One of the reasons I believe in jazz is that the oneness of man can come through the rhythm of your heart. It’s the same any place in the world, that heartbeat. It’s the first thing you hear when you’re born — or before you’re born — and it’s the last thing you hear. — Dave Brubeck



Monday, July 20, 2020

Ignatius and the "Discernment of Spirits" in a different light

McLeod Ganj, July 20, 2020


In a cave in northern Spain between 1522 and 1524, Ignatius of Loyola had a series of spiritual experiences that changed his life as well as created a spiritual revolution. As a direct result of his mystical awakening, he, along with 7 of his “companions,” went on to found the Society of Jesus. One of these men, Francis Xavier, came to India in 1542. His body is still venerated to this day in the basilica in Goa that bears his name.


If one thing stands out about the early exploits of the Jesuits, it is their decisive action which they attributed to following the plan that God had for them. To uncover God’s Will they used a spiritual technique that Ignatius developed in his retreat at Manresa: “The Discernment of Spirits.” 


Now that I’ve paid my respects to Father Ignatius, let me look at the actual process of what he called “The Discernment”  to see if there is a way for someone who does not hold to the religious tenets of Christianity to use his methodology--yes, even a person with a more rational mind set to access more information about his or her decision making process to come to a workable decision about a course of action. I suggest that using the methodology of Ignatius might allow us to listen to our deepest emotions without allowing them to hijack our decision making process.


Ignatius lays out two sets of 14 “rules” for making a choice. I have tried to remain faithful to the spirit of Ignatius while simplifying them. I’ve also bypassed Ignatius’s insistence on conformity with the teaching authority of the Roman Catholic Church.


Ignatius invites us to weigh what he calls “Consolation” and “Desolation” regarding a specific course of action over a period of time. Ignatius believed that the forces of good and evil are at war inside you. They try to sway you. Our job in prayer is to observe the battle, to sort out the emotions and eventually to allow the correct decision to emerge.


I’ve used the word emotions here, and I think that discerning what our deepest emotions are telling us might be a useful way to look at what Ignatius calls “spirits.” Consolation indicates a feeling of peace and contentment, while desolation points to upset, even revulsion, perhaps even the feelings we might normally associate with depression. When we feel at peace, “consoled,” we are aware that we are on the right path, but when we feel uneasy, we sense that we are treading a path that leads to uncertainty or even harm, emotional or physical. 


However, our past experience has educated us, colored our emotions and conditioned us to behave in a certain way. We are aware of some of this conditioning but a great deal remains unconscious. A note of caution here: we are not engaging on a course of psychotherapy, and while it may be useful to uncover and deal with the emotional undercurrents of our past, I think that in ordinary circumstances, weighing what our emotions tell us about a course of action does not require this level of analysis. 


Allowing our deep emotional responses to inform our decision does however require a kind of detachment. And in order for this process to unfold, Ignatius recommends that we not jump into a major decision impulsively. Rather he would like us to weigh what I’m going to call our inner movements. Allowing our deepest emotional instincts to have a voice in our decision making, might be closer to what’s called in modern psychology “emotional intelligence.”


Let me give an example. Let’s suppose that I have a friend with whom I’m deeply in love. I think we can all agree that love is an extremely powerful emotion, one that can dictate our actions in both positive and negative ways. My friend tells me that he has to move to another city for a long period and that our relationship will have to endure that separation. This seems at first to be a circumstance beyond my personal control.


But suddenly the thought crosses my mind: I will just follow him or her. The motivation is love. What could possibly go wrong? Lots. But there’s also the possibility that the move might also open the gate to new rich experiences and a wonderful new side to our relationship.


So now let’s set aside some thoughtful time to “discern the spirits,” to weigh the emotional impulses that are driving the decision and see if we can sort them out. A lot of people would counsel “weighing the pro’s and con’s.” The process might include making lists with the both positive and negative consequences: shifting house, disruption of our normal daily routine, work and financial realities, readjusting close personal ties. Of course, make a list. Evaluate each possibility.


But Ignatius would, I think, ask us to take another step. Let’s say for the sake of the example, that most of the practical issues could be easily resolved, that the actual shifting were possible, that money would not be an issue, that family and friends support the decision, but we are still undecided. He would ask us to take the decision to prayer and seek a deeper answer. 


What might this look like, even for a non-religious person, who would like to explore the possibilities of the move in a deeper way? First we would formulate the proposition: “I will move to another city to be with this person I am in love with.” And then with our mind as quiet as possible, we allow the feelings and emotions to arise, without judging them. I cannot predict what might happen in an individual case, but let’s just take an obvious one: The overwhelming emotion is to simply pick up and move. But that’s followed by what seems to be an equally overwhelming fear that things might go wrong, that the added strain would distort my relationship and my friend would reject me. It’s possible. 


