Brady completed his first year of high school last week. In the final days of his freshmen year, I watched his tenacity grow as he studied for his exams. The diligent exercise of studying. Practicing math problems over and over again. Reviewing concepts. Reading and re-reading material. His muscle memory and routine of school finally finding its groove after fits and starts throughout the year.
At one particular moment during his exam preparation, I stood at our kitchen bar watching Chris and Brady side by side working through a tough math problem. I was struck by the father and son pair that sat across from me that resembled so many images of Joseph with the young Jesus by his side. After months of attempting to go at it alone, Brady exercised one of his muscles- receiving accompaniment. Pride swallowed, he humbly came down to ask his dad, who has a unique gift with numbers, for help in understanding a complicated concept.
I stood for a long time quietly watching the two of them work. My heart swelling with love both for my husband as he patiently accompanied our son and for our son who was maturing before me. The fruits of the moment born out of a year of learning to exercise his muscles.
It is easier for us adults to understand the patience of practice and exercise when we seek to teach young people something new or accompany them in mastering a new skill or art. For some reason, the grown up versions of ourselves forget that the same patience and gentleness we offer to a young person who is simply finding his way into the next unfolding season is what we also need to offer ourselves. There is no greater place I see this need for gentleness, patience, and accompaniment than in our spiritual lives.
St. Ignatius of Loyola understood that our spiritual muscles need steady exercising. It is why his pathway and series of meditations are called the Spiritual Exercises. They begin with an important note or annotation which says:
“The first annotation is that by this name of Spiritual Exercises is meant every way of examining one’s conscience, of meditating, of contemplating, of praying vocally and mentally, and of performing other spiritual actions, as will be said later.
For as strolling, walking, and running are bodily exercises, so every way of preparing and disposing the soul to rid itself of all disordered tendencies and after it is rid, to seek and find the Divine will as to the management of one’s life for the salvation of the soul is called a spiritual exercise.”
~From the translation of the Spiritual Exercises by David Fleming, SJ
Ignatius knew we needed to practice moving the interior muscles of our spiritual lives. He offers various meditations and exercises for us to do so that we can grow ever closer to Jesus and discover our unique way of following him. He also offers us rules to practice and notice the discernment of the spirits in our lives.
Our next blog series, A Guide to Ignatian Discernment, will focus on St. Ignatius’ first set of rules of discernment. This series will walk us through the first fourteen rules of discernment. In intentionally moving through the rules, we hope to offer all of us a chance to exercise our listening to the movements of the spirits so that we can continue to strengthen the listening muscles of our ears and hearts to notice both the Holy Spirit’s movement in our lives and also the false spirit’s movement.
Adults and young people alike need support in exercising the discernment of the spirits. Spiritual directors and other accompaniers walk with us to discern the movements of the spirits. Our Into the Deep writers are ready to accompany you these next weeks by sharing their reflections on the lived application of the discernment rules.
May this series exercise our spiritual muscles in the same way Brady exercised his muscles of studying and receiving accompaniment. May it well in us a spirit of courage to follow wherever the Holy Spirit calls us to go.
- Practice the muscle of receiving accompaniment! Join us for a six week journey through Ignatian Discernment wisdom for our Overwhelmed No More Retreat.
- For a full text of the First Set of Rules of Discernment, explore Timothy Gallagher, OMV‘s short and simple translation or David Fleming SJ’s translation.
- Explore our discernment resource section on the website.
- There are a few more spaces available for our in-person retreat in July in New Orleans. Learn more here.
- Our team is hiring a Marketing & Communications Manager. Please help us spread the word!
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