Drawn to Ignatius: Applying the Wisdom of the Creative Life to Nurture Spiritual Growth

July 29, 2020

During our first Into the Deep blog series “Drawn to Ignatius” members of our writing team will tell us the ways Ignatian Spirituality has informed their lives, prayers, and their desire to go into the deep. Today Vinita Hampton Wright shares with us how she has applied the wisdom of her creative life to nuture her spiritual life. 

I grew up in a tiny town in southeast Kansas. My mother’s people were Assemblies of God; my father’s mother brought me up in the United Methodist Church; after visiting a Southern Baptist mission church when I was about twelve, I decided that I wanted to hang out with Christians who knew the Bible—I was baptized into that church at age thirteen. There was a Catholic church in my little town, but we Baptists considered those people to be far from God. Yes, it was a rather fundamentalist subculture, and I managed to escape it as a young adult, first by spending a few years teaching English and music in Ajloun and Amman, Jordan, then by moving to the big city, Chicago, for grad school and a second career, which turned out to be as an editor in religious book publishing.

All this time (beginning in fourth grade), I was writing: poems, stories, songs, and reflections on faith. My Christian faith was a constant, even though it evolved drastically over the years. Working with words was the other constant. As I did my own writing and helped authors with theirs, I began to understand some fundamentals of the creative life. Creativity was a spiritual process. And if I followed the creative gifts God gave me, they would take me where God intended. I learned about the process and paying attention. About logical knowledge and intuitive knowledge. About truth residing in the same interior place where my prayer happened. About spirituality and creativity involving the whole person: spirit, emotions, body, memory, dreams, and desires. After just a few years as an editor, I was leading writing retreats and workshops. In 2005, I published The Soul Tells a Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life. By this time, I had published my first novel and was working on the second.

Then I went to work for the Jesuits. Loyola Press brought me in as a senior editor of trade books. Within a couple of years, our company went through a process of reconnecting with its Ignatian roots, and soon I was editing books about St. Ignatius of Loyola, the Spiritual Exercises, Jesuit ministries, and Ignatian spirituality. I did the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises, then helped lead multiple small groups of employees through the same experience.

As I became acquainted with St. Ignatius, I began to experience sensations of recognition. His work with a person’s physical sensations, memory, imagination, and emotion rang true, but it was not new to me. I had been doing similar work as a fiction writer for some time. I had been teaching other writers to honor their senses, pay attention to their interior shifts, trust their intuition, and handle their work lightly, not trying to force it—similar to developing spiritual freedom, not clinging to any particular outcome. I had encouraged them to use their emotions as cues to what was important and to notice what fed their creativity and what drained it.

So, St. Ignatius and I had landed on some bedrock principles of the inner life, only he had developed them to nurture spiritual growth. How exciting to understand that I could apply the wisdom of the creative life to the health of the spiritual life. All of it is woven together; God has designed the human person to have a strong and brilliant interior life—but we must practice how to nurture and use it.

Then, I began to see that St. Ignatius was perhaps the original Evangelical Catholic! His emphasis that we are made to become friends of God certainly echoed all that the Pentecostals, Methodists, Charismatics, and Baptists had taught me about a personal relationship with Jesus. And Ignatius was not afraid to invite ordinary laypeople to engage directly with Scriptures—another hallmark of evangelicals everywhere.

I’m not saying that all these denominations are the same, only that we have discovered independently the same central messages of the gospel: God longs for our friendship, and the Scriptures communicate God’s love to us.

Now that I’m a spiritual director, I accompany people in prayer, turning to all the gifts I’ve discovered through decades of writing, teaching, editing, and praying. The depth of Scripture, the power of prayer, the dynamics of friendship with God, and confidence in our daily experience and specific lives to carry us into God’s great dream for us. Ignatius and I came from vastly different cultures and have taken quite different journeys. But we have fallen in love with the same God and do our best to take part in whatever God is doing.


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Photo by Ed Robertson on unsplash.

Vinita Hampton Wright recently retired from more than thirty years as a book editor. She has also served as a speaker and facilitated retreats and workshops on writing, creativity, prayer, and Ignatian spirituality. She has written various fiction and non-fiction books, including the novel Dwelling Places with HarperOne, Days of Deepening Friendship, The Art of Spiritual Writing, and Small Simple Ways: An Ignatian Daybook for Healthy Spiritual Living with Loyola Press, and most recently Set the World on Fire: A 4-Week Personal Retreat with the Female Doctors of the Church with Ave Maria Press . Vinita is a student and practitioner of Ignatian spirituality, and from 2009 to 2015, she blogged at Days of Deepening Friendship. For the past few years, she has co-led small groups through the 19th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises. She continues to write and now serves as a spiritual director from her home in Springdale, Arkansas with her husband, two dogs, and a cat.

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