Can You Exercise Your Spirit?
Well, yes indeed you can! In fact, it is one of the most important ways that I “unplug” and it makes me more able to be loving and “hug!” In this blog, I will give some background about St.Ignatius of Loyola who authored the Spiritual Exercises nearly 500 years ago and give you a short exercise that you can immediately put into practice. I hope it will aid you to grow closer to God, know the depths of God’s love for you and develop the eyes to “see God in all things.”
Have you ever felt that “getting in shape” or “being more fit” is a goal that seems overwhelming? I have. Luckily, I have had some great guides in my life who have helped me to break it down into manageable steps and helpful daily practices. I have often found that people approach prayer and the spiritual journey in a similar way. “How can I deepen my relationship with God in the middle of all that I have going on?” “What does it mean to pray?” Millions of people over centuries have found a wonderful and life-changing guide in St. Ignatius. His Spiritual Exercises develop the spiritual life in a similar way that an exercise program benefits the physical body.
In 1491, St. Ignatius was born the youngest of 13 children in the Basque region of northern Spain. At 14, he was sent to train as a page for the King of Spain. His life was heading in the direction of a courtly life of chivalry and knightly services. However, after an injury in battle, it took a dramatic turn. Injured and humiliated, he was sent to recovery at his family’s castle in Loyola. During his convalescence, it became clear to him that he no longer wished to spend his life working to bring glory to an earthly king, but rather to spend his great energy seeking glory for God. It was not an easy transition; he took great pains to write out what happened in his spiritual conversion. This documentation is referred to as The Spiritual Exercises.
Of all the ways to pray that are included in the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius held The Examen to be absolutely critical. In short, it is a practice or exercise that is done each day, even if no other form of prayer can be done. It calls for reflecting back upon the events of the day and seeing where one moved towards God or away from God. Seem difficult? It’s not!
Here is how to do it.
1. Like an exercise routine, it needs to be regular and incorporated into your schedule. 15-20 minutes is a great place to start. Choose the end of the day or if you prefer the morning, pray then. Be consistent.
2. Set a quiet place apart. It can be as simple as a chair in the corner of the room. Come to this place each time; spend some effort to make it special.
3. I like to set a timer so I am not bothered wondering how long there is left in the prayer session.
4. Mark the beginning with a gesture of some kind: the sign of the cross, light a candlle, a bow, ring a bell, etc. There are many ways to mark the transition.
5. Go through each of the points listed below and spend time reflecting on each one. There are many, many versions of The Examen. This is one that I adapted.
Loving God, I place myself in your presence. Open my heart. Help me rest in your embrace as I review the day, noticing its blessings and opportunities for growth.
Creator God, help me see that all is gift from you, myself included. Today, for what am I most grateful?
Gentle God, open may eyes and heart to be more honest with myself. Where did I embrace your love today? Where did I move away from it?
Compassionate God, I ask forgiveness for the wrongs I did today. Help me heal the hurts.
Faithful God, help me make choices to live deeply in your love, comforted that you will always be by my side.
It helps to have a journal to write down notes as a sort of running record of your days. It doesn’t need to be elaborate.
I hope this way of “unplugging” will bring you a deeper sense of the God who loves us unconditionally. I believe taking care of our spiritual self is as important as taking care of our physical self. For me, this practice has transformed my life.
If you wish to get in touch with me, I welcome questions and comments. This just barely, barely scratches the surface of Ignatian spirituality and there are hundreds o resources to help dig deeper. Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Rachel I Stott, MDiv lives in Vienna with her husband Steve Soulé and their 3 teenagers. After graduating from Georgetown University, she earned her Masters in Divinity, graduating with distinction, from the Jesuit School of Theology at Berkeley. She has been involved in many forms of ministry from teaching to retreat work to parish ministry. She is a member of Alpha Sigma Nu, the Jesuit Honor Society. Currently, she is an instruction at Vienna’s first boutique cycle studio, Cycle Chi.