A series of emotions arise, and they are a jumble. But somehow, if we are able to neither reject or push them away, over a period of time, they begin to sort themselves, and the picture becomes more clear. Perhaps we decide to move, or perhaps we decide to stay, but in either case, it comes with much stronger determination that we have tapped a deep source of inner strength to follow through and take whatever steps are required to fulfill our plan.


I think that Father Ignatius would be pleased that his inspiration allowed us to open up new possibilities in our own life even if dismayed that we have decided to remain agnostic with regard to his theological claims.








Saturday, July 18, 2020

The Examen of Saint Ignatius

The Spiritual Exercises and the Examen



I have combined three posts about Ignatian prayer, and what Ignatius calls ‘the Particular Examen.’ Please read them as a series of connected reflections.


The woman who inspired the last entry, "This May be Heresy," Annemarie Marino, died on May 20, 2006. I will always remember her quick mind and generous heart. We had wonderful conversations. Please add your prayers to mine that she has found peace and her heart's desire.


I invite anyone who reads this and wants to comment or share something about their experience using the Ignatian examen to leave a comment or contact me. If you are interested you can also check out the wide selection of books, articles, and websites that Morgan Zo-Callahan and I put together, An Ignatian Bibliography.











But let’s begin by outlining the Steps in Making the Ignatian Examen


1. We begin by quieting ourselves. Become aware of the simple goodness of the universe, the gifts of life and love. Be thankful. Recall that without faith, the eye of love, the human world seems too evil for good to exist.


2. Look deep within to see clearly, to understand accurately, and to respond generously to what is occurring in our daily history.


3. Review in memory the history of the day (week, month, etc.) in order to be shown concrete instances of our ‘chief characteristic,’ as well as instances of presence and guidance and, perhaps, of the activity and influence of the chief characteristic. These can be detected by paying attention to strong feelings we experienced that may have accompanied or arisen from situations and encounters.


4. Evaluate these instances in which we have either collaborated with deep inner guidance or yielded to the influence of evil in some way. Express gratitude and regret.


5. Plan and decide how to collaborate more effectively with your own inner guidance and how to avoid or overcome the negative influence of the chief characteristic in the future.


I would like to hear from you if you want to share anything you have discovered using the examen.



THURSDAY, NOVEMBER 16, 2006

The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius


I have been a practitioner of Buddhist meditation for more than 30 years. But this is not my first experience with intensive meditation practice.


I entered the Society of Jesus, the Jesuits, on August 15th 1966. After a few months to acclimate to the schedule of getting up at 5:25 and bed at 9:30, we first year novices “did” the 30-day retreat. For a full month, the whole community was totally focused on the discipline of the Exercises in its strictest form, as strict as the discipline in any zen hall: total silence, 7 hours of contemplation very day, an unwavering order of meditation, invocations and most importantly, in retrospect, the examen.


The bell that alerted us to prayer, or mass, or spiritual reading, or the daily conferences with the Master of novices, was not a beautiful, clear temple bell. Rather it had the urgency of the alarm that gets firemen out of bed in the middle of the night. We were not to be monks dedicated to a life of prayer within exclusionary monastic walls. We were being trained to pray hard and work hard for the Kingdom of God.


After we took religious vows, every year we dedicated 8 days to the exercises. These were the heady days that followed Vatican II, so the strict retreat format, the fire and brimstone of the 1st week, for example, had fallen into disfavor.


Now 40 years later it is hard to believe that the Exercises had such a visceral effect, creating a feeling for the Transcendent in the way that they did. I remember reading Joyce’s description of the preacher sermon on Hell in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man when I was a teenager, but Joyce was right on the mark. Fr. T. J. C. O’Callaghan may have lacked the dramatic flare of Joyce’s retreat master, but he posed the fiery world of the unforgivable, using the same script that, combined with a retreat environment created by the 80 men who shared the life of the novitiate, the silence, the liturgies, the homilies, the food, and the penances, geared to the meditations of 4 weeks of the Exercises.


I remained in the Society until 1976. But 5 years before I left, I began to realize that rigidity of religious life, in the traditional form, was not going to be a happy fit with my personality. Leaving religious life was a difficult choice; I had been very happy studying theology and exploring the religious practice of the Jesuits. I wanted to show the same respect for my choice to abandon the Society as my choice to make religious vows. And so I undertook the Exercises again in a form called the 19th annotation. In place of 30 days of seclusion and intense prayer, I dedicated an hour every day for almost a year and, with a director, followed the order of prayer and meditation that Ignatius set within the four ‘weeks’. I was already practicing both zazen and vipassana meditation by then, and though I didn’t consciously try to blend the two practices, that is in fact exactly what I was doing.


