Living as Contemplative Leaders in Action: Immerse Yourselves in the World

October 25, 2021

People dream about moving to a desert island- to “get away” from it all so that they can think.  Others think of retreats in far-away places where no distraction can lure them away from the “work” at hand of meeting and responding to God.  Others want “just a few minutes to myself.”  Sound familiar?

Now, I have been on retreats in far away places and have benefited greatly from entering into the deep silence that can only be found by slowing down and letting go of all the other competing sounds, thoughts and plans I have for my life, ministry, and relationship with God.   And it is true that entering into that deep silence enables me to pay attention and listen- to God’s “small still voice,” and to myself.  These are the privileged moments we experience occasionally…

But that isn’t exactly where most of us live- now, is it?  Becky, in her article on Contemplative Leadership, highlights Ignatius’ mandate to: “Immerse yourselves in the world.” Can this really mean meeting and responding to God right in the middle of my often messy life? Yes.  

In fact, where else? This life- yours, mine and ours- is the locus of God’s activity in our world. If we believe this to be true, and act on it, we are invited to be part of Incarnation in this time and place- again and again.  Jesus came, human, embodied, “one of us, yet humbler still,”(Phil 2:7) and made God present to the world. Jesus made the world -in all its beauty and in all its sorrow- holy.  Even death, our deepest fear on many levels -not just that of our bodies, is shown to be but a passageway to new life, if we immerse our God-touched selves in it.

God has been active and loving in our world from before all time and still continues to mold and shape us and the universe. Teilhard de Chardin understood and articulated creation’s ongoing nature and our implicit call to be part of it beautifully: 

{Creation’s] act is a great continuous movement spread out over the totality of time. It is still going on; incessantly but imperceptibly the world emerges more and more from nothingness.

You and I are invited to be part of this continuous creation and incarnating of God today- wherever, however, whoever we are by similarly entering into the world and allowing God’s holiness to create and sanctify it again and again. How?  

Ignatius and Sacred Scripture give us plenty of help with that question– through our loving attentiveness to it all and through trusting that God is in the world.

In Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation to the Exercises, we read: 

All things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily…For everything has the potential for calling forth in us a deeper response to our life in God.

The first thing to note is that we have nothing to fear from this world- everything has the potential for drawing us to God!  Immerse yourself, you will find God already there!

Paul tells us the same thing:

Do you not know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s spirit dwells in your midst? -1Cor.3:16

We are, and this place is, the holy dwelling place of God.  (A temple, no less!)

As Paul told the Athenians: 

God is indeed not far from any one of us. For in [God] we live and move and have our being. -Acts 17:27b-28

We ourselves and our surroundings (i.e. our world) are where God is to be encountered. 

In Haggai we have another directive:

Be strong, and work!  For I am with you… My spirit is in your midst, do not fear.  –Haggai 2:4-5

Ignatius and the Scriptures seem to take for granted that once we  have immersed ourselves in this world, and experienced God there, we  will know what to do. We will see what the needs are and God will be there with us  as we  discern our  response.  

But first we must love it, as God loves it.(!)

The answer to “how?” is simply, profoundly, to be lovingly attentive to God’s world and all that fills it.

At the end of the Exercises, The Contemplation to Attain Love brings us back to where we began- to realize that God dwells and is lovingly involved in everything- not just in any beginning, but in continuing to work and labor, to sustain and reveal God’s self through all things.

Ignatius offers us a picture of a God who is lovingly involved in every nook and cranny of creation, indeed in every detail of my own life. (Contemplation to Attain Love, Ian Tomlinson, SJ -cf. full article referenced below in Going Deeper)

It is no wonder, then,  that Ignatius formed contemplative leaders by teaching them to “immerse themselves in the world.” We will meet God there.  It is God’s universe and God fills every little bit of it.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning knew it.

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only [the ones who see takes off their shoes];
The rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

 

Go Deeper:

Photo by Anna Dziubinska on unsplash.com 

 

Sr. Janelle Sevier is a member of the Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur, an international congregation of religious women who live and serve in 17 countries and on five continents. A native of Baton Rouge, and currently working there as a Pastoral Associate, she has also ministered in Kenya, Zimbabwe, Haiti, and in the United States: in the Archdiocese of Boston as well as Baton Rouge. Janelle has been involved in many areas of ministry: formal and informal teaching as well as faith formation and spirituality with a great variety of groups. Giving retreats and offering spiritual direction has been part of her ministry throughout. She has a passion for working with others to help deepen the experience of God within individuals and in our communities of faith, and especially with groups often overlooked by society.

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