Ignatian Spirituality and Wesleyan Spirituality

Reverend Francis RitchieSpiritual Disciplines1 Comment

Ignatian Spirituality

As someone who fits within the tradition of Wesleyan spirituality, for quite some time now I have been weaving prayer exercises that are central to Ignatian spirituality into my own spiritual rhythms and disciplines. I have found wonderful crossover between these two traditions and Ignatian practices have helped deepen my appreciation of the Wesleyan distinctives that captured me when I first encountered Wesleyan thought. It’s about more than practices though; there are some deeply shared worldview understandings. This is not to say that there are not or would not be elements of disagreement between the two traditions, but I have found much from one to enrich the other.

For those unfamiliar with it, Ignatian spirituality sits at the heart of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), a Roman Catholic order founded by St Ignatius of Loyola. The core of Ignatian spirituality is St Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises. For brevity I won’t go into the history and detail of the Exercises. For more, check out IgnatianSpirituality.com – a service of Loyola Press.

Prayer elements of the Exercises have been a regular part of my life for a while. Lectio Divina, which originated in the early Church, was systematized within the Benedictine tradition in the 12th century, and is an important part of Ignatian spirituality, has given me a way to prayerfully approach scripture in a way other than my more natural analytical approach. The same goes for Ignatius’ imaginative form of reading, most specifically with the Gospels. The prayer of Examen has given me a way to both look for the fingerprints of God throughout my daily existence and to examine myself in light of the life God calls me to.

I have never undertaken the full 30 day retreat to completely immerse myself in the Exercises as it would not be practical to do so. That said, I have wanted to undertake a form of the retreat in some way. A few years ago, with that in mind, I purchased Larry Warner’s book, Journey with Jesus, which is an adaption of the exercises based on St Ignatius’ 19th annotation that allowed for ‘A person of education or ability who is taken up with public affairs or suitable business’ to set time aside each day over a longer period to work through the Exercises. Journey with Jesus allows for the person using it to go through the exercises across a 9 month period of daily prayer in partnership with a spiritual director/listener. I have been intending to do this since I purchased the book and 2011 and I finally began it last Wednesday (Ash Wednesday). I won’t be providing a blow-by-blow account of my experiences here or on social media as it is a private journey.

What I do want to highlight is where Ignatian spirituality and the Exercises cross over with, and deepen my Wesleyan understanding and approach to life, faith and spirituality.

Journey with Jesus begins with Preparatory Exercises, recognising that one needs to be prepared before entering into Ignatius’ formal Exercises. Many people have struggled with the formal Exercises so it is recognised that there is some ‘ground work’ that can be undertaken first. The focus of the Preparatory Exercises in Warner’s work is enabling the participant to open up to an assurance of God’s love and grace.

That assurance within Ignatian spirituality corresponds with one of the foundations of Wesleyan spirituality that much else flows from. One of the famous lines from John Wesley comes from his experience of salvation as he was listening to a preacher at Aldersgate Street. At the time Wesley wrote in his journal about an experience he had on May 24th, 1738 in a Moravian Chapel on Aldersgate Street, London:

‘In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.’

He went on to say in that same journal entry that he was now always conquered by grace.

I believe that an assurance of God’s love and freely given grace and salvation is the beginning of both Ignatian and Wesleyan spirituality. Without it, the revelation of our fallen self and the accountability that comes with it in the Ignatian exercises and in Wesleyan holiness and mutual accountability, would be a horrifying and damaging struggle. It’s also recognised that it is this love that compels us into action.

Next is an honest account of our fallen humanity, revealed to us through the Spirit. This is a significant part of the Spiritual Exercises and ongoing honesty of the prayer of Examen, and therefore it is a significant element of one’s discussions with a spiritual director/listener. It was also a central element of Wesley’s small groups where people would discuss their short-falls and hold one another accountable to living a more holy life. This honest account both in the Exercises and within mutual accountability to another person(s) enables freedom from that which may entrap us.

Ignatian Spirituality is steeped in the idea that as we are shaped in prayer, through our growing union with God we can ‘tune into’ his inner promptings and guidance, thus having our selves and our lives shaped by, and aligned with his will so that we can then wholeheartedly live in devotion to God’s will.

