done the spiritual exercises.

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  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 24
    I have done the Full Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius at St Beuno's retreat centre in Wales. It is a 40 day silent retreat in which you meet once a day with a spiritual director who gives you passages of the Bible to reflect upon. It is a very powerful experience and can be used to discern your 'vocation within a vocation.'

    On one of the days we were encouraged to go out in the countryside and just become aware of the presence of God in the natural world around us. It is one of the best days that I have ever spent.

    The climax of the retreat was to read through the gospels to see what jumped out at you in order to reveal the heart of your vocation. I would highly recommend doing it and if it isn't possible to take off so much time on retreat then you can do the version which is adapted to daily life.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I went into the countryside most days, though it wasn't something either of my spiritual guides encouraged me to do - I guess they realised I did it without encouragement! When you say the climax of the retreat, Rublev, do you mean on the last day you were reading the entire gospels, or more that the focus of the retreat throughout was to read different gospel passages?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 24
    The retreat is planned to lead you through the Exercises to the point where you are spiritually prepared to discern the heart of your vocation by reading through the four gospels and seeing which text is being underlined for you.

    But in the course of your daily meetings with the spiritual director you would also be given set passages to pray about, reflect upon and discuss the next day. One of them was: 'Fear not, for I have redeemed you' (Is 43: 1-4) and another was: 'We have this treasure in jars of clay' (2 Cor 4: 7-12).

    There were a variety of different themed prayer rooms in the centre. There was a labyrinth in the grounds. And you could take the opportunity to go to the art room and respond to the scripture passages with drawings or clay modelling.

    It's a very affirming and transforming experience and the Jesuit spiritual directors were outstanding at leading you through the Exercises. There were also daily services of Holy Communion in the morning and the Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament in the chapel in the evening.

    They run a range of different retreats at the centre including an 8 day silent individually guided retreat, a labyrinth retreat and a poetry retreat about the Jesuit poet Gerald Manley Hopkins who trained there in the C19th.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Ah, that is interesting. The one I did was not intended to culminate in reading through the entire of the four gospels to see which passage was underlined for me. Part one had more of a structure, the way my spiritual guide presented it, and she got to know me and adapted her suggestions to what she observed in me, but part two was simply being given Bible passages each day, with no wider explanation. I'm getting the sense that these spiritual exercises are done very differently with different guides. Which is no doubt why it was so confusing to do it in two parts with two different guides. I wasn't sure if it was just my experience, and if it is usually done in a more homogeneous way, but it sounds like it may be done very differently each time, and each guide will have a very different approach.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    No wonder you were confused by your experience because it sounds like you did all the work of spiritual preparation but without completing the final task of discernment which brings the Exercises to their conclusion. Perhaps you could review your notes and set aside an afternoon to read through the gospels for yourself and discover the heart of your vocation?
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    I've read the gospels many times. I don't think that simply reading them again is going to show me the heart of my vocation. I don't even know what 'The heart of my vocation' means. From what I understood of St Ignatius' writings, and what my spiritual guides told me, the Ignatian process of discernment follows many steps and thought processes, not simply reading through all the gospels and waiting for a passage to pop out at you. I wonder if that was something that your spiritual guide suggested to you because it would be helpful to you personally, rather than a specific part of the exercises that everyone does.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Did you do imaginative reading of gospel passages, Rublev - where you imagined yourself in the story, getting your five senses involved? That seemed to be a major part of it when I did it.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 24
    The Ignatian process does follow many steps but they are all guiding the retreatants towards the final exercise of discerning your vocation within a vocation which is where everything is meant to fall into place and reveal a deep personal truth about your particular sense of calling.

    Yes, we did do a lot of work on imaginative contemplations where you enter into Bible stories and for example travel to Bethlehem alongside Mary as her servant, which were very creative and gave you new perspectives about your personal view of faith.

    And I really liked doing the prayer of the senses out in the retreat garden. That is a really lovely spiritual activity. We also used the daily Examen of Consciousness at the end of the day to explore where we had felt close to the presence of God that day. It helps you to understand your own sense of spirituality and what brings you near to God.

