Read an Excerpt
I know of no publishing house that has ever offered to reimburse a buyer who remains dissatisfied after reading one of its books. I think Loyola Press could safely make the first such offer with Inner Compass.
If asked, “What is the subject that interests you most, and on which subject do you consider yourself most ignorant?” the true answer for all of us is “Me.” If any readers recoil from this answer, they might ask themselves, “Do my ears prick up if I pass a group of people and hear them mention my name?” “Have I ever felt anxiety while awaiting the results of an examination, whether academic, medical, or vocational?” “When looking at photographs, some of which include me, do I give equal attention to every photograph?” “Do I spend as much time looking at other people as I spend looking at myself in a mirror?” “Why this disproportionate interest in me if I really know myself?”
Inner Compass looks at the most fundamental questions that concern every human being, whatever their race, culture, religion, or state in life. “Where are you?” “How are you and why?” “Who are you?” These fundamental questions were explored by St. Ignatius Loyola, a sixteenth-century Basque, in his book the Spiritual Exercises, which offers methods of discovering for oneself the answer to these basic questions. A friend of Ignatius, Jerome Nadal, on being asked for whom the Spiritual Exercises were suited, answered, “For Catholics, for Protestants, and for pagans”! Inner Compass is similarly suited.
I am very familiar with the Spiritual Exercises. Overfamiliarity has not bred contempt, but it does tend to breed boredom with books on Ignatian spirituality. In reading Inner Compass, I was never bored for a moment, but delighted in following Margaret Silf’s journey of exploration today, using the landmarks that Ignatius offered four hundred years ago. They are landmarks, not pillars supporting an immovable shelter in which all readers must find refuge. The book encourages further exploration and provides a variety of exercises at the end of each chapter so that readers can make discoveries for themselves.
Inner Compass is lucidly written, down-to-earth, free of jargon, and full of hope and encouragement. Ignatius wrote his Exercises as a way of helping us to see and find the will of God. Finding the will of God can sometimes feel, in the author’s words, “like playing darts on an invisible board.” In this book she helps us to find the will of God within our own hearts, a will that is never directed to only our individual benefit, but always to the well-being of all peoples and of all creation.
Gerard W. Hughes
The Salad Bowl
Not long ago, I was invited to attend a friend’s induction as vicar of his new parish. After the service, his new parishioners had put on a marvelous feast in the church hall. The trestle tables were set out with all kinds of goodies. The congregation streamed out of the church and into the hall. The place became alive with conversation, and, as so often happens at these gatherings, within ten minutes the laden tables were almost bare . . . except for one large bowl of rice salad, which remained untouched in the middle of a long, empty table. I happened to notice this salad, and my heart went out to the person who had brought it as a love-offering. How hurt and saddened that person must be feeling, I thought. And my second thought was, “Why has nobody eaten it? It looks so appetizing and inviting!”
Then it became obvious why the salad stood deserted and untouched after the feast was over. There was no spoon. The fact hit me like a sledgehammer that night. I realized that the salad bowl was telling me something about the Church. It, too, is sometimes like a bowl of salad, full of what people are so longing to receive, so hungry for. But where is the spoon? Shall the treasure remain forever on display, the inaccessible centerpiece of an empty table? Do God’s people really have the means to eat the food he prepares for them, or is it wrapped in the cellophane of doctrine and set high on the top shelf of theology? And are they too well trained to dare to mention the problem?
No one can know the mind of God. Yet surely he, like us, is saddened and grieved when his hungry children stand empty-handed at his table because “the Church” has provided no spoons for the salad. Let us not complain; let us rather remember that we are the Church, and that it is up to us, his people, to make the feast accessible to all, in whatever ways open up to us.
I can add nothing to the salad. I venture only to offer a little spoon. And I can do that only because others have been “spoons” for me in my own hunger for the living bread. They have made it possible for me to share in the feast.
Before You Begin
This book is a companion for your inner journey. Take it gently, and enjoy the landscape as you go. Don’t rush at it like a fell runner, intent on breaking the land speed record. The more you savor the journey, the more you will benefit from it.
Some people like to take their walks alone. If you are journeying alone with this book, take the walk in your own good time, stopping wherever you feel the urge to do so. Feel the bark of the trees, dip your fingers in the stream, gaze at the sunset for as long as you wish. It will probably be unhelpful to try to journey through more than one chapter at a time, and you may find that it suits you better just to explore one small section. Pick and choose from the suggested exercises at the end of each chapter. Stay with any that appeal to you and leave alone those that don’t. You can safely trust your own sense of inner resonance to show you what is for you and what is not. You may find that the material in the book can offer you spiritual companionship through a sustained, home-based prayer journey or retreat within the context of your daily life.
Solitary travelers can, however, become lonely and disheartened and can sometimes lose their bearings. You might find it very helpful to find a companion with whom you can share your experience from time to time—a trusted friend who is on your wavelength, perhaps, or even someone you do not yet know personally but who is willing to walk alongside you as, together, you seek to discern where God is for you on your inner journey. To find a “soul-friend” may seem a daunting task: my advice is to look around your own circle of friends and fellow believers to notice any among them who are clearly people of prayer themselves (it usually shows, if you are observant, and it may not be the people you would expect). Approach such a person and explain very simply what you are looking for. They may be very happy to walk beside you themselves or to recommend someone else who could be the right companion for you.
Other people prefer to journey in groups. If you are using the book as the basis for a faith-sharing group, you will find that each chapter will give you material for the equivalent of one full day of reflection, with time to follow up some of the suggested exercises in a prayerful atmosphere. Optionally, you might share your reactions and responses with other members of the group. This sharing of experiences between trusted friends is perhaps the most valuable exercise of all. The facilitator should ensure that everyone in the group has an opportunity to share to the extent that they wish to do so (no coercion, please). And it goes without saying that complete confidentiality within the group is an absolute must: this requirement needs to be made clear from the outset.
