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April 2016 Vol 55 No 2
Elected Silence

“The Thing Has Been of God”: Ignatius’ Experience of God’s Confirmation in His Autobiography

Those who analyze the process of discernment often focus on the decision-making element—and this is important. However, in any good discernment, a decision is not only made but also confirmed, and this confirmation has received less attention. Kevin Leidich finds in the late Cardinal Martini’s reading of Ignatius’ Autobiography five criteria which illuminate the process of confirming a discerned decision.

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Fostering a Contemplative Stance: An Ignatian Exploration

Since the personal journey of the exercitant is taken so seriously in making the Spiritual Exercises, the outcome of that process is as varied as the exercitants themselves. Yet it can be argued that they will always share a deepened contemplative stance, a way of approaching the world and the decisions that it demands. Brian O’Leary suggests what this stance might look like, and how it might best be supported.

Being Attentive to Silence

Many of us live in a world where silence is at a premium, difficult to achieve and still more difficult to sustain. Yet almost all spiritual guides, whether they are contemplative or active in outlook, consider silence something to be prized. Meredith Secomb, a trained clinical psychologist, draws on her clinical experience to suggest why this might be so, and how the value of silence might best be built upon.

Spiritual Conversation as the Practice of Revelation

Within Ignatian spirituality, spiritual conversation is not confined to explicit talk of God. It is rather a tool for allowing the exchanges between two people to deepen and focus on whatever is currently most important in the lives of one or other of them. For Luz Marina Diaz this remains a means for God to be revealed as active in the daily lives of those who speak together.

Only a Witness to Speak for the Light: Simone Weil and Her Option for the Poor

Simone Weil was one of the great spiritual writers of the twentieth century, living a life as radical as her writings. Both included what would come to be known in later church teaching as an ‘option for the poor’. Jane Khin Zaw shows here how Weil came to see this lived option as offering a sounder basis for human well-being than the promotion of human rights alone.

Remembering as a Crucial Spiritual Tool: Pierre Favre’s Spiritual Life According to the Memoriale

Among his first Jesuits, Pierre Favre was thought by Ignatius to be the best director of the Spiritual Exercises. He left a collection of reminiscences, the Memoriale, recording his awareness of the gifts that God had given him in the course of his life. Here Jos Moons considers what this document can tell us about the act of remembering as an important practice promoting spiritual growth.

Where Healing Streams Meet: A Danced Retreat

The implication of a phrase that is often used as a brief summary of Ignatian spirituality—‘finding God in all things’—is that God is indeed present in everything, waiting to be discovered. A retreat can be an experience of meeting God in unexpected people, events, or practices. Sue Topalian reports from a danced retreat, showing how those involved came to know God better through their shared experience.

Jesus at the Feast of Tabernacles: A Reflection on the Human Struggle of Jesus

In the seventh and eighth chapters of John’s Gospel, the evangelist offers an extended account of a visit that Jesus made to Jerusalem during the festival of Tabernacles. At this visit, his words and actions provoke controversy, and lead Jesus into a fierce debate with his opponents in an attempt to justify himself. For Ruth Evans, this offers important insights into the humanity of Jesus.

From the Foreword

Elected silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS’S poem ‘The Habit of Perfection’, of which this is the first stanza, appears to speak of renunciation. Hopkins works his way through the senses, and urges restraint upon himself in the use of each one. This impression is amplified by Evelyn Waugh having used the phrase Elected Silence as the title of the UK edition of Thomas Merton’s autobiography (called in the USA The Seven-Storey Mountain), which describes how Merton turned his back on a busy New York life to become a Trappist monk. This is silence as giving up, a setting aside of what is perceived to be the normal state of noise and motion.

Ignatius of Loyola was wary of his closest followers being tempted too much by this kind of stillness. It is true that he wanted them to be contemplatives; but, essentially, they were to be contemplatives in action, often immersed in the bustle and movement of city life. The spiritual path that he developed is designed to feed such engagement. It finds a place for a chosen silence, but uses it to draw on resources that can then be brought into apostolic engagement. This issue of The Way traces some of the ways in which this process operates.

For Brian O’Leary, the experience of the Ignatian Exercises results in a contemplative stance towards all that follows, which will have a profound influence on whatever decisions are made subsequently. Jos Moons finds just such a stance in the writings of Pierre Favre, one of Ignatius’ earliest and closest companions, which enabled him to focus upon the gifts received from God. It is the recollection of these gifts that provides the motivation for further engagement with a busy and often conflict-filled world. In her study of two central chapters of John’s Gospel, Ruth Evans shows how Jesus himself could not escape such involvement with conflict and controversy.

Two very different articles suggest ways in which the encounter with God at the silent centre of ourselves might be built upon. Perhaps counter-intuitively, one good way in which we can best attend to our quiet God is in music, and in dance that responds to music. Sue Topalian explores the possibilities of this in her account of a danced retreat. Meredith Secomb views the topic through the lens of clinical psychology. Here, silence can be used very directly to help us focus on interior movements that might otherwise easily be overlooked. Such close attention can lead to the kind of confirmation of discerned decisions that Kevin Leidich explores in Ignatius’ Autobiography.

Understanding the world in these ways means that silence and speech are not opposed to each other, requiring the renunciation of one in order to be able to engage in the other. They are, rather, complementary moments in an ongoing dialogue, through which God can choose to reveal Godself. Luz Marina Díaz shows how this can happen when two people are consciously engaging in spiritual conversation of the kind promoted by Ignatius. The life of Simone Weil, philosopher and convert from Judaism, demonstrates the same idea more graphically. Jane Khin Zaw writes about her combination of a strong commitment to intellectual rigour with living out solidarity with the poorest in society.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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