    A lot of these activities can be used in your personal toolkit of prayer so it is a very helpful method of deepening your spiritual life.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    When you say 'we', were several of you meeting the spiritual guide together as a group, or was it individual guidance? My spiritual guide said in the past people used to go together for guidance, but now it is one-to-one, so the way I'm guided might not be the same way someone else is guided.

    What was the 'prayer of the senses'?
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    It was an individually guided retreat so we each met the SD for one to one meetings.

    The prayer of the senses was where you were invited to go and sit out in the garden and spend time becoming aware of the presence of God in nature through each of your senses in turn. But you missed out the sense of taste. That might have been a bit over adventurous.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Heh, you could have gone to the herb garden and picked some mint.
  • I think the discernment of vocation only applies to the 40 day version. I went on a 6 day retreat to St Beuno's and there was no mention of that.

    I wouldn't worry unduly about the variations you've encountered, fineline. My understanding is that the Ignatian model isn't meant to be overly prescriptive.

    I can certainly recommend St Beuno's. You can also get the Examen as a Smartphone App.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    This was the 30-day version. I don't think there is a 40-day version. I did it over two parts, 15 days each.
  • kingsfoldkingsfold Shipmate
    fineline wrote: »
    Heh, you could have gone to the herb garden and picked some mint.

    Last time I was at Beuno's that's exactly what I did.... better still, you could taste three or four varieties of thyme, three of four different mints etc etc...

    But I digress.... I'm mid-way through doing the Exercises as the 19th annotation, which means they're done in and among and in the context of everyday life. In practical terms, it means I meet with my guide once a week, but I may stay with the same material for longer if it's turning out to be something rich or I've not had a chance to take it all in because the rest of my life has intervened.

    I'm short on time now, but I'll come back & post a bit more later, if you're interested or have specific questions.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Thanks, kingfold. I would be interested to hear more. I'm feeling I need to redo the spiritual exercises by myself, in my own time, to take them in more, and process what they are about.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    There is The New Spiritual Exercises which are an updating of the Ignatians ones and drawing on the insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin. When I have a quiet time I tend to have a go at working through them. There is also this take which seems to be one to take slowly, or you can get hold of a translation of the exercises
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Thanks, JJ. I hadn't heard of the new spiritual exercises.
  • Jengie JonJengie Jon Shipmate
    The bookstall on Iona is useful sometimes.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    A bit of a long way to go for a browse though.

    St Beuno's has an excellent bookshop. But also a long way to go unfortunately.
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    Rather too far to go, yes, unfortunately.

    Another here who made the full Spiritual Exercises at St Beunos. I got the impression that there was a definite structure to the Exercises, but that within this structure the guides were able to fine tune the material given to the perceived needs of the retreatants. Though on our ‘free days’ we weren’t encouraged to talk shop, I did get the impression that there was a variance in style in the way the different guides led their directees

    I can’t recall a sense of falling into place of vocation for me personally; in fact, my experiences confirmed the rightness for me of letting go of a particular formal outworking of my vocation. But I do remember a feeling of quiet affirmation of self as accepted unconditionally as I was at that moment.

    And for me the climax of the time there was the Contemplation of Divine Love, the ‘Suscipe,’ ‘ Take Lord and Receive.’

    Gamaliel, that’s right. They don’t try and present the Exercises in condensed form in the 6 and 8 Day retreats!



  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    Tangent- Glancing back over my journal for those last few days, I read that the retreat house cat was a major distraction as I tried to review my time of prayer!
  • kingsfoldkingsfold Shipmate
    Sorry - haven't forgotten this... I've run out of time trying to organise & articulate my thoughts!
  • I stand corrected on the length of the longer retreats.

    On the 6 day one, the guide tended to focus on the 'imagen' thing, the imagining of oneself into a Gospel story, mainly because it was new-ish to me.

    I'm not sure what people are referring to as their vocation. Is this seen as a call to the ministry, to join a religious order? Or what?

    If you are a bus driver, school teacher or salesperson, what then? 'Your vocation is to be a bus driver / teacher / salesperson ...'?
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    It transcends a ‘doing’ vocation, Gamaliel. It’s more to do with your personal calling to ‘be.’ At least that’s how I interpret it. Hie yourself to a bookshop and buy Discerning Your Vocation: The Search for Meaning through the Spiritual Exercises, by one Herbert Alphonso SJ . It explains things better than I ever could.