When sharing spiritual experience like this, simply allow each person to contribute, leaving a respectful few moments’ silence between one speaker and the next. There should be no interruption or discussion (since this is a journey of the heart, not an exercise of the head), and no attempt to “correct” anyone’s views or to offer advice. The truth that underpins this kind of faith sharing is that each person’s experience is wholly and unquestionably valid and is offered as a gift of trust to the others. The aim should be that all come away from the encounter with increased confidence in their own experience and a deepened sense of their own unique value before God and to their peers. Remember that when we open our heart’s experience to each other in trust, we are entering on holy ground, where there is no place for comment, criticism, or correction, but only for a response of loving acceptance. On this holy ground, God-in-you is listening to God-in-the-other.
If you are using the material for shorter faith-sharing meetings, you may prefer to use just one or two sections at a time. The chapters have subdivisions, each with its own heading, to give you a guide. It will be helpful if participants have an opportunity to read the material for themselves in advance of the group meeting, and perhaps to use it as a focus for personal prayer. The group leader should, ideally, be familiar with the whole book and have a sense of its shape and purpose before beginning the program. The suggested exercises can then be evaluated in light of the needs of individual group members. One model is for a facilitator to summarize the material at each meeting and then let participants use it for personal reflection over the subsequent week, so they can share their reflections at the start of the next meeting.
It is important that the material be used in the order given, since it follows the dynamic of the Spiritual Exercises and each chapter builds on the reader’s familiarity with what has gone before. However, it is not a commentary on the Spiritual Exercises, much less a way of actually making the Exercises. Having said that, a number of the participants in two pilot programs have gone on to make the full Exercises in daily life, under personal direction, and have found Inner Compass to be a valuable preparation for this encounter. A national and international network of Ignatian faith-sharing groups and Christian Life Communities exists to help people who wish to take their journey further in this particular way.
You may like to structure your meetings around shared prayer, possibly with appropriate music. A few helpful book titles are also suggested as recommended further reading.
If at all possible, encourage your group to be ecumenical. You will quickly discover, if you haven’t already done so, that when people begin to share the deeper reaches of their hearts’ journeys, the denominational divisions fall away without any compromise of the genuine variety of riches between different traditions. The truth unites, and this is a journey toward truth. You will discover this most fully if your group is nondenominational and open to people who are not aligned to any established church tradition at all.
How many people make a group? Where there are two or three gathered, there is a group, and there is God among them. At the other end of the scale, you may find that if numbers go above twenty, it would be wise to split into two or more smaller groups. If intimate faith sharing is central to your meetings, a maximum number of about six is more appropriate.
And where to meet? Do try to find a congenial space. Often it is good to meet in each other’s homes when the group size permits. Church halls and school classrooms are not comfortable on the whole, and tend to be loaded with denominational bias or negative memories. In Stoke-on-Trent we have been very fortunate in enjoying the hospitality of the local Franciscan community for one of the groups, and we have met in our own homes with the other. You may find that a local religious community would welcome your approaches.
Finally, on the practical side, do keep costs to an absolute minimum. The whole ethos of daily life faith sharing and spiritual journeying is that it should be freely accessible, especially to those people who lack the time, the money, or the freedom of circumstances to make formal retreats. Freely you have received; give as freely as you can. Quiet days, or simply quiet hours, can be arranged in each other’s homes at no more cost than a pot of tea or coffee. Encourage everyone to bring a contribution for a potluck lunch or supper, and you will be surprised at what interesting meals come together. If you use other premises or invite outside speakers, simply ask each participant for a small contribution toward a donation to your hosts or to reimburse your guests’ traveling expenses.
The two original (ecumenical) pilot groups still meet regularly to share their journeys and to become a resource for others. They join me in praying for every blessing upon your journey.
New Introduction to the Tenth Anniversary Edition
The request to write a new introduction for this second edition of Inner Compass triggered a minor earthquake in my memory. I wrote the text for Landmarks (the original UK title of the book) back in 1997, and I wrote it by accident. Readers perhaps assume that books are the product of a deliberate process of planning and execution, but Inner Compass was not.
I had attended a daylong workshop in Ignatian spirituality led by Gerard Hughes, SJ, of the British Province. I had already been very much formed and influenced by Ignatius and the Jesuits, and, like all the participants that day, I was eager to hear Gerard Hughes’s talk. After the event, a few of those present expressed a desire to follow up on some of the topics that had been raised, and I was asked to help them do this. The result was a series of quiet days in which I shared something of my own “take” on issues such as discernment, desire, and detachment and encouraged people to discover what these things meant for them in their everyday living.
And so, quite accidentally (though in God, perhaps, there are no accidents), the first draft of Landmarks gradually came to be written, to support these quiet days. Titled Inner Compass in North America, it was conceived and grew out of questions rather than certainty, discovery rather than doctrine, the experience of everyday living rather than academic study. It was the fruit of personal experience, reflected upon in the light of the wisdom of St. Ignatius of Loyola. No one has been more surprised by its warm reception on both sides of the Atlantic than its author.
Since then, the world has turned upside down. We have lived through the devastating impact of 9/11—a day that shifted the human psyche to a place no one had ever imagined it would go. Clerical scandals have rocked the Roman Catholic Church in Europe and America. Deep divisions have opened up worldwide, in all traditions, between the “liberal” and the “conservative” approach to Scripture and to social issues. The Iraq War has divided minds, hearts, and nations and raised questions that will not go away about the moral legitimacy of any violent action to resolve disputes or gain power.
Today we are witnessing an accelerating breakdown of trust in many of our institutions and a dangerous polarization among world faiths. Suddenly “religion” is high on the agenda. People who have never thought about religious matters before are thinking about them now. Everyone has an opinion. And yet we feel more lost and afraid than ever before.
So, it seems, we face insuperable problems in our times. Einstein once wisely reminded us that we can never solve a problem using the same mind-set that created it. If we are to move beyond the current apparent impasse in our growth and toward the fullness of our humanity, we need a new mind-set. But more than this: we need a new heart. Perhaps never before have we so urgently needed a “compass,” tossed as we are on these high seas of political, moral, social, and spiritual turmoil.