I cannot cut myself off from the life giving roots in the Exercises. For most successful Jesuits, the Exercises have been grafted into their bones. I was not immune—it can even happen in 10 years. I have begun some reflections and writing about the real links between meditation practice and Ignatian discipline. Yes, it has to be called a discipline.


The Examen


Recently I have been focusing my inner exploration on the Examen as presented in the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius. In the early 16th century, the Examen was a real breakthrough in the pedagogy of prayer. Human beings were most certainly capable of self-examination before Ignatius, and, through the ritual of confession and expiation, and Christians found inner peace and clarity in their lives. But as a method of prayer, Ignatius recommended three short periods a day to examine your inner landscape in a focused way, and then refocus according to an intention that you have set for yourself. Some commentators have even credited him with starting the development of what we in the West now call the “self”–that particular set of inner motivations and proclivities that govern our lives.


Most people I speak with assume that “talking with God” is the most natural of any communication. I don’t believe this assumption is even close to the truth. For Christians it would mean that the results of Original Sin magically disappear with baptism or conversion. This is not supported by most of the evidence that we can gather from the experience of most Christian mystics, saints. It certainly flies in the face of most Eastern teachings regarding humankind’s sleeping, inattentive, deluded state.


I recently saw some clips from a TV documentary called “Camp Jesus” which focused on a fundamentalist summer camp for children. After an adult woman who was leading a prayer group made the rather startling accusation that Harry Potter should be in Hell, there was an interview with a young boy who preached and said that he regularly talked with God about his future. When the camera switched to his father's encouraging words, and I began to listen to him, an evangelical preacher, I felt that a strong, irrefutable case could be made that these “godly” conversations were nothing more than interiorization of subtle and overt parental messages, prejudices, on the same level as the ridiculous damnation of Harry Potter. The kid was destined, sadly, to be just like his dad.


Or in the words of one Jesuit master: “Our capacity to deceive ourselves is infinite!”


How do we know that our own channels are not jammed with well-intentioned instruction (at best), prejudice, obfuscation? Does God actually speak to us at all? If this is a real possibility, then perhaps practicing and working with the Examen and what Ignatius called the “Discernment of Spirits” does point to a breakthrough in prayer.


Of course prayer has to be learned and taught, and how it is taught changes. We learn about love as we live out our lives; we share and try to teach our children from our experience. This learning cannot happen in a vacuum: my friend Daniel Shurman refers back to this phrase from Episcopalian liturgy: what is the Spirit saying to the Church? We are always listening and learning, both from the Source of All That Is and from one another.


Sometime in 1997 I met a priest in the Episcopal diocese of northern California who was promoting a form of weekly prayer group for business people based, she said, on the Ignatian ‘Examen.’ At the time I was exploring the possibility of doing a small meditation group downtown after work. I contacted her and she invited me to attend one of her groups. Besides her wonderful head of red hair, I found several points for wonder and reflection: her commitment to bring prayer to the business world, and my initial impression that this form of Examen was both different from what I had learned and practiced in the Society and still had a strong Ignatian flavor.


I will examine my inner record as carefully as I can, and describe how we prayed together. We began with a short reading from scripture, and then after a few moments of silence and an invitation for anyone to share their private concerns and intentions, the conversation quickly shifted to the events of the day and personal reflections about what would be a “faithful” response. One participant, the most senior in age and status, redirected the conversation if it strayed from the core message announced in the gospel, as if there were an agenda for the business at hand. With sandwiches and the time to walk back to their respective offices subtracted, perhaps 30 minutes remained for conversation and reflection.


I feel that there was something that had the genuine feel of Ignatius, the discerning of God in the world, the immediacy of the inquiry, and the imperative to be in action. But there was little or no self-examination. There was, as I recall, not even an invitation to begin any introspection. The reflections seemed quite analytical. But the major break with the Ignatian Examen was that this only tangentially touched on an individual confronting him or herself.


In the next post, I will talk about the Examen, the role of intention and examining one’s inner motivations, plus the crossover to the practice of vispassana meditation--thinking with all of you, your whole body, including your memories, dreams and emotions.


This may be heresy, but does it work?


Rather than beginning with any predetermined notion of how an individual works in harmony with him or herself, their communities and the universe—following a set of rules or conventions about behavior and love and faith—I wonder where the Ignatius' Examination of Conscience (the examen) might lead if just regarded as a rigorous way to focus an inner search.


I hesitate to edit Ignatius, and only do so as an experiment. I do not wish to make him into an atheist or a secret non-theistic Buddhist master. But, in my view, his Exercises sprang from inner experience in prayer and meditation, and, I want to test if they can stand apart from any particular theological doctrine, or what becomes of them when they are allowed to stand in a more neutral context.