    Re the full exercises, by the time you take into account the various free and transition days, they probably are nearer 40 than 30. I lost track of time after a couple of weeks!







  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    Actually, that may be the vocation within a vocation that you mentioned, Rublev.
  • Ok. I sort of get that, Miffy. I will check out the book though. Thing is, none of us can 'be' anyone other than who we are. Are you saying that it's a case of recognising and coming to terms with that and becoming comfortable in our own skins?

    There are things we can stop doing. Irritating people on Ship of Fools is among them, in my case.

    I don't know about all the Exercises and all the ins and outs but one of the key things for me about the retreat at St Beuno's was learning how to use whatever was to hand, a walk in the woods, a twig, a husk, a painting, poem or vista, to connect with God. There was also something about 'redeeming' time and creativity or achieving a sense of focus.

    At the end of it I told the guide that I felt a strong sense of gratitude.
    'Ignatius said that gratitude was among the marks of a disciple,' she replied.

    That was sufficient.

    What's my vocation?
    To be a disciple.

    Obviously, there's more to it than that. Rublev's 'vocation within a vocation,' perhaps.

    As I shouldered my rucksack to walk back along the Offa's Dyke Path to Prestatyn I murmured to myself, 'The retreat is over, the pilgrimage begins.'
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Maybe the vocation within a vocation is also what they also talk about on the short retreats - the idea that what you are drawn to, what makes you feel most alive, that is your vocation. And yes, the idea of being yourself, not trying to be someone different, and getting to know what you really want. Working out what yout 'disordered affections' are, and finding what you really want. I am now reading a book on it, and it seems to accord with what spiritual guides have said to me on shorter retreats, and also on part 1 of the exercises. The guide for part 2 simply didn't give me this sort of input - just really gave me the Bible passages and expected me to do whatever I wanted with them, without any input from her, and expected them to work their magic in me. It was such a different approach, and really wasn't helpful for me, though I'm sure it's helpful for others.
  • RublevRublev Shipmate
    edited March 26
    Yes, your vocation within a vocation is what most speaks life to you. For St Ignatius desire is a primary way that leads people to discover who they are and what they are meant to do. God speaks to us through the deepest desires of our hearts. Exploring these desires brings us into a closer relationship with God and a better understanding of ourselves.

    Reading Biblical stories can act as signposts to your desires. Which stories most appeal to you and why? Scripture can act as a mirror to our souls. Which one of the Beatitudes is the most significant for you?

    Your holy desires are what bring you joy, excitement and interest the most. The Holy Spirit reassures us about out good choices and gives us peace and joy about them. When you know the heart of your vocation then you can live out your spiritual life more fully in the world.
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    Yes, that’s it. “Breath through the heats of our desire, thy coolness and thy balm.”

    Ahphonso talks about discerning and living out of our unrepeatable uniqueness, deepest core of our being that is a person’s ‘true self.’ I love the way he closes the book by quoting the entirety of T S Eliot’s ‘The Naming of Cats.’

    ‘ ...but above and beyond there’s still one name left over...the name that no human research can discover —
    But THE CAT HIMSELF KNOWS, and will never confess...’

    Gamaliel- your closing words sound like a call all right.
  • Yes. I think it is.
  • AngusAngus Shipmate
    This is great. I have overlooked The Exercises, must begin immediately as a Lenten practice, as my orthodox friend pointed out, Lents just begun! Another second chance.....
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    ... Ignatian spirituality.com are running an online exercises retreat, adapted from Kevin O’Brien’s An Ignatian Prayer Adventure Yes, Angus, Lent has just begun!
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Ah, fantastic - thanks, Miffy. I am looking on their site right now.
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    The Kevin O’Brien book looks good.