There have been shifts and changes in my life as well since the book was first published. People sometimes comment, with kindness and unwarranted generosity, that the book changed their lives. Well, it changed mine too! Something that was initially written by accident actually switched the points on the railroad of my life. I found myself drawn into a much more public place than my off-the-scale-introvert personality would ever have believed possible. I too was being challenged ever more deeply by the Christian vision, especially as mediated through the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. I have traveled through my own kind of dark night, in both my personal life and my spiritual life. Many of my old “certainties” and assumptions have disappeared, and I have irrevocably departed from my comfort zone. I am learning to live with the questions and uncertainties and, as I do so, to trust that the mystery we call God will continue to hold and shape me, and the universe, and the questions.
In all of this, what, if anything, would I want to add to, or subtract from, the introduction to the first edition of the book? Essentially, I think, there are two things I would want to add.
The first would be a personal testimony. Through all my own upheavals of recent years, the centrality of the gospel journey into which Ignatius guides us so skillfully has become more and more clearly focused. I have found a clarity at the heart of the matter, and unending space for discovery around the edges. Sometimes we reach a point at which we know that if we go any further, we will either lose our faith or break through to a new dimension of faith that goes beyond creedal believing to authentic personal trust. Like Indiana Jones, we come up to the edge of the abyss, and there is no bridge. Only when we step out with one foot into the yawning chasm of unknowing does the bridge appear. For me, Ignatian spirituality has been a major component of that bridge, and I am immensely grateful for this solid ground, this firm “principle and foundation” in the midst of shifting circumstances both in my life and in the world.
The second addition would be an observation from my meetings with so many twenty-first-century pilgrims and searchers about the remarkable convergence of their questions and the wisdom of St. Ignatius, in spite of the five centuries and huge cultural differences that separate us from him. The sheer practical power and the spot-on psychology of the Ignatian tools and guidelines provide truly accessible ways forward in addressing so many of the questions that real people in the real world are asking. Questions such as What is my life about? Where is there any solid ground in the heaving landscape of contemporary life? How can I deal wisely with the overwhelming array of choices that confronts me? How can I become a more truly human being? Isn’t there more to life than just surviving?
Finally, when I wrote Inner Compass, I had never been to America. That particular gap in my education has now, happily, been remedied! My rather black-and-white European preconceptions about North America have been heavily challenged by the live encounter. I have discovered, for example, that religion carries a very different weight in North America than in Europe, that the level of theological awareness among many laypeople is extraordinarily high, and that Americans and Canadians neither sound nor think alike. And I have learned a fair bit of “alternative English,” as well as how real coffee should taste.
It is truly said that travel broadens the mind and shrinks the globe. Some folks across the pond have become cherished friends and wise professional mentors. I am especially indebted to my colleagues and friends at Loyola Press; America magazine; the Bethany Spirituality Center, in Highland Mills, New York; the Mercy Prayer Center, in Rochester, New York; the FCJ Centre, in Calgary; and also to Joe Tetlow, SJ, John Veltri, SJ, and Jan-Erik Guerth, of BlueBridge, for both their work and their personal encouragement.
All these and many others have helped me in the search for my own inner compass and guided me in how to use it. Today, more than ever, I realize that I can’t take a single step without it. It isn’t something that any book can give or any friend or mentor can supply. It is a gift of grace, an invitation to internalize something of the mind and heart of Christ in our struggles to live true to God’s dream within and beyond us. All that a book can do is point out some of the landmarks along the way and invite readers to discover their own unique path into the fullness of life. My hope and prayer is that we may all move daily closer to that destiny, guided and empowered by the spirit of Jesus of Nazareth and assisted by the insights of his good friend Iñigo.
The Invitation . . .
Is made out in your name.
But who are you?
Who is this person who feels drawn to explore the spiritual treasures that lie within you?
Yes, within you . . .
Not in some closet in the sky or the bishop’s office.
Not in some divine database, to which only the elect hold the password.
But in you.
Jesus said it himself:
“The Kingdom is very close to you. It is in your heart.”
Six centuries before Jesus a Greek philosopher who rejoiced in the name Empedocles said something else that might interest you.
“God,” he said, “is a circle whose center is everywhere and whose circumference is nowhere.”
Now, there’s a thought to ponder.
Because that “center” is in every human heart—recognised or not.
That “center” is in you. It is the very essence and heart of who you are.
It is WHO YOU ARE.
And the circumference is “nowhere” because God has no edges, no boundaries, no limits.
If only it were so easy! If only that “WHO-center” were obvious and accessible, and if only we could steer our course by it, knowing truly that God is in all things and all choices, seeking to draw the more life-giving outcome from all we do.
But that innermost circle is wrapped up in other layers that are not always so clearly of God. A bit like the parcels we sometimes make up for each other, with a small but precious gift wrapped up in layers and layers of wrapping paper and string.
The outermost layer of wrapping is what we might call the “WHERE” of ourselves and our living—those things we can’t change, or not very easily: our family and culture, our state of health and level of education, our strengths and our weaknesses, our history. It’s in this layer that we spend most of our time—out here on the edge of ourselves. And unlike God, we do have an edge—sometimes a rather sharp one—and we do have limits.
But if we can move inwards a bit, we get to a rather deeper layer, that we might call the “HOW” of our living. Here we have choices. We may not be able to change our circumstances but we have a choice about how we respond to them. We may have no choice about who we get as family or work colleagues, but we can choose how we will relate to them. And, as we shall see when we set out to navigate by the inner compass of our WHO, where God abides, every choice makes a difference.
And so we arrive deep in the WHO center. Not everyone has the courage to go there. There is glory, sure, but there is also shame in that center. To be truly there, before God, we will be invited to take off our protective masks and allow ourselves to be known—and loved—just as we truly are. That encounter with the living God may challenge us way beyond our comfort zone. But it will be the most important adventure of all, because it is what we are all about.
Your WHO-center is the place where God is growing God’s unique Dream in you.
The invitation is to discover that Dream, and to live it.
Meet Your Guide: St. Ignatius of Loyola
In my day job, I am writing a programmer’s guide on how to overcome the problems in computer date management when we enter the next millennium. How come, then, I am sitting here reflecting on the ways in which the insights of a man who lived 450 years ago in a remote Basque village in northern Spain affect the way in which we relate to God today, on the threshold of the twenty-first century? I sometimes think that my PC will give a little shudder of culture shock when I expect it to process my thoughts on the problems of two-digit date notation and the search for my deepest desire at the same time.