I have followed a few of the current explorations and adaptations among directors of the Exercises. Some modern Jesuits now refer to the examen as “an examination of consciousness.” I have to admit that when I first started to practice vispassana meditation in the early 70’s, I wrote to my superior saying something to the effect, “if this in not what Ignatius had in mind, it is what he should have meant, whether or not he did.” Today I take seriously that Ignatius, in every iteration of the Exercises, used the word “conscience.”


Conscience, I think, is closer to the ordinary English usage “compunction” than it is to “consciousness” which, after Be Here Now, has nuances closer to the experience of the expansive vastness sometimes experienced in Buddhist meditation. Compunction has more the twinge of regret or conscience—those places where we notice something’s off. If you are not judgmental or harshly critical of yourself, the mind more easily focuses and ventures where it would rather not go, but does not equal “consciousness.” I think that Ignatius would be happier if we save feelings vastness for the Contemplatio of the 4th week.


In response to the request of a woman who visits me for conversations about meditation, I made some simple edits to Ignatius’s instructions for the Particular Examen, an exercise that he recommends, to begin, three times a day while doing spiritual exercises, and then for the rest of life! I just removed any reference to a deity, or to any external guidance. In some places I have left the words “faith,” “love,” “grace,” “presence,” “guidance,” and “goodness,” not as absolutes but rather focus points for an inner exploration. Look for faith and presence in our own lived experience, for example, instead of returning to old sermons about how we should behave and what we must do to be good. I also presume that the practitioner has some direction and is examining him or herself for what Ignatius might call our “chief characteristic,” our greatest obstacle to living in freedom and love.


If you want to undertake this exercise, Ignatius recommends three distinct periods a day, upon rising, before the mid-day meal, and upon retiring. In the morning, as your day is not yet filled with conscious and unconscious actions, you set your mind aright to reflect, remembering what you are going to look for if you have identified a ‘chief characteristic.’