    I’ve found Margaret Silf’s writing helpful, especially her Landmarks: an Ignatian Journey (US edition- Inner Compass

    What isn’t advisable is to plough one’s way through the original text of the Spiritual Exercises. It’s aimed at retreat guides, not pilgrims!
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Yes, I have read the original text, before I did the exercises. The first spiritual guide said exactly what you said, Miffy - that it's not advisable for people doing the retreat, just the retreat guides. The second spiritual guide disagreed - she thought it important to read in the original text, kind of in the way an English teacher would encourage students to read Chaucer in the original text, so she was giving me extracts of it to read, along with the Bible passages. It doesn't to me seem the equivalent of studying literature though. And of course it's not really the original text anyway, as the original was in Medieval Spanish.
  • kingsfoldkingsfold Shipmate
    Sorry - got waylaid by the day job. So, the Exercises in Everyday Life (aka 19th Annotation)

    In practical terms, it's a case of working through the same material as one would do on either the all-in-one 30 day version, or the 2x 15 day or 3 x 10day options, and I see my guide once a week. Because it's not time-bound in the same way as doing the Exercises as a residential retreat, it means that we move through them as slow or as fast as is necessary. We can stay with the same material if it's proving especially fruitful or engaging, or we can slow right up if the rest of life throws a curveball, and circumstances mean that I've not got enough energy to do anything other than just rest with God (for example).

    For me, the challenge has always been to be aware of how my prayer/spiritual life is woven into my job, my hobbies, my relationships/friendships etc etc and to better know and recognise Christ in the midst of all of that. And so doing the Exercises in everyday life always seemed to be the more obvious option for me.

    Because life on a day by day basis tends to assert its own demands and create its own stresses/exhaustions, the flexibility this offers works well for me. It’s also making me a lot more aware of the patterns of my life; how I respond to the demands life throws up, how I deal with them and the effect that has on my spirituality & relationship with God. It's also probably fair to say that I'm becoming more aware of my responses to what's going on, and what helps or doesn't help me in those circumstances.
  • kingsfoldkingsfold Shipmate
    Miffy wrote: »
    What isn’t advisable is to plough one’s way through the original text of the Spiritual Exercises. It’s aimed at retreat guides, not pilgrims!

    Certainly, I find the way Ignatius presents some of the material & what lies behind it seriously unhelpful. It doesn't sit easily with who I am and how I see the world. Jengie mentioned The New Spiritual Exercises drawing on the insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin earlier in the thread, and my guide is drawing on and offering me this material as well as it fits better with my personality, understanding & my spirituality. But again, because we're working on a flexible time scale, she's also happy for me to follow tangents the material throws up for me.
  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    Thanks, kingfold, I appreciate you taking the time to come and explain more, and that is very helpful. Doing the exercises in two lots of fifteen days did feel like it was going too quickly sometimes - that I needed longer to process - so doing it again at my own pace sounds like it would work better for me, and also better help me integrate it into my life.
  • kingsfoldkingsfold Shipmate
    A friend of mine who has done the Exercises and who is also a spiritual director reckons they very often 'take' better when done in everyday life...

    Quite what she means by that I'm not sure, but I am sure it's a very different experience from doing them within the context of retreat(s)!
  • MiffyMiffy Shipmate
    kingsfold wrote: »
    Miffy wrote: »
    What isn’t advisable is to plough one’s way through the original text of the Spiritual Exercises. It’s aimed at retreat guides, not pilgrims!

    Certainly, I find the way Ignatius presents some of the material & what lies behind it seriously unhelpful. It doesn't sit easily with who I am and how I see the world. Jengie mentioned The New Spiritual Exercises drawing on the insights of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin earlier in the thread, and my guide is drawing on and offering me this material as well as it fits better with my personality, understanding & my spirituality. But again, because we're working on a flexible time scale, she's also happy for me to follow tangents the material throws up for me.

    Yes, I must admit there were some aspects that I had reservations about and still have. Though three years down the line I’m still drawing on some of what transpired during that month, so something must have stuck!

    It sounds as if your guide is very flexible, Kingsfold, a healthy approach! I must investigate the new material Jengie recommended sometime.





  • finelinefineline Kerygmania Host
    When I read the exercises themselves, there were definitely parts I didn’t agree with, and my first spiritual guide said that is why they are adapted to the person and to the era by the guide. Which is why I was surprised the second guide didn’t adapt them or make suggestions, but just gave the Bible passages and quotes from Ignatius. She was quite defensive of Ignatius when I expressed reservations about some things he said.
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