This coming together of two worlds apparently so far removed from each other is perhaps in itself a pointer to some of the treasures that are ours today through the legacy of Ignatius Loyola and the Society of Jesus, which he founded. If we can imagine his browsing through this book, or sitting among us as we explore these questions together, he would quite likely be smiling to himself and muttering something about “finding God in all things.” He would find it completely normal and healthy that we should be searching to deepen our relationship with God in the midst of life as we really live it—up to our ears in work or lack of it, mortgages, children, and mess. He would be delighted to find that most of us are laypeople, as he was when he was making his own journey of discovery. He would surely welcome the fact that we come from many different church traditions or even from none at all. And he would be more than tolerant of the checkered histories we may have behind us, remembering the excesses of his own misspent youth. Most of all, he would recognize the love of God that is burning inside each of us, that is always leading us onward, like a beacon, toward deepening our relationship with him, because this would reflect the experience of Ignatius’s own heart and the source of his prodigious energy.
So who was this man whose life and discoveries are still affecting our own journeys so fruitfully? Before we begin our journey proper, let’s indulge for a few minutes in a time shift that takes us back to the age when Europe was in a similar kind of between-age turmoil to the one we are experiencing now. This new age isn’t just causing havoc to our computer systems but also seems to include a heightened awareness in people everywhere (whether they call themselves religious or not) that there is more to life than the mere management of our days to achieve comfort and security in the shifting landscapes of our lives.
Iñigo Lopez lived at the time when the world was coming painfully and violently out of the Middle Ages. The mere facts of his life can be summed up in a few sentences; its content was to be infinitely more far-reaching. He was born in 1491, the youngest of a family of thirteen, in Loyola, in the Basque region of northern Spain. When he was fourteen, he was sent away to train as a royal page to the king of Spain and was introduced to the ideals of chivalry and knightly service. As he grew older, he developed more than a passing interest in women, both those far away in his daydreams, and those who were temptingly accessible. The last thing on his mind during these years was his spiritual journey or the inner movements of his heart.
His life swerved around a big bend during his mid-twenties. The favor that his employer, Don Juan Velasquez, had enjoyed in the royal court came to an abrupt end at the death of the king. As a result, Iñigo himself was unemployed, and chastened by his experience of how quickly and easily the power of riches and influence can disappear. With a parting gift of a few hundred crowns and two horses from the widow of his former employer, he had to set off into the unknown and start again.
The next phase of his life was in the household of the duke of Najera, who employed him as a gentleman-at-arms. Iñigo learned to use weapons and helped to put down rebellions. His military training under the duke brought him, four years later, to a place called Pamplona, where he commanded a company defending the fortress there against a French invasion. The defense had become futile and defeat was a certainty, but Iñigo was stubborn to the limits and absolutely refused to surrender. The price of his resistance came in the form of a cannonball, which shattered his leg and broke his right knee. His days as a soldier ended on a stretcher; he was transported in agony and humiliation across the mountains to his family home in Loyola.
It must have seemed like the end of the line. Probably most of us can identify with that drained, empty feeling of being at the end of our dreams and our resources, or helpless in pain or immobility, either in body or in mind. We can imagine how it might have been for this young man, in the prime of his life, to lie a helpless invalid, wracked by pain, with nothing but his broken dreams for company. So daydreaming is just what he did.
Having asked in vain for some lively romantic novels to read, Iñigo had to make do with what the castle could offer, which turned out to be a Life of Christ and a Lives of the Saints. This stricken and disgruntled patient spent his time between reading and daydreaming of all that might have been, had his injury not robbed him, in a stroke, of both his future as a soldier and his attractiveness to women.
Daydreaming! Ironic that this man whose military skills and leadership potential were so remarkable should have come down to us, most powerfully, as a daydreamer. But Iñigo’s daydreams held a potent secret. They had, locked up inside them, the key to the gift of discernment. And how did Iñigo discover for himself this key that was to open up a gold mine in his heart?
As the tedious, pain-ridden days passed, Iñigo indulged in two kinds of dreaming. On the one hand, he still dreamed of the battles he would command, the military glories he would achieve, the noble ladies he would woo and win. But they were the dreams of “what might have been,” and though they raised his spirits for a short while as he enjoyed the fantasy, they left him, in the longer term, feeling flat and disconsolate.
On the other hand, fired by the books he had been given, he started to dream of a King whose service was potentially even more desirable than that of the king of Spain; he began to wonder how this Christ King might be served; he began to dream of outsainting the saints in this great new quest that might be worth spending his life on. They were still daydreams, but he noticed an important difference in their aftereffects. These dreams left him feeling inspired, energized, and eager. They were not about what might have been but about something that still lay dormant in the depths of his own heart, like a seed that had been mysteriously germinated and was pushing its way to the surface of his life through all this heavy soil of pain and disappointment. These were dreams that didn’t go away.
It was into this realization of the difference between daydreams and God dreams (as we might call them) that the gift of discernment was given to Iñigo. It was there that he discovered what we might call the “inner compass” of his heart, which was able to reveal to him which movements within him were capable of engaging his deepest vital energy, and which were leading him only to fleeting satisfactions that left him unchanged and unfulfilled. As he lay there in his enforced stillness and solitude, he learned to notice his moods and feelings and reactions and to measure them against this unseen compass. In his inner silence, he listened with fresh awareness to an invitation coming from deep inside himself to enlist in the adventure of the service of God.
As he ventured more and more deeply into the stories that were inspiring his new kind of daydreaming, he was also finding a new way of exercising his imagination. He began to find himself, in imagination, present in the scenes, conversations, and stories of the Gospels, and he began to participate in the plots of these stories. It was the start, for him, of an adventure into imaginative prayer that was to become a most powerful catalyst for the growth of his personal relationship with God, a method of prayer that is just as vividly available to us today.
On his sickbed, Iñigo experienced deep conversion. Gradually, after many setbacks, he limped his way back to life, but it was never again to be the life that he had known before; the cannonball had blown that life to pieces. Now Iñigo was a pilgrim of God, to whom he was ready to offer all his ideals of knightly service, courage, and persistence. The next step was to tell his family . . . and, as for so many who have walked this path in their own personal ways since then (including, surely, many of you who are reading this book today), this wasn’t easy! Against a backdrop of pressure to use his skills and gifts to bring honor to the family name and help maintain the family property, Iñigo made his excuses and left, with neither he nor his family knowing with any certainty where he was headed. Iñigo—the nobleman, the soldier, the fearless defender of Pamplona—had become Iñigo the pilgrim.