Wednesday, May 13, 2020

The Beginnings of a Christian-Zen Bibliography


Abe, Masao, "Emptiness Is Suchness" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. 
NY: Crossroad, 1982
Abe, Masao, Zen and Western Thought. Honolulu, University of Hawaii Press, 1985
Abe, Masao, "John Cobb's Beyond Dialogue" in The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. XVIII, No. 1, Spring 1985
Aquinas, St. Thomas, On Being and Essence. Toronto, Canada, The Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949
Boyle, Leonard E., "A Remembrance of Pope Leo XIII: The Encyclical Aeterni Patris" in One Hundred Years of Thomism. Houston: TX: Center for Thomistic Studies, 1981
Carlo, William E., The Ultimate Reducibility of Essence to Existence in Existential Metaphysics. The Hague: Nijhoff, 1966
Clarke, W. Norris, "What Cannot Be Said in St. Thomas' Essence-Existence Doctrine" in The New Scholasticism. Baltimore: American Catholic Philosophical Association, 1974
Cook, Francis H., "The Second Buddhist Christian Theological Encounter: A Report" in The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. XIX, No. 1, Spring 1986
de Finance, Joseph, Etre et Agir. Paris, Beauchesne et ses fils, éditeurs, 1945
de Mello, Anthony, Sadhana: A Way to God. St. Louis, MO: The Institute of Jesuit Sources, 1978
Dumoulin, Heinrich, Christianity Meets Buddhism. La Salle, IL: Open Court, 1974
Eusden, John Dykstra, Zen and Christian: The Journey Between. NY: Crossroad, 1981
Fabro, Cornelio, La Nozione Metafisica, di Partecipazione. Torino: Società editrice internationale, 1950
Fields, Rick, How the Swans Came to the Lake. Boulder, CO: Shambhala, 1981
Gardeil, le Pilre A., La structure de l'ame et L'expérience Mystique. Paris: Librairie Victor Lecoffre, 1927
Gardet, Louis and Olivier Lacombe, L'expérience du soi. Paris, Desclée de Brouwer, 1981
Gardet, Louis, Etudes de philosophie et de Mystique comparées. Paris: Librairie philosophique J. Vrin, 1972
Gilkey, Langdon, "Abe Masao's Zen and Western Thought" in The Eastern Buddhist, Vol. XIX, No. 2, Autumn 1986
Gilson, Etienne, Being and Some Philosophers. Toronto, Canada: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949
Gilson, Etienne, History of Christian Philosophy in the Middle Ages. NY: Random House, 1955
Graham, Dom Aelred, Zen Catholicism. HBJ, 1963
Habito, Ruben L.F., Living Zen, Loving God. Wisdom Publications, 2004
Heisig, James, "East-West Dialogue: Sunyata and Kenosis" in Spirituality Today, Vol. 39, No. 2, Summer 1987 and Vol. 39, No. 3, Autumn 1987
Huang Po, The Zen Teaching of Huang Po. NY: Grove Press, Inc., 1958
Izutsu, Toshihiko, Toward a Philosophy of Zen Buddhism. Boulder, CO: Prajfla Press, 1982
John of the Cross, Ascent of Mount Carmel. Translated and edited by E. Allison Peers. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1958
Johnson, William, Christian Zen: A Way of Meditation. NY: Harper Row, 1981
Johnson, William, The Still Point, Reflections on Zen and Christian Mysticism. NY:Fordham University Press, 1970
Kadowaki, J.K., Zen and the Bible. NY: Routledge & Kegan, 1980
Kadowaki, Kakichi, "Ways of Knowing: A Buddhist-Thomist Dialogue" in International Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. VI, No. 4, Dec. 1966.
Kalinowski, Jerzy and Stefan Swiezawski, La philosophie à l'heure du Concile. Paris: Société d'Editions Internationales, 1965
Kishi, Rev. Augustin Hideshi, Spiritual Consciousness in Zen from a Thomistic Theological Point of View. Nishinomiya-shi, Japan: Catholic Bishop's House of Osaka, 1966
Lassalle, H.M. Enomiya, Zen Meditation for Christians. LaSalle, IL: Open Court, 1974
Maritain, Jacques, "Lettre sur la philosophie a l'heure du concile" in Approches Sans Entraves. Paris: Fayard, 1973
Maritain, Jacques, A Preface to Metaphysics. NY: Mentor Omega Books, 1962
Maritain, Jacques, Bergsonian Philosophy and Thomism. NY: New York Philosophical Library, 1955
Maritain, Jacques, Existence and the Existent. Garden City, NY: Image Books, 1948
Maritain, Jacques, Moral Philosophy. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1964
Maritain, Jacques, Notebooks. Albany, NY: Magi Books, Inc., 1984
Maritain, Jacques, The Degrees of Knowledge. NY: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1959
Maritain, Jacques, The Peasant of the Garonne. NY: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1968
Merton, Thomas, Zen and the Birds of Appetite. NDP, 1968
Nishitani, Keiji, Religion and Nothingness. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1982
O'Hanlon, Daniel, "Zen and the Spiritual Exercises: A Dialogue Between Faiths" in Theological Studies, Vol. 39, No. 4, Dec. 1978.
Sekida, Katsuki, Zen Training. NY: Weatherhill, 1977
Senko, W., "Un traité inconnu 'De esse et essentia'" in Archives d'histoire doctrinale et litteraire du moyen âge, 27. Paris: Libraire Philosophique J. Vrin, 1961
Shizuteru, Ueda, ""Nothingness" in Meister Eckhart and Zen Buddhism" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Spae, Joseph J., Buddhist-Christian Empathy. Chicago: The Chicago Institute of Theology and Culture, 1980
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, "Self the Unattainable" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, "The Buddhist Conception of Reality" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, "What Is the "I"?" in The Buddha Eye, edited by Frederick Franck. NY: Crossroad, 1982
Suzuki, Daisetz Teitaro, An Introduction to Zen Buddhism. London: Arrow Books Ltd, 1959
Waidenfels, Hans, Absolute Nothingness. Nanzan Studies in Religion and Culture, 1980
Yamaguchi, Minoru, The Intuition of Zen and Bergson. Herder Agency. Enderle Bookstore, 1969

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

"Finding God in All Things"

January 20th, 2012


Bonnie Johnson Shurman
Jan. 20, 1944-June 2, 2011

Bonnie Johnson would have been 68 today. I am among the many people who loved her and miss her kind and warm presence. She was an extremely generous woman and expressed her love as wife and mother,  daughter, grandmother and friend, in a way you could count on. 

More than a decade ago, when she was first diagnosed with leukemia, her husband Daniel Shurman told me that she was interested in doing the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, and asked if I could suggest a book that she could use. She did the Exercises and I was blessed to be her guide. But it was her enormous spiritual gift that allowed her truly embody the Teaching of Jesus, and then to share it with others, just as the Lord asks us.

During the years that her cancer remained in remission, she continued to explore the path that her Lord, through Ignatius, opened. She continued to live her life in prayer, exploring and digging further, following her own inspiration and gifts. This mystical bent was always balanced by the consummate professional, a scholar with common sense. 

She found a link between Ignatius and Julian of Norwich via an informal association of seekers who called themselves “the Friends of God.” She wrote about Julian, Ignatius and the Friends of God when she was studying at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is dated March 8, 2005. 

Thank you, Daniel for being the kind of husband who inspires, and for introducing me to Bonnie, To thank Bonnie for the gift of friendship, I am going to post the paper, “Finding God in All Things,” here.

We miss you, Bonnie. and your gentle presence. We are enormously grateful for the gifts you gave us. May you sing with the angels.

