Friday, September 25, 2009

Ignatius and Benedict

In wine making there is an intense period followed by a less intense, more gradual period of fermentation where the juice is converted into wine:  primary fermentation and secondary fermentation.  I've mentioned these in previous notes.   This activity of conversion or transformation has its rough analogy to spiritual life, although there are plenty of variations on this general movement.  William James, the psychologist that did early studies on spiritual development wrote of people that were "twice born" (having a rather dramatic spiritual awakening) and "once born" (those who had always sensed a spiritual connection in their life).

I've heard Ignatian spirituality contrasted with Benedictine spirituality as the difference between cooking with a pressure cooker and a slow cooker.   The Ignatian approach is systematic and employs imagination in meditations and devotional exercises in an extended intensive retreat to bring about change, commitment, and greater clarity in God's call.  However, there are modifications that can adapt Ignatian spiritual exercises over a much longer period of time than the intense eight day or thirty day retreat.   But there is a systematic and intensive focus on transformation that was part of Ignatius of Loyola's purpose in developing the 16th century Spiritual Exercises.  And Ignatian exercises primarily focus on the individual's spiritual life.  There are adaptations to community spiritual discernment, but it is more individual-oriented.  There was a time, especially in my mid-20's to early 30's, where the spiritual ferment was rapid and intense.  The tools I tended to employ in my spiritual life were more akin to Ignatian exercises, although I wasn't exposed to that particular tradition until later when I was studying Christian spiritual traditions and had contact with a spiritual director.

Benedictine spirituality is a community-based long-term shaping of its members so that they might become a "school of Christ's service."  The 6th century Rule of Benedict, drawing upon but moderating other monastic rules has been the basis for western monasticism to this day.  It has its influence beyond the monastery through retreatants seeking quiet and the rhythm of the daily prayer offices.   Some of these retreatants become regular visitors and later friends of the monastic community and find ways where the Rule influences their lives outside the cloister.  I'm in a vowed relationship as an oblate of St. Gregory's Abbey, a Benedictine community of men within the Episcopal Church, in Three Rivers, Michigan.  Having a relationship of 30 years with that community, reflecting on the Rule, and applying this spiritual tradition to my life has influenced and aided that slow, steady, process of spiritual deepening for me. 

Does this description of spiritual life bring up questions or comments about your own experience and thinking?

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