The first stage of the pilgrimage—that search for the “I know not what” that was urging him onwards—took Iñigo to the Abbey of Montserrat, high on a jagged mountain peak overlooking the plain of Manresa. Here he desired to make a full confession of the sins of his earlier life and begin again. His confession is said to have taken three days to make, and he received absolution from one of the monks there. He exchanged his nobleman’s dress for the simple outfit of a poor pilgrim and made a night vigil of prayer. He gave his clothes to a beggar and his mule to the monks. He left his sword and dagger behind as an offering at the altar and as a sign that he had exchanged his life in the service of the world’s values for one committed to the service of God.
As the new pilgrim made his way down the hill of Montserrat to the plain below, his mind must have been full of the experience of his conversion, his confession, his vigil, and the advice he had been given by the monks on the life of prayer. To all this new experience, he surely applied the ways of discernment that he had discovered in his dreams at Loyola. He felt the need to stay awhile, in quiet, to reflect on all that had passed and everything that God seemed to be showing him through it. He also made some notes on his reflections. And so it happened that, instead of going straight to Barcelona as he had intended, he settled in the nearby town of Manresa for “a few days,” which stretched into eleven months. In Manresa, the next stage of his life took shape.
Determined to live true to all that he had promised God in Montserrat, the proud and self-willed Iñigo now faced a life of begging for his daily food, while submitting to the relentless mockery of street urchins who were probably better dressed and cared for than he was. Living out the high dream of the mountain when he was down on the plain in the heat and dust of everyday reality proved to be, for him as for us, a constant struggle. He treated himself harshly, but he never forgot the agony of his own long sickness at Loyola, and he turned that memory into service by trying to help the sick in the hospitals of Manresa. He prayed until prayer became part of his every waking moment. At last he found a cave near the river where he made himself a desert home. That cave was to become a space where his love and understanding of God would deepen beyond anything he could have imagined, where he would receive insights that remain fresh and valid for us today, and where, very important for us, he was to capture the fruits of his conversion, his prayer, and his reflections in written form.
Perhaps inevitably, given what a good thing was gestating in his heart, Iñigo also fell victim to the onslaught of negative movements, or “false spirits,” as he would have called them. He suffered endless self-recrimination about his sins, real and imagined. He experienced dark depths of despair and came close to taking his own life. It was, perhaps, a black time, shot through with golden streaks of insight and passionate commitment to God, or it was a golden time of spiritual growth and maturing, shot through with the darkest shafts of doubt and despair. Either way of looking at it may find its parallels in our own experience—we have those times in our lives that are at once fraught with struggle and alight with the flame of our hearts’ desires.
From Manresa came a man who had freely bound himself in joyful service to a king called Christ. He had been so opened to the inpouring of the Holy Spirit that he was able to interpret his own experience in a way that has universal validity and significance. The fruit of this experience and the wisdom that it engendered is recorded in an unassuming little book called the Spiritual Exercises. Iñigo’s notebook was to become a guide, based entirely on his own experience, on how to become increasingly sensitive to God’s action in our lives, how to discover and live true to the very deepest desires within us, how to make decisions that reflect God’s indwelling presence in the innermost freedom of our hearts, and how to join our lives consciously with the life of Jesus, God-made-man, through the living spirit of the gospel.
It would be nice to record that Iñigo went from strength to strength in his life of discipleship. Of course, it wasn’t so. How could it be? We all know, too well, that things are never like that. Iñigo’s dream of serving God in the Holy Land was intractably vetoed by the authorities there. His travels were overtaken by ill health and near shipwreck. His attempts to help others by sharing his Exercises in spiritual conversations brought opposition from the Church, which eventually subjected him to the Inquisition, and the secular authorities, who among other things threatened him with a public birching. Injustice, humiliation, and betrayal became his familiar companions, but they were carrying a hidden gift: through them he came to realize that his desire to be with Christ was stronger than his desire to avoid the indignities and disgraces that the world and the Church meted out to him.
Despite all this, the word companion became central to Iñigo’s life. In Manresa, Iñigo had already begun to share his experiences with a few friends who showed interest in his Exercises. He used his own notes as a guide to helping them. This continues to be the way in which the Exercises are used: as a guide to a director, mentor, or soul-friend in helping another person discover, through prayer and reflection, God’s action in his or her life.
Iñigo’s ministry of companionship grew stronger when he became a student in Paris, belatedly trying to acquire the academic qualifications that would overcome the objections the Church raised against his speaking to others of spiritual matters without ecclesiastical authority. He was eventually ordained in 1536 at the age of forty-five and adopted the name Ignatius. Before this, though, he and his friends in Paris, Francis Xavier and Peter Favre, were to deepen their friendship into a bond that forged them into the first Jesuits, as together they formed the Society of Jesus. By 1534, this little group of companions had grown to seven, and on August 15 of that year they bound themselves into an embryonic religious order. On that day they shared the Eucharist together, made their vows, and then celebrated . . . with a picnic!
Over 450 years separate us from that inconspicuous event on the outskirts of Paris. For the first seven Jesuits, there was surely no sense of disconnection between the deep seriousness of their commitment to God and to each other and the simple, exuberant joy of their celebratory picnic. Among the many riches that have come down to us from that small group of friends, we might focus on that coming together of all that makes us human: our searching and desiring, our failing and falling and fun loving, our shipwrecks and our picnics.
Just as my computer accepts all that comes, whether it be ancient spiritualities or problems of binary notation, so our inner journeys, surely, are about all of us, just as we are, with no arbitrary demarcations between work and prayer, between secular and spiritual, or between God and “real life.” Ignatian spirituality is about finding God in our lived experience and allowing him to transform that experience, through his Spirit, for ourselves and for the whole human family.
