Welcome to the Spiritual Exercises Daily Blog for Lent 2011!
Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, when we begin Lent and have a unique opportunity to respond to God’s call to return to Him:
Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. (Joel 2:12-13)
How can we ‘return to God’? Like any relationship we desire to deepen again, we must spend time ‘catching up’ with the other, getting to know them again. The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius Loyola is a way of recognizing and savoring (related to the Spanish word saber, ‘to know’ or ‘taste’) all that God has done, and continues doing, for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This daily blog will give us the chance to pray with the elements of the Spiritual Exercises this Lent, with the goal of helping us to make a more full and honest ‘return to God’ in prayer, thought, and action.
How (not) to pray. On this blog, we will spend time contemplating Jesus’ life in order to see Him more clearly, follow Him more nearly, and love Him more dearly. This is not just an abstract exercise, as though we could manufacture a relationship with Jesus just by saying the right pious words, or reading another person’s. Our God wants a relationship, not pleasantries. So St. Ignatius invites the retreatants (you and me, the ones praying with the exercises) to grow in relationship to Jesus by meditating on and contemplating His life. In meditating on a passage from the Gospels (like the birth of Jesus), we use our memory, understanding and will. This is a good way to think about the life of Jesus and ponder all the good He does for us.
But to go deeper, Ignatian contemplation is savoring these mysteries with all five senses: seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting, and touching. We come to know the story of Jesus’ nativity by imagining the sights, sounds, smells, and feel of the stable, and trusting that God can speak through these sense experiences. In a way, this contemplative prayer means that we become like a child again, wondering at the works of Jesus as if for the first time. It is a method of prayer that relies on our imagination: we experience anew God’s story of salvation, and savor what it has to say to our life.
After about a week of preparatory reflections, we will have prompts to lead us through specific contemplations of Jesus’ life, with specific graces — spiritual insights and gifts — along the way. Our pray here at the blog is that you find these daily Lenten reflections fruitful in cultivating that deeper relationship with God.
The goal for today? Focus now, Tuesday, only on disposing yourself to renewing your relationship with God by praying with Jesus this Lent. Whether you can only give ten minutes a day, or an hour, give what you can. Find a prayer space and a rhythm that suits you – and which you know you can be faithful to each day. As St. Rose Philippine Duchesne wrote, “God does not require great achievements, but a heart that holds nothing back.”
This Lent, let us return to God with our whole heart, holding nothing back from the One who desires to draw us close to Him.