The Ignatian Way: Contemplative in Action

Reading: Mark 6:30-34

This gospel passage captures a beautiful Ignatian spirit. Let’s jump to the punchline: Stop. Reflect. Then go back to work. Then repeat.

The world we live in is a hurried world of schedules and rushing and cramming. There’s almost too much to do and seldom any time to stop. As a planner I tend to make lists of things I want to accomplish and get upset when I’m not getting to them fast enough. The corporate world is a similar story. Goals and planning leave little time for rest or pause. In corporate America time for any proper rest barely exists. Jesus and his disciples knew something of this. Everywhere they went crowds pressed in on them asking for healing or prayer or wisdom. They were so busy they barely had time to eat, says the scripture. Does that have a ring truth in your life? When I get home from work I have a list of personal things to do that sometimes I feel myself rushing through dinner. Eek.

In the gospel passage, despite their busyness, Jesus and his friends force themselves to STOP. Stopping work for a bit doesn’t mean you don’t care about the work, but it means you allow yourself for reflection and rest so you can start up your work again and continue doing it with zeal. The Ignatian way works like this. Being a “contemplative in action” means that your active life feeds your contemplative life and your contemplative life feeds your active life.

The Ignatian Way

  1. Stop. We must first stop what we’re doing otherwise we’ll become mindless in our work. “The apostles gathered together with Jesus and reported all they had done and taught.” (Matt 6:30) This first step is a review. What have you been up to? Perhaps you have an opportunity to share the story of your day or week or month with a friend or loved one.
  2. Rest and reflect. “He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a deserted place and rest a while.'” (Matt 6:31a) Get away and ponder. What was your experience like? How did it make you feel? Are you being fed in your work and relationships? Do you need a rest? A spiritual retreat? A vacation? Rest is critical not just for physical rejuvenation but for an opportunity to process your experiences of the past and learn for the future. What are your takeaways?
  3. Go back to work. Or whatever you were doing. “When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” (Matt 6:34) The key here is letting your reflection and prayer time inform how your approach your work when you return to it. Maybe you realise that you’ve been doing your work mindlessly or for the sake of “just a job” rather than for God or the common good. Maybe your reflection has caused you to approach your relationships in a renewed way or to allow yourself more rest time.
  4. Repeat. This Ignatian framework is a cycle of informing. Your activity leads you again into a time of stopping, reviewing, resting, reflecting, and then returning to activity.

Contemplative in action: Activity informs your contemplative time and that informs your future activity and so on. The great thing is this can be done during the day with a five minute pause for reflection (like an examen) or it can be done in longer form on a retreat. Even on retreat with a spiritual director you go through the cycle of sharing your prayer experience, reflecting on it, and then allowing the director to make suggestions for future prayer based on your previous prayer experience.

Jesus and his disciples did just this with their ministry. Perhaps we can think of Jesus commanding his disciples to rest. It’s a must! Their brief rest allowed them to go back to work with a renewed zeal. Despite the hurriedness of the modern world we can integrate the Ignatian cycle into our active lives, finding time for contemplation that feeds our activity and vice versa. It’s a must in any faith life.

Aside: I remember when I was a Jesuit novice this passage was read to us after we returned from our various experiments. Each of us were assigned to different places in different ministries. Upon return we all sat down like the first disciples and shared with each other all we had done. It was a real example of discipleship in action and it helped feed our future ministry by reflecting on the similarities and differences in our individual experiences.

Listen to an audio version of this post…

Music: Kevin MacLeod

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2 replies

  1. Thanks for sharing this method. I’m curious about Ignatian Spirituality. I’ve been enjoying your podcasts and just noticed that some of the podcasts go with some of your posts. Which is great! I wanted a print copy of this episode. And now, I can just print this post. Again, thank you. And God Bless! :)

  2. There is a quote I enjoy by Robert Oppenheimer, the “father of the atomic bomb”, that goes something like this: “It is perfectly obvious that the whole world is going to hell. The only possible chance that it might not is that we do not attempt to prevent it from doing so.” I think this quote quite effectively conveys the request that, before we blow up the planet, let us pause for a moment of rest and silence, and maybe we won’t :)

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