The explorations in this book, like Ignatius’s own, also began as a response to groups of friends who wanted to come together to share their search for God. Like his, they are carved out of personal experience—some of it joyful, some of it painful, all of it lived. They are offered in the spirit of Ignatius in the hope that they may provide a few landmarks in the mysterious and sometimes hazardous terrain of our hearts, as we make the journey inward toward the pearl of great price that lies both at our own deepest center and far beyond our wildest imaginings.
On a journey we use landmarks to give us a point of recognition. We notice something we recognize—some feature of the landscape—and it locates our position: “Yes, I recognize that! So I must be somewhere around there.” They give us confidence that we are not completely lost. They help us to find our bearings and discern the direction for the next stage of the journey. When we are in unfamiliar terrain (and life, for all of us, as we move into the future, is unfamiliar terrain), landmarks help us to locate ourselves and encourage us to keep walking. Something outside ourselves—something that everyone can see and recognize (even though they may see it from a different perspective and give it a different name) relates to precisely where we are. It places us, as individuals, within the wider landscape.
Maps and guidebooks would do just as well, you might say. And when it comes to the spiritual journey of our hearts, there is no shortage of maps and guidebooks, ranging from the “Go this way, or else!” variety of creed and catechism, to the “Fifty ways to climb the ladder of perfection” sort. The thing they all have in common is that they can be read in an armchair. They can all teach you how to swim without getting wet.
Landmarks won’t let you do that. They are of no use at all unless you are on the road! They are effective only in that they connect where you are, in your own lived experience, to a point of recognition and orientation, for your own story and for the whole human story.
I remember once smiling over a particularly colorful description of a walk by the late A. Wainwright in one of his mountain walk guides, which included the bizarre instruction to “turn left at the third hawthorn tree.” This unlikely piece of wisdom made a gentle mockery of all the intricately drawn maps in the book. That third hawthorn tree just had to be discovered. It was a clue on a treasure hunt, and it demanded not only that I actually make the walk but that I do it now, before the number and arrangement of the hawthorn trees should change beyond recognition. It was information distilled from his own walking of the path, and gladly, exuberantly, shared with me, his reader and fellow walker. The excitement of his own discovery infected me with the desire to make my own. It felt both personal and universal, rich with the paradox of a season ticket valid only for the present moment.
Landmarks, like hawthorn trees, are also useful only when there is some light to see by. Even people who are on the way and committed to following the right path will encounter times of obscurity and darkness when the evidence is hidden or the signals are mixed. Inner Compass also explores ways of developing the skills and resources needed for those times when we walk by faith and not by sight.
Perhaps the landmarks in this book share something of the quality of Wainwright’s third hawthorn tree. You may recognize them, though you might not call them by the names I know them by. I hope they may help you find your own way to the greater treasure beyond the clues and encourage you to use your own inner compass with confidence and trust. But you won’t find them until you take the risk of losing yourself, by setting out and by keeping going, in the timeless urgency of the present moment. This kind of journey is not for “pillars of the Church.” It is for “people of the way.”
Where Am I? How Am I? Who Am I?
Before we begin to explore the particular ways in which Ignatian spirituality can help our inner journey, we need to take a look at our inner landscape, to establish our bearings and see where we actually are. That is the purpose of this chapter, and to help in this locating exercise, I ask you to imagine three concentric circles.
We might call the outermost ring the Where circle. Its perimeter represents all those things in my life that I cannot change: my natural family, my genetic makeup, the place and culture into which I was born, my upbringing, my education, all the things that have already happened to me, my natural giftedness and my inborn shortcomings, my health and my disabilities. These things form the givenness of my life; they are the facts of my existence. They are, quite simply, where I am. Not only can I do nothing to change them, but they occupy almost all of my consciousness and my energy. Whether I like it or not, I live here, on the outside edge of myself, for most of my waking hours.
Now let’s move inward to the second circle. I call this my How circle, because it is the area of my life where I can exercise some choice. Here things happen to me, but I can choose how to respond to them. I can accept or reject, condone or confront, go with the flow or stand up to be counted. I can make personal relationships and take personal initiatives. Every minute that I live changes the kaleidoscope of events that bombard me, and every choice I make subtly but certainly goes toward making me how I am. Choices turn into habits, and habits become character. And this process goes further than the boundaries of myself. My choices, my habits, and my character make subtle but certain changes to the “how” of the whole human family. My choices for truth make the world more truthful. My betrayals of my own integrity undermine the integrity of all.
For many people the journey stops here. They live in a world where events happen to them, and they make choices about how to react to those events. A few take the risk of going consciously into the innermost third circle, the circle of Who.
When I move inward toward the center of myself, I move closer to the person I most truly am before God. This is dangerous ground. As I begin to see who I am—truly and without protective masks—I may find serious discrepancies between the person who lives in the Where and the person God created me to be, in my deepest self. I will find shame, but I will also find glory. I will move closer to the God who dwells in my heart, and the encounter will challenge me in ways I cannot predict. This is the power of prayer. It is the risk of the inner journey.
Growing the Godseed
Now imagine that the circles have sprouted leaves and flowers. These are not just for decoration. My own experience tells me that when I make the journey inward, or, rather, when I allow God to penetrate my center—what we commonly call our “heart”—a powerful creative act takes place. I call it the germination of my “Godseed.”
What exactly is a Godseed, and what causes it to germinate? As Christians, we talk about God as being both immanent (present to us, individually and collectively, in our hearts and in our human experience) and transcendent (utterly beyond our reach or imagination, totally “other” and without limits). My Godseed, I believe, is nothing less than the immanent God at rest in my heart, waiting to be expressed in an act of germination, of resurrection.
How does the germination happen? There are countless ways, and we can never pin God down by trying to define how God will act. One way of visualizing this mystery is to notice moments when we seem to be in contact with something, or someone, beyond ourselves; it may feel like a tangent touching the outer circle of our lives. We know, at times like these, that something has happened that is different from the normal run of our daily lives, though not separated from it. We might feel as if we have been touched by God. It could have happened in all sorts of ways—through intense communion with nature or in a human relationship, in a moment of deep insight that seemed to come from beyond ourselves, or perhaps in a sudden clarity that showed us the way forward in a particular situation.