I have given this paper the same title as William Barry’s book: Finding God In All Things, A Companion To The Spiritual Exercises Of St. Ignatius (Barry 1991). I was reading the book when Julian of Norwich was assigned in class. The similarities between Julian’s writings and Ignatius’s were striking to me. Both Julian and Ignatius write of multiple sensory experiences with God occasioned by life-threatening illness. Before I understood that Julian was born 150 years before Ignatius, I considered that her visions, like mine[1], might have been delirious manifestations engendered by Ignatian-style guided meditations. When I realized that she lived long before Ignatius, I abandoned the paper I was writing on the general topic of asceticism to delve deeper into parallels, coincidences, and possible connections between these two late medieval mystics.

The theological proposition of this paper is that the writings of Julian in circa 1400 and the writings of Ignatius circa 1525 are representative of a distinct spirituality: God as Friend. God as Friend is a paradigm shift from the dominant spirituality from the 4th century: Deity of Christ; it is distinct though related to two paradigms which were soon to emerge in the reformation: Salvation by Faith Alone and Incarnational Participation. At the end of this paper I will argue that the paradigm of God as Friend is finding new relevance in our time, hence bringing a renewed interest in both Julian and Ignatius.

In my search for a “social network” connecting Julian and Ignatius, I learned about an informal group called “Friends of God” from one of the many websites devoted to Julian. The name for this “association of pious persons, both ecclesiastical and lay [also men and women], alludes no doubt to John 15:14-15[2] … Friends of God appears to have had its origin in Basle between the years 1339 and 1343, and to have thence extended down the Rhine even as far as the Netherlands” (Walsh 1909). I am skeptical that Julian herself had any direct connection with the informal network of German mystics, but there is indirect evidence at least that many of them had access to her writing. One version of Julian’s Short Text (the so-called “Amherst Manuscript”) also contains writings of Friends’ mystics Marguerite Poerete, Henry Suso, and Jan van Ruusbroec (Holloway 1997). The manuscript had been in the Brigittine Syon Abbey; it was owned by the Lowe family and through them found its way to the Low Countries and Rouen (Holloway 1996). While there is no direct evidence of who might have read it and when, there is enough indirect evidence to conclude that Julian’s ideas were circulating among German mystics following her death circa 1425. The German mystics influenced Ignatius through the Carhusian and former Dominican monk, Ludolf of Saxony (Gieraths 1986). Ignatius is known to have read and re-read a four volume Spanish translation of Ludolf’s Life of Christ and to have been profoundly influenced, even converted, by what he read there (Ignatius 2000, p. xiv; Loyola 2000, p. xiv).

The references to Julian’s writing in this paper come from a “Long Text” version translated from the manuscript found in the British Museum. As I read Revelations of Divine Love (Julian 2002), I noted about sixty passages expressing ideas similar to those found the Spiritual Exercises, far too many passages to discuss here.[3] I am concentrating on five concepts that point parallel notions of God as friend; in particular, I am limiting myself to the best examples that reveal similarities in their views of how people carry on friendship with God various media/modes. I use quotations from the work of each to document my argument that friendship with God is created and maintained through intimate communications which take at least five different forms: imagery, senses, colloquy, consolation/ desolation, and prayer. In the conclusion of the paper, I also point similarities in how they describe the nature of this friendship in their discussions of sin, love, goodness, choice, and the indwelling of God in our nature.


Communication is the sine qua non of any friendship. To have a concept of friendship with God, therefore requires that there be some form of media which constitutes that communication. For both Julian and Ignatius, imagery is the most important media and the Passion is the most important topic of that imagery. In examining Julian and Ignatius’s imagery of Jesus’ Passion, such in the illustrative passages below, it is easy to dismiss their perspective on friendship. After all “Body of Christ” imagery was a common theme of medieval piety yet friendship with God was not. I have little knowledge of other writers in the “Body of Christ” genre, so I cannot say that the friendship imagery of Julian and Ignatius is unique. What I observe in their imagery, however, is its intimacy. Both show intimacy with Jesus’ body; this use of imagery signals closeness, friendship.

… All the precious blood was bled out of the sweet body that might pass therefore, yet there dwelled a moisture in the sweet flesh of Christ as it was shewed (Julian 2002, p.). 

… Blood of Christ, inebriate me. Water from the side of Christ, wash me. Passion of Christ, strengthen me. O good Jesus hear me. Within Thy wounds hid me (Ignatius 2000, p. xlv).

