The Jesuits and Why I am a fan.

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For about 6 months now I have been absolutely enjoying Jesuit spirituality.  It has broadened my horizons and pushed me into new territory the longer I study it.

What is Jesuit spirituality, you ask?  It is an approach to Christian faith that is founded on the work and thought of St. Ignatius of Loyola.  He was a Spanish soldier who took a cannon to the legs, shattered one and badly injured the other.  In the 1500s, the means for recovery were rather crude and painful but in that time of bedridden reflection, he decided to imitate the lives of the saints and even dared to be a better saint than them.  In his pride, he sought to be the best, but in that desire he learned humility and eventually did join the rank of the great saints.

James Martin, SJ is a Jesuit priest who wrote The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything.  This book captivated me and spurred me on to dive into Ignatian spirituality for myself..

There are, as Martin describes it, four main emphases to Ignatian spirituality.  They are…

  1. Seeing God in All Things
  2. Cultivating Freedom and Detachment
  3. Living in an Incarnational Way
  4. Being a Contemplative in Action

These four tenets spoke deeply to me.  Indulge me as I share why…

Seeing God in All Things – This is about deliberately overcoming the dualistic approach that says some things are spiritual and other things are not.  This pursuit of seeing God in all things is about looking for and seeing the Divine in that which is mundane, or human, or just generally the last place we would look to see God.

Cultivating Freedom and Detachment – Freedom and Detachment as an emphasis is about living in such a way that we are free from all entanglements and have learned how to have a healthy detachment to our things, our titles, our professions, etc.  This approach of cultivating freedom and detachment enables us to answer in every moment “what does love require of me in this moment?”

Living in an Incarnational Way – Christian theology loves talking about how Jesus was the unique embodiment of God in Man.  The two, which are often held at polar opposites, existed at the same place at the same time.  If we are able to believe that God was man, then we can believe that we are both holy and human, “without confusion, division, separation or change.”  Being holy does not negate being human, and being human does not negate being holy.  The Incarnation was a game-changer of thought, and I think its implications are still being revealed.

Being a Contemplative in Action – I have personally had an affinity for the mystics, for the contemplatives, and the saints of Church history.  I find their perspectives to be refreshing and surprising at the same time.  However, Ignatian spirituality is about being a contemplative in action, a mystic and contemplative who is then happy to do the gritty work in the world to make it a better place.

I have a working theory that western Christianity has focused too much on theology and “correctness” that it has trouble implementing spirituality (or even being comfortable with it).  The next generation of millennials is already here, and they largely identify as spiritual but not religious.  The Church may choose to be offended by this, or they can see their response as an implicit critique.  Religious structure has been overemphasized to the deemphasis on Christian spirituality.  I believe there are a few reasons for this.  Off the top of my head, I can think of three.

  1. Theology is more safe than spirituality, there is no need to be vulnerable when dealing with theories.
  2. Spirituality is more comfortable with nuance than we are.
  3. Theology does not always lead to personal transformation.

I should probably note that I have studied systematic theology for years now and that the bulk of my personal library is full of books of dense theology and philosophy…  But after engaging the saints, mystics, and contemplatives these past few years, my library is starting to balance out.  Ultimately, this is a good thing because to do theology and spirituality separately or one at the expense of the other is missing the point.  So, with that being said, let us seek to do both well.  Just like St. Ignatius of Loyola.

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