When these moments happen, we could say that God has not only “touched” us but has somehow “taken root” in our lived experience. That touch of Life will, if we allow it, penetrate down through the layers of our experience until it reaches the center. There, the transcendent God who touched us will join with the immanent God locked up, like a seed, in our hearts, and something new will grow from that union. We could imagine a flower (or plant or bush or tree) that will be the unique manifestation (or incarnation) of God that is ours, and ours alone, to bring forth. If we do not bring it to birth, it will not come to birth. If we do, it can become the realization of God’s dream for us. It is the inner mystery of ourselves that is already known—that has always been known—to God, that he is longing to bring to fulfillment.
Bringing God’s dream for us to birth is the amazing vocation of every believer. We might reflect at this point on Mary’s response to the Annunciation and acknowledge that moment in ourselves when God asks, “Are you willing to bring me to birth in your own life?” and our response is, “Let it be done to me according to your will.”
Prayer as Sabbath Time
Suppose, then, that germination has happened. How can we bring God’s dream to reality? I suggest that we can cooperate in this act, consciously and deliberately, in prayer, because prayer takes us to our Who center. Through prayer we allow God to nourish our Godseed, and we ourselves are nourished by it. The profound understanding and reverence the Jews have for the Sabbath can help us to see prayer in a different perspective. For the Jew, the Sabbath is not for the sake of the weekdays; it is not an interlude for recreation to enable us to work all the harder during the week. Rather, the weekdays are for the sake of the Sabbath. The Sabbath is not just a break in the pattern of daily life but the whole meaning of it.
In the same way, prayer is not just a means of sustaining us through our linear journey (though it does that, too) but is itself the reality of our journey. It is not primarily a calm interlude in our day, a “quiet time,” but the very essence of our being. When we are at prayer, we are most truly who we are, and we are at prayer whenever we are really “living true.” In later chapters we will look at how to recognize and foster this state of living true.
Seen in this light, prayer is time taken out of the linear journey of our days, and it is also our most profound reality. When we pray, we move inward to our God center. Then we move out again, back through the layers of our How, to our Where situation in the world. This movement into the center and out again brings about an act of transformation. This is not to say that we will come out of prayer transfigured, like Jesus on the mountain (though our prayer experience may sometimes be dramatic). Nothing so spectacular! Usually there is a subtle, gentle, almost indiscernible change in our way of being that will carry its healing, changing power out through the layers of our lived experience and infuse the Where of our lives with its Kingdom values. This happens every time we pray, whether we are aware of it or not.
When we open ourselves to God in prayer, we invite him to enter our Who center, bringing the gifts of the Spirit into the heart of our lived experience, with all its problems, pain, and sin. As the transforming work is done, the Spirit in turn carries our needs and longings, and the needs and longings of all those for whom we pray, back to the heart of God. These are not just flights of wishful fancy. These are the promises God made to us, through his Son, and our lived experience testifies to their truth and their validity.
Before we leave the circles (which are only convenient images to try to capture something of what it is to be a believing human being), you might like to look at a few variations on what it might mean to deepen our perception of things from the outermost, surface level of response to the deepest responses in the center of ourselves, such as:
• the deepening of mere pleasure and pain through happiness and unhappiness, to joy and sorrow,
• the deepening of prayer itself from vocal or liturgical prayer through personal confession and meditation, to contemplative union with God,
• the passage from the transience of mere feelings, through the fidelity of faith, to the fact of God’s unchanging love,
• the movement from being a person to whom things happen, through the realization that we can influence what happens, to the acceptance of personal responsibility for being an event who happens to others,
• the movement from obsession with our immediate wants and fears through the acceptance of responsibility in community and relationship, to the intimacy and trust of nonpossessive love.
In each of these contexts (and I’m sure you can think of many more), you will notice an outer layer that could be compared to the Where experience, a deeper layer corresponding to the How response, and an innermost center accessible only to our Who reality.
This deepening, from Where through How to Who is the hallmark of all personal prayer—perhaps especially so in the Ignatian tradition, which encourages us to begin by finding God in the ordinary outward things of our lived experience and to allow that discovery to draw us down to his deepest meanings for our life and growth in him.
The “Weeks” of Our Hearts
In his Exercises, Ignatius invites the pilgrim to follow a framework of prayer that he divides into four “weeks.” These are not weeks of the seven-day variety and are not intended to map onto calendar weeks. Rather, they are phases or stages through which the pray-er will move, following this framework, and everyone who “completes” the Exercises realizes that “in the end is the beginning.” A person coming to the end of the Fourth Week of prayer may well discover, for example, frequent reconnections to the prayer of the First Week.
It is one of the hidden graces of the Exercises that we get in touch with these many different “weeks” within ourselves, in the inner movements of our hearts, and that we come to realize their total interconnectedness. We don’t have to progress neatly from fallenness to resurrection in our life with God. The pattern of redemption isn’t a straight line or even a wavy line. It isn’t even really a circle, because each time we reconnect to our beginnings, the connection is different, and the circle is redrawn in a new and different way.
This pattern, which sounds so mysterious when we attempt to describe it in words, is actually as simple and as beautiful as the earth itself. On the surface and above, there is the weather. It is constantly changing, yet each kind of weather bears its own gifts—some welcome, some less so. Sometimes the weather is extreme and out of order; sometimes it is moderate and balanced. In its unreliability it feels just like us, with our moods and feelings.
Then there is the layer of topsoil, very much influenced by our “weather” but more stable and carrying the Godseed for germination and growth. This is our heart soil, where God is growing his Kingdom.
And under the soil is the bedrock. Whenever we go deep in prayer, or into relationship with God and with each other, or into the mystery and meaning of things, we will eventually come up against this hard rock. It can feel like the solid door of a locked room. There is no way out, no way in. It is so dark that we don’t even rightly know whether we are trying to get in (to a treasure chamber) or out (of a prison cell). Maybe both. Yet God is the bedrock, just as he is in our weather and in our soil. The rock is his unwavering holding of us, the solid foundation without which we would sink into the quicksand. But it is also the hard rock that shatters us when we fall upon it and that breaks us open, as it broke God himself upon the cross.