Simply imagining another in a prayerful way can also create a close relationship with the one imagined with the need for conversation as we typically understand that term. A few months ago my husband and I were contacted by a friend to provide direction to on-line medical information for a friend of his with a rare bone marrow disease. We started to email with both Jim and his wife about Jim’s illness and potential resources in Palo Alto. Mostly we prayed intensely for Jim and also for his wife; we never spoke with them even by phone. When Jim died unexpectedly from a heart attack, both Daniel and I were devastated; we still cry at the thought of Jim. We had lost a dear friend, one whom we knew only through imagery, email, and prayer. It was a dramatic Julian-Ignatian lesson for me: I felt so close to this person and that closeness was entirely the product of my imagining his circumstances and my daily prayers for him. Knowing Jim in this way helped me to experience God in a fresh way; I learned how I can know God without human encounters just as I had known Jim without these encounters.

Imagery in Julian and Ignatius is not only visual, it is also multi-sensory.

I HAD, in part, touching, sight, and feeling in three properties of God, in which the strength and effect of all the Revelation standeth (Julian 2002, p. 197). And then shall we, with His sweet grace, in our own meek continuant prayer come unto Him now in this life by many privy touchings of sweet spiritual sights and feeling, measured to us as our simpleness may bear it (Julian 2002, p. 90). 

The Fifth contemplation will consist in applying the five senses to the matter. … seeing in imagination the persons, in contemplating and mediating in detail the circumstances in which they are… hear what they are saying… smell the infinite fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness of the divinity … touch, for example by embracing and kissing the place where the persons stand (Ignatius 2000, p. 45).

Communicating with one’s Godfriend goes beyond merely experiencing God through ones imagination and senses; both Julian and Ignatius converse directly with God. Throughout the Julian text, she is posing questions to God, and God is answering her, for example: “AND thus our good Lord answered to all the questions and doubts that I might make, saying full comfortably: I may make all thing well, I can make all thing well, I will make all thing well…”(Julian 2002, p. 61); the result of this is conversational. Ignatius uses the term “colloquy” to refer to conversations with God (and also with Jesus, Mary, and the Holy Spirit on occasions): “The colloquy is made by speaking exactly as one friend speaks to another” (Ignatius 2000, p. 24). These two examples exemplify a pattern of “shewing” vs “exercise” that I find over and over as a distinction between these two books: Julian shows her communication with God; Ignatius instructs the maker of the exercises to perform these same kinds of communications. Thus, “revelation” in Julian becomes “exercise” in Ignatius.

God has special kinds of communication with Julian that I would call, following Ignatius, “consolations” and “desolations.” In Ignatian spirituality, consolidations and desolations are the movements of the spirit—“internal movements” by which we can discern God’s will in our lives. Those making the exercises are taught how to listen or feel for these movements and thereby to guide their lives in accord with God’s will. Again, we see that Julian experiences these interior movements but makes no methodical use of them. Ignatius’s biography describes how he initially experienced them much as Julian did and then learned to put them to use in his own communications with God.

AND after this He shewed a sovereign ghostly pleasance in my soul. I was fulfilled with the everlasting sureness, mightily sustained without any painful dread. This feeling was so glad and so ghostly that I was in all peace and in rest, that there was nothing in earth that should have grieved me. …This lasted but a while, and I was turned and left to myself in heaviness, and weariness of my life that scarcely I could have patience to live. This Vision was shewed me, according to mine understanding, sometime to be in comfort, and sometime to fail and to be left to themselves. God willeth that we know that He keepeth us even alike secure in woe and in weal. And for profit of man’s soul, a man is sometime left to himself (Julian 2002). 

God alone can give consolation to the soul without any previous cause. It belongs solely to the Creator to come into a soul, to leave it, to act upon it, to draw it wholly to the love of His Divine Majesty (Ignatius 2000, p. 119 section 330). ...When one is in desolation, he should be mindful that God has left him to his natural powers to resist the different agitations and temptations of the enemy in order to try him. For though God has taken from him the abundance of fervor and overflowing love and the intensity of His favors, nevertheless, he has sufficient grace for eternal salvation (Ignatius 2000, p. 116, section 320).

On the topic of prayer, Julian and Ignatius could not be more similar. Yet, it is not as simple to point to parallel passages as with the preceding topics. For them, prayer is not just a “doing” – not just a message we send to God, in the form of a petition, for example. Rather, prayer is a way of being in which ones very foundation, ones “ground” is God and therefore prayer is fitting ourselves to that Ground of our being. Julian puts it this way:

OUR Lord God willeth that we have true understanding, and specially in three things that belong to our prayer. The first is: by whom and how that our prayer springeth. By whom, He sheweth when He saith: I am [the] Ground; and how, by His Goodness: for He saith first: It is my will. The second is: in what manner and how we should use our prayer; and that is that our will be turned unto the will of our Lord, enjoying: and so meaneth He when He saith: I make thee to will it. The third is that we should know the fruit and the end of our prayers: that is, that we be oned and like to our Lord in all things; and to this intent and for this end was all this lovely lesson shewed. And He will help us, and we shall make it so as He saith Himself; Blessed may He be! For this is our Lord’s will, that our prayer and our trust be both alike large. For if we trust not as much as we pray, we do not full worship to our Lord in our prayer, and also we tarry and pain our self (Julian 2002).