When explaining what a ‘Methodist’ is in his pamphlet, The Character of a Methodist, Wesley said this on the centrality of prayer:

‘8. For indeed he “prays without ceasing.” It is given him “always to pray, and not to faint.” Not that he is always in the house of prayer; though he neglects no opportunity of being there. Neither is he always on his knees, although he often is, or on his face, before the Lord his God. Nor yet is he always crying aloud to God, or calling upon him in words: For many times “the Spirit maketh intercession for him with groans that cannot be uttered.” But at all times the language of his heart is this: “Thou brightness of the eternal glory, unto thee is my heart, though without a voice, and my silence speaketh unto thee.” And this is true prayer, and this alone. But his heart is ever lifted up to God, at all times and in all places. In this he is never hindered, much less interrupted, by any person or thing. In retirement or company, in leisure, business, or conversation, his heart is ever with the Lord. Whether he lie down or rise up, God is in all his thoughts; he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him, and everywhere “seeing Him that is invisible.”‘

In Wesley’s further points in the pamphlet it is clear to see that through this understanding of prayer, he believed that a person was shaped to then align with the will of God, with the result being an active life in love of neighbour. Wesley lived it himself as he spent 4 hours every morning (from 4am) in prayer.

You’ll notice a curious phrase at the end of Wesley’s point above – ‘he walks with God continually, having the loving eye of his mind still fixed upon him, and everywhere “seeing Him that is invisible.”‘ This, for me, is the most powerful place where the two forms of spirituality align and it forms the crux of my sense and practice of what we often call ‘mission.’

In his sermon on the Omnipresence of God, John Wesley said this:

‘II. 1. This seems to be the plain meaning of those solemn words which God speaks of himself: “Do not I fill heaven and earth” And these sufficiently prove his omnipresence; which may be farther proved from this consideration: God acts everywhere, and, therefore, is everywhere; for it is an utter impossibility that any being, created or uncreated, should work where it is not. God acts in heaven, in earth, and under the earth, throughout the whole compass of his creation; by sustaining all things, without which everything would in an instant sink into its primitive nothing; by governing all, every moment superintending everything that he has made; strongly and sweetly influencing all, and yet without destroying the liberty of his rational creatures.’

There are some big philosophical discussions that could be had out of a couple of lines within that statement, but we’ll simply take hold of the basic idea that God is always active everywhere. The Spirit is active within us and within everyone and everything around us. Wesleyan views of prevenient grace fit within this.

With Wesley’s words in view, have a read of what the Center for Ignatian Spirituality in the Philippines says about Ignatius’ view:

‘Ignatius realized that God is at work everywhere: in our work situations, relationships, culture, and the intellectual life, in short in all of creation. All things in the world are presented to us “so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.” Thus Ignatian spirituality puts great emphasis on discerning God’s presence in the everyday activities of ordinary life. It sees God as active, as always at work inviting us to deeper companionship with him. Thus the world is a good place to live and work, because there we find God.’

Ignatian spirituality seeks to find God in all things and provides tools to tune us into what God is doing within us and within the world around us so that we can then participate, acting in and towards God’s redemption and reconciliation of all things.

We could find a lot more where the two have much in common but these elements above are central, in my view, to the crossover between them and they demonstrate how Ignatian spirituality has been able to play a part in deepening my Wesleyan Spirituality and will continue to do so. To summarise where they converge:

  1. Being assured of God’s love, grace, and salvation.
  2. Having an honest account of our fallen nature and the freedom and trust to share it in accountability with others.
  3. Through prayer, being shaped in union with God to live within his will.
  4. In union with God’s will, recognising the work of the Spirit within us and all around us, and participating in it.

For both Wesley and Ignatius all of it sits within the context of a heart devoted to, and transformed by Christ.

If you’re interested in finding a very accessible way to engage with Ignatian spirituality and practice on a daily basis, check out Pray As You Go online – it includes apps. PAYG (which I use personally, though not during this time of doing the Exercises) is offered and maintained by the Jesuits in Britain.

As a side note, if you participate in Commoners, the Wesleyan Methodist community that I’m a part of, you will see elements of this spirituality in our liturgy and practice. If you ever participate in any of our worship gatherings I’ll let you look for the nuggets of distinctly Wesleyan and Ignatian spirituality.