As I indicated in the last post, I quickly characterized Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises as being “my cup of tea.” As I have already pointed out elsewhere, much of modern Christian literature takes the general approach of, “here, think about this and it will improve your mind.” My mind is already filled to the brim will all sorts of book learnin’. Ignatius offers something entirely different. First, I ascertained that Ignatius would give me something to do, not just something to think about. Secondly, his exercises were not aimed at improving the mind, but at satisfying the soul.
The Spiritual Exercises are sectioned into four phases, or what Ignatius referred to as “weeks.” A person could go through the whole set of exercises in one month, if he or she were able to devote themselves full time to the endeavor. This schedule would seem to rule out all but clergy and the financially independent, but in Annotation 19, Ignatius welcomes everyone:
A person of education or ability who is taken up with public affairs or suitable business, may take an hour and a half daily to exercise himself.
He goes on to explain that, by committing to a hour and a half a day, those who were very busy with real jobs could still do the exercises; it would simply take longer. Rather than setting aside a whole month, which would be impossible for most people, including me, the Spiritual Exercises, done a little bit each day, would take nine months. In truth, there is no real schedule, even though the Exercises are divided into four “weeks.” Ignatius constantly advises his exercitants (those doing the exercises) to linger where there is profit, and move on otherwise: “It is not to be understood that each Week has, of necessity, seven or eight days. For, as it happens that in the First Week some are slower to find what they seek.” I expect that I will be with the Exercises for a year, maybe a year and a half.
To my mind, it is significant that Annotation 19, where Ignatius welcomes busy people to do the exercises, precedes Annotation 20, where he appeals to those who have sufficient free time to devote an entire month. This contributed to my sense that Ignatius was interested in something other than recruiting people to what we might call “full time Christian work.” In fact, in Annotation 18, Ignatius insists that the Exercises “be adapted to the dispositions of the persons who wish to receive them, that is, to their age, education, or ability, in order not to give to one who is uneducated or of little intelligence things he cannot easily bear and profit by.” He believed that anyone could benefit from the Exercises. This view seems strikingly consistent with the invitation of the New Testament: “Come to Me, all who are weary and heavy-laden…”
Unlike most other books I had been reading at the time, particularly those written by Ignatius’ contemporaries, I was reading a book where the author saw lay people as a specific audience. Case in point: Although it has broad application, St. Teresa’s Interior Castles was written explicitly to her sisters in the convent. Second, Ignatius understood, and took into account, the realities of life in the real world. Included are realities of family and business life, but also realities of the inner life. He knew quite well that, as a general rule and despite outward appearances, all is not well on the inside of most of us. Ignatius saw his Exercises as a “way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all the disordered tendencies” that are at the root of the spiritual chaos or “disorder” that many of us live with day in and day out, and which cloud our ability to find God, determine His will, and manage our own lives.
By this time, I was stoked. Enough reading; I wanted to get going. The Annotations are simply a preamble, a discussion of the general rules and what to expect. I wanted the meat. So I kept reading.
PARTICULAR AND DAILY EXAMEN – It contains in it three times, and two to examine oneself. The first time is in the morning, immediately on rising, when one ought to propose to guard himself with diligence against that particular sin or defect which he wants to correct and amend.
Ah, like, what? What am I supposed to do? It became quickly obvious that I was going to need some significant help, so I started where else?, but at the Cornell University library. That bastion of liberal intellectualism (or is it intellectual liberalism? I can’t ever remember) would cough up a key piece that would allow progress.