That rock opens up, from time to time, in our inner vision—glimpse-wise and terrifyingly—as it did when Jesus uttered, “It is completed!” and as it does for us sometimes in the dreadful movements of our inner earthquakes. From the silent, secret shafts of burning light that occasionally streak through prayer or dream, we know that beneath the bedrock is an ever-blazing fire. This is the molten center of ourselves, the source of our passion and energy. Like our surface weather, it is sometimes wild and disordered, sometimes creative and life-giving. This same inner fire is also the fire of God at the heart of all his creation. Sometimes we dread it, because it has the aspect of the flames of hell. Sometimes we long for it, because it seems to be alight with the very splendor of God’s eternal presence and the radiance of heaven.
These four layers—the weather, the soil, the rock, and the fire—are also vivid images of the four “weeks” of the Exercises:
• The weather of ourselves, our moods and feelings, our dependency on God, our finiteness, our unreliability, and our fragmented nature are all topics for the prayer of the First Week. Now rain, now sunshine, storm, and glory, our life’s weather is insubstantial in itself, yet it is affected by the deepest movements of our hearts, and affects every other creature on the earth. It reveals the brokenness of sin, spanned by the rainbow of an unconditional love.
• Then the soil of our growing, learning, listening, sitting at the feet of the Lord, imbibing his goodness; sharing in his earthly ministry; becoming, in him, the person we truly are; taking root, following our deepest desire, striving up to the light, being pruned and tended . . . the Second Week.
• Then the splintering, shattering rock. The breaking open and the breaking down. The Calvary journey, with the Lord and in ourselves . . . the Third Week.
• And then, the earthquake of “It is completed!” Earth splits open, and its heart fire flows free, consuming and destroying or quickening and energizing. It destroys all that is not truth and transcends truth into life. The fire of the Spirit breaks open the locked space of the tomb in the Fourth Week.
And in the end is the beginning. The explosion of resurrection energy at the heart of things changes the surface weather forever, and the weather affects the soil, and the roots of our Godseed touch the bedrock of God’s love, and the cycle continues, but always differently, always uniquely. And when all cycles are fulfilled, the Kingdom is.
The Search for Freedom
Finally, a word about freedom. We will be looking at what “inner freedom” might mean in more depth in a later chapter. However, while we are with the circles, it is worth noticing what inner freedom does and does not mean in terms of our journey to the Who center.
The temptation is to seek freedom by moving from one spot on the Where circle to another. I suppose I would be free (and therefore, fulfilled and happy) if I were not in this place (in this relationship, in this job, etc.), and so I will seize my freedom by moving. What happens, if we do this, is that we exchange one unfreedom for another. We uproot our Godplant and expect it to flourish better elsewhere.
A second possibility is to move not sideways but inward, into the Who center, taking all the pain of our unfreedom with us and allowing ourselves to be “dipped in God” (as D. H. Lawrence describes it). Then we will return to the same place on our Where circle but in a transformed way, however slightly. The result will be to make that part of our Where a little bit more free.
This is not to deny that a change of circumstances can sometimes be necessary and beneficial. But it is to say that real and permanent change and transformation happen in the Who and not in the Where of ourselves. Changing the Where may well free us from something that we find oppressive or destructive, and sometimes that may be a necessary stage in our journey. But the deepest purpose of transformation is to free us for something, and that something is nothing less than the coming of the Kingdom, our own personal resurrection, and the resurrection of the whole human family.
Suggestions for Prayer and Reflection
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man named Joseph, of the House of David; and the virgin’s name was Mary. He went in and said to her, “Rejoice, so highly favored! The Lord is with you.” She was deeply disturbed by these words and asked herself what this greeting could mean, but the angel said to her, “Mary, do not be afraid; you have won God’s favor. Listen! You are to conceive and bear a son, and you must name him Jesus. He will be great and will be called Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his ancestor David; he will rule over the House of Jacob for ever and his reign will have no end.” Mary said to the angel, “But how can this come about, since I am a virgin?” “The Holy Spirit will come upon you,” the angel answered, “and the power of the Most High will cover you with its shadow. And so the child will be holy and will be called Son of God. Know this too: your kinswoman Elizabeth has, in her old age, herself conceived a son, and she whom people called barren is now in her sixth month, for nothing is impossible to God.”
“I am the handmaid of the Lord,” said Mary, “let what you have said be done to me.” And the angel left her.
Try to imagine yourself as part of this scene. Paint a picture in your mind of the surroundings, the houses, the fields, the village, the weather, the sights and sounds and smells of the place. Are you a bystander, or alongside Mary, or are you alone there?
Imagine the arrival of the angel. Hear his words. Notice your reaction. Ask God to open your heart to hear and understand anything God may wish to reveal to you, personally, in this scene. Be still, and let his meanings arise unobstructed to your consciousness, and respond to them in whatever way feels right for you.
Use a sheet of blank concentric circles and fill in anything you find helpful about your own personal Where circumstances or about the way your How circle is forming as a result of decisions you have made in your life. Make a note of those things you cannot change and face your feelings about them. Look back over the past day, or perhaps the past week, and recall any moments of decision. How did you react to them? Where do you feel that your choices were made in a you-centered way, and where were they God centered? How do you feel about them now? You may like to tell God, in prayer, how you feel about them and show God anything you would like to change.
Recall any events or relationships in your life when you have tried, or wanted, to achieve “freedom” by moving to a different point on the Where circle. Did you find the freedom you were seeking? Do you recall any times when you have stayed in a difficult situation, perhaps feeling imprisoned? How did you respond to that situation at the time? Would you react differently now? Bring your memories, including any regrets, to God, and show him, without fear, how you are feeling. Ask him confidently for healing and for the freedom you are seeking.
Reflect on god’s dream for you, the fruit of your Godseed, which is rooted in your relationship with him, in your Who center, but blossoms and bears fruit in the Where of your life. Let yourself be, in imagination, the flower (or plant or tree) that you are becoming. Now let yourself be in the roots. Feel them pushing down, deeper and deeper, toward the groundwater and God. Feel the sap rising through you, thrusting its way to fulfillment.
Can you recall any moments when you have felt touched by God in the kind of way that has brought your Godseed to life? Remember these moments now in prayer and thank God for them. Ask him to show you how they have indeed been bringing about the fulfillment of his dream for you.