Earlier this month I participated in my first ever retreat, called “The Retreat in Daily Life.” It was a week-long retreat which took place in tandem with my work day; 30 minutes of prayer on my own in the morning, complemented by 30 minutes of scheduled discussion with a spiritual guide in the afternoon at my nearby church.
The retreat was designed to help participants put the exercises of Ignatian Spirituality into practice. This form of contemplative prayer, which uses one’s imagination and senses to meditate more deeply on Scripture, asks us not only to recognize God in every aspect of our lives, but to come to know Jesus intimately as a friend: one with whom you can converse, at any time.
Within the first couple days of this experience, it became clear to me that I had found something deep, unique, and revelatory. The biggest revelation was this: Jesus really is my friend. He really is always present. And to reach Him – as if I were a sage or mystic – is really not all that mystical or even difficult.
Find God in All Things First
Ignatian Spirituality- named for St. Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits – maintains a few tenets, one of which is that God is in everything, everywhere. On the first day of the retreat I prayed for “gratitude and wonder that I have been invited into the Mystery that is God’s ongoing creation.” I prayed the Wisdom of Solomon 11:21-12:1, which states that God’s Spirit “is in all things.”
That morning as I looked around my home I asked myself if I believed God is in all things. If true, that means that God made the stars, and loves them, and also made me – and loves me. Of course what we know of God is that He loves His children above all other creation, which means He loves me more than all of the stars in the entire universe. I held that image in my mind: the contrast between the limitless, glowing, expanding universe, full of stars and explosions, and me, His child that He gave His life to save. He would choose me – and you – over the stars any day.
Looking at God, Looking at You
To pray in the Ignatian way, one must place oneself in the scene of Scripture enough to experience it with all the senses: the heat of the sun, the movement of the water, the smell of the candle burning. When we meditated on Jesus healing the leper, it was almost too much for me and I understood the Scripture in a new way: I am the leper.
As the week and the mediations progressed, little bits of knowledge came through. Whether hearing St. Paul ask the Romans “If God is with us, who is against us?” (Romans 8:31) or being reassured by Isaiah, “Fear not,” (Isaiah 43:1-7), I gained a deeper understanding of God, myself, and our relationship.
For the first time, the things I had been hearing my whole life had real, personal meaning: God only wants what’s best for me. He created me out of love, and knows me perfectly. Nothing can be done to earn God’s love, because it just is. Above all, He is always present for me.
Jesus Is a Conversation Away
Before experiencing this retreat, I realized I did see God as farther away, as if He were remote and I was unable to give Him the proper credit due for really being omnipresent. I had mistakenly thought it was me waiting for Him. Turns out it is the other way around, and He is the one waiting.
That is why it’s not difficult to become an “armchair mystic,” accessing Jesus at any moment. Jesus is delighted in our presence. He is thrilled to know we are showing up and listening. This form of prayer challenges one to put into action the beliefs we take for granted, and by doing so, truly come to know Him.
In making the choice to enter into a close relationship with God, we free ourselves to be just who He created us to be, which is the ultimate form of worship. With Lent approaching, it is a good time to consider taking a retreat or spiritual study that allows you to make the choice to be truly close to God— whether in the Ignatian tradition or otherwise— and in the process, learn more about who you are, as God made you.
If you are unable to spend the time or resources on a trip away, there are many convenient retreats offered online. Searching “online Ignatian retreat” yields multiple results; here’s one to get you started.
As with all spiritual seeking, the purpose is to grow closer to God, no matter which approach you take. How wonderful that the mystical experience of knowing God personally is only a prayer away.