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July 2018 Vol 57 No 3
Tools and Techniques of Spiritual Growth

Striving for Perfection or Growing into Fruitfulness

Any understanding of spiritual growth will be influenced by the images chosen to illustrate it. Is this growth more like climbing a ladder to ever-higher states of perfection, or slowly unfolding as a developing organism does? Christopher Chapman explores this question through the lens of four stages of organic growth.

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The Light of Consciousness and the Light of Christ

Meredith Secomb is a clinical psychologist who has reflected deeply on the challenge of human suffering. In supporting her clients as they deal with with difficult experiences, she has found that in the experience of silence they find a luminous core within themselves, and that this in turn leads them to God. Here she describes this process, and considers its meaning.

St Teresa of Jesus, Mental Prayer and the Humanity of Jesus

St Teresa of Ávila advocated mental prayer for her Carmelite sisters at a time when this laid women open to suspicion from the Church authorities. Joanna Farrugia explains why this was important to Teresa, and how it was inextricably linked for her to a life dedicated to loving service of others.

Ecology and Ignatian Spirituality

José Antonio García believes that the need to care for the earth transcends different religious and cultural traditions, but that each of these traditions can make a distinctive contribution to the work that must be done. In this short essay, reproduced from the online Jesuit journal Thinking Faith, he outlines what Ignatian spirituality might have to offer to this work.

Confessors and Parents

It is common in gatherings of middle-aged Roman Catholics, to hear parents questioning why their children no longer go to Mass or ‘practise the faith’. Does this mean that the older generation has failed in its duty of upbringing? George Wilson suggests that the question is a much more complex one than it would appear at first sight, and so should not be given such a simple answer.

The Riches of Our Human Poverty: Insights into the Mystery of the Trinity from Ruth Burrows

Ruth Burrows in a mystic and writer who has lived as a Discalced Carmelite nun for over 75 years. Her autobiographical writings reveal how it has been her sense of her own poverty and need that has, over the decades, led her to share ever more deeply in the life of the Trinity. Michelle Jones traces this life-long journey.

Pierre Favre: 'Everywhere There Is Good to Be Done'

Pierre Favre was the ‘third man’ of the early Jesuits, the close companion of Ignatius Loyola and Francis Xavier during their studies together at the University of Paris. Yet it would take the advent of the first Jesuit Pope to get him canonized. In this second article reprinted from Thinking Faith Edel McClean introduces a Jesuit who is still relatively little-known, focusing on his distinctive approach to ministry.

Transcendence and Immanence II: Ignatian Spirituality

In this second of two linked articles Rolphy Pinto shows how profoundly the experience of immanence and transcendence affects the language that human beings use in speaking of God. The two poles of this experience can be felt to be in tension, a tension with St Ignatius worked in an apostolic tool that he called ‘spiritual conversation’.

Godly Play - An Ignatian Way of Proceeding with Children?

Godly Play is the name given to a series of linked techniques by which children are helped to engage with, and reflect upon, the scriptures. Brenda Leigh Timmer, who employs Godly Play in her Methodist ministry, finds parallels between them and certain aspects of Ignatian spirituality. ‘It is not Godly Play, however, unless all involved expect God to come and play’.

Hell and the Image of God.docx

The fifth exercise of the First Week of St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises takes the form of a meditation on, or contemplation of, hell. Eric Jensen asks how we can, in a world that is culturally and theologically so different from that of the sixteenth century, still use this material in a way that will be profitable for a contemporary retreatant. The parable of the Prodigal Son offers him a way to approach this task.

From the Foreword

T HERE ARE, PERHAPS, two ways of getting any human approach to God wrong. The first is to believe that it all depends on me. Unless I pray at the right time, using the correct words and adopting a suitably reverent posture, I will have no chance of entering into God’s presence. The other wrong path is just the opposite: to hold that it is all down to God and there is nothing special that I need to do. The truth of the matter is that prayer at its best, like any good conversation, requires all who participate to play their part. I can trust that God is wanting to do all that it takes to get in touch with me; and there is a range of tools and techniques that I can use to help foster an encounter with God. Some of these tools and techniques are considered in this issue of The Way.

Meredith Secomb begins from what might seem like an unpromising starting point: the experience of human suffering. In her clinical practice as a psychologist, she has found that if she can help her clients sit quietly with their painful experiences they will make contact with a luminous core within themselves, a core that is itself deeply in touch with God. George Wilson also considers a painful experience, that of Christian parents whose children appear to have rejected their faith. He finds in it a call to deepening trust—in God, in the disappointed parents themselves, and in the children whom they have raised. Brenda Leigh Timmer employs a technique called ‘Godly Play’ to help younger children enter more deeply into the scriptures, in a way that recalls some of the patterns to be found in Ignatian spirituality.

A key aspect of Ignatian spirituality is the practice of spiritual conversation, a tool that Ignatius himself used to draw people further into the experience of God and which, as Rolphy Pinto shows, he commended to his followers. One of the earliest to deploy it, to great effect, was a companion of Ignatius, Pierre Favre, whose relatively little-known life is described here by Edel McClean. Even meditating on hell, as prescribed in the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises, can lead retreatants closer to the God who is love, as Eric Jenner demonstrates through his reading of the parable of the Prodigal Son.

The Carmelite tradition has its own tools and techniques to help people encounter the living God. Teresa of Ávila encouraged her sisters to engage in mental prayer, even though at the time it laid them open to the suspicion of heresy; Joanna Farrugia explains why this was so important to her. Michelle Jones shows how the awareness of her own emptiness and poverty, sustained over many decades, has led the contemporary Carmelite Ruth Burrows ever more deeply into sharing the life of the Trinity.

Today any worthwhile spirituality is challenged to develop tools that will help those following its path to care more fully for the earth and for the whole of God’s creation. José Antonio García outlines one way in which this may be achieved. Creation itself furnishes images of spiritual growth and development that are, in the eyes of Christopher Chapman, much richer and more fruitful than some other, more mechanical and hierarchical, ways of picturing the process.

Paul Nicholson SJ

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