“Grounded in God” has several implications. First, that prayer is about the will of God and our place in that will. From this the next implication, only implicit in the statement above, that God is eternally present and has already “answered” our prayers in our very existence, our salvation, and in all that we enjoy: “The first is our noble and excellent making; the second, our precious and dearworthy again-buying; the third, all-thing that He hath made beneath us, [He hath made] to serve us, and for our love keepeth it. Then signifieth He thus, as if He said: Behold and see that I have done all this before thy prayers; and now thou art, and prayest me” (Julian 2002). Julian cautions us not to go looking for this or that way that God might have answered our small petitions, but to understand that God is answering even the prayers we have not yet asked. So how then should we pray? We should pray that “our will be turned unto the will of our Lord.” The true end of our petitions is that we become like God, indeed that we are at one with God.

William Barry describes the same understanding in Ignatius in his chapter entitled, “Grounded in God: The Principle and Foundation” (Ignatius 2000, pp. 33ff.). God is up to one action; we can experience the creative action of God which is always at work (Barry 1991, p. 39); Ignatius draws out the implications of our place in God’s one action in the Principle and Foundation: “We must make ourselves indifferent to all created things… Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a short life. … Our one desire and choice should be what is conductive to the end for which we are created (Ignatius 2000, p. 12, section 23). In other words, it is about God’s will; our prayer is our participation in that will. We are engaged in the world of God’s creating and God is already answering the prayers we have not yet made.

We have seen in both of these late medieval mystics a central concern with our relationship with God and how that relationship is continuously created through various media. The relationship is one of love. While both mystics write extensively on sin, theirs is not the sin of the medieval church or of Jonathan Edwards. Indeed, Julian comes as close as one might in her day to saying that her Church is misguided in its notion of sin and salvation (Julian 2002, p. 104). Ignatius’ first week of the Exercises is devoted to examining one’s sin, but the point is not to berate or belittle the maker of the Exercises. Rather, the grace of the first week is the experience of love. “Ignatius expects that God will reveal our sins in such a way that we will actually be consoled. We are to have an increase of faith, hope, and love, be moved to tears of sorrow for our sin, but also to tears of love for a God who has been so good to us” (Barry 1991, p. 51). The heart of the message from both Julian and Ignatius is the goodness of God, the love of God, and the freedom which God gives us in the hope that we will choose to put God at the center of our lives, and participate in God’s mission.

Both mystics are saying that we must look in the world and in ourselves to find God. Their piety is finding God in all things, starting with finding ourselves IN God. “For our Soul is so deep-grounded in God, and so endlessly treasured, that we may not come to the knowing thereof till we have first knowing of God, which is the Maker, to whom it is oned” (Julian 2002, p. 133). This is such a contemporary message; it is not surprising that both mystics are being read more in our time than in any time of the past, including their own.

I have argued here that both Julian and Ignatius provide us with kataphatic paths to relationship with God as friend, one in which we are constantly called to God’s mission, but never coerced or threatened. We are called to examine our own sins, not the sins of others; we communicate with God who already God loves us and forgives us already. This is a contemporary theme. These are mystics for our time.


Notes:

1 Since this is not a “personal reflection paper,” I will not discuss further my own experiences. Suffice to say that the parallels I find in Julian’s writings to my own experiences were the motivation for my choosing this topic.

2 “You are my friends if you do what I command you. I do not call you servants any longer, because I have made known to you everything I have heard from my father.”

3 References to “Pages” in Julian are to the original manuscript pages; references to Ignatius are to pages in the Vintage-Random House version with section numbers referring to Ignatius original sections.


References

Barry, W. A. (1991). Finding God In All Things A Companion To The Spiritual Exercises Of St. Ignatius. Notre Dame, IL, Ave Maria Press.

Gieraths, G. M. (1986). "Life in Abundance: Meister Eckhart and the German Dominican Mystics of the 14th Century." Spirituality Today 38 (August): Supplementary Book.

Holloway, J. B. (1996) The Westminster Cathedral/Abbey Manuscript of Julian of Norwich's Showing of Love. http://www.umilta.net/westmins.html.

Holloway, J. B. (1997) Godfriends: The Continental Medieval Mystics. http://www.umilta.net/godfrien.html.

Ignatius (2000). The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. New York, Random House.

Julian (2002). Revelations of Divine Love. Grand Rapids, MI, Christian Classics Ethereal Library.

Walsh, R. (1909). Friends of God. The Catholic Encyclopedia. Online Edition, K. Knight. 6.

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