Despite it’s ability to offer a “pop spirituality” to the masses, Ignatian spirituality challenges the seeker and believer to explore the hidden depths of our interior. For me, three of the more challenging parts of the spiritual life are suffering, grace, and finding purpose. Margaret Blackie, in her book Rooted in Love: Integrating Ignatian spirituality into daily life, tackles these subjects well alongside a broad overview of Ignatian principles. By using deeply personal stories, she captures well the nuances of Ignatian spirituality one can only gain from lived experience. Mags (as she goes by) believes that honesty is the only prerequisite to faith that God asks of us. I find that the honesty and vulnerability with which she approaches these subjects give special weight to them.
Mags is a chemist by training but has also been trained as a spiritual director in the Ignatian tradition. Throughout the book, her spiritual director voice came out and I found myself often highlighting sentences that were packed with wisdom. Each chapter she offers some reflection questions relevant to the chapter’s topic. Here I would like to specifically explore suffering, grace, and purpose by way of Mags Blackie.
Suffering and Grace
Mags places suffering and grace together. Beginning with her own experiences of broken relationships, death, cancer, and hurt, she found hope in the pinnacle between the Third and Fourth Weeks of the Spiritual Exercises when retreatants move from meditating on the suffering Christ to the joy of the Resurrection. The hardest part she says is sitting with our pain and not trying to escape it. “It takes courage to allow God to help us to hold this pain and to lead us into life beyond the immediacy of this pain.” By not running from the reality of it, we allow grace to enter.
Throughout the book Mags never shies away from sharing about hurt she has received or caused others. Pain shapes us, but only if we engage with it and explore it in complete vulnerability. By thoughtfully discussing this vulnerability along with forgiveness, freedom, and desire she brings a personal light to suffering and grace I think many can relate to.
Being honest with God about our loss brings joy:
“A joy which has no external source, rather, it is the joy which comes from the fiery purging of pain; the joy which comes from allowing our presumptions about our world to be challenged and re-shaped.”
Purpose and Discernment
In a world that focuses on extrinsic reward like money or status, the challenge of the interior life is being able to appreciate the intrinsic value of our work. I certainly am not getting into ministry for money or fame. A true sense of purpose is invaluable. Mags sums up the invitation of Ignatian spirituality: paying attention to our “inner thirst”.
This is also where Mags does some of her best work. Ignatian spirituality roots our purpose in desire, a desire that, when discerned properly, is found to be God’s desire for us. When we ask God for the grace to take the path that is best for us, our relationship with God, and with the world, we soon sense God’s grace giving us the desires that lead us there. “Desire, understood this way,” says Mags, “is the trajectory which emerges from grace.”
Indeed, this desire brings us a sense of purpose. Though sometimes in the moment the best choice or path is hard to choose. Mags says that time can be on our side. Allowing time, rather than impulse, helps us to discern the movement of the spirits and to become aware of God’s invitations to us. Make discernment a part of your everyday and you become more skilled at hearing the language of God calling you to your purpose. Mags says, “The purpose emerges naturally from living that discerned life.” And as a result, we notice God’s invitations to us. “Invitations to step up wash over us continually; we do not have to go looking for them.”
No one claims discerning our purpose is easy, but if we don’t engage in the spiritual life, in prayer, in the examination of signs, feelings, and experiences, we may never figure it out. What’s most telling though is God never abandons us despite all the failed choices that have come before. This is the grace of the First Week of the Exercises. Mags Blackie encapsulates this grace in one of her best pearls:
“… we begin to discover a God who is not shocked by the fact that we do not always choose the better path.”
Rooted in Love is for those who appreciate the wisdom and value of a spiritual director. As one who appreciates when a spiritual director gives me suggestions and takeaways, I have taken away many pearls from this book. Mags’ vulnerability in sharing personal stories comes forth in a way that doesn’t move the focus on her; it places a mirror before the reader to discover the deep inner thirst inside ourselves.
|>> Mags Blackie continues her reflective thoughts at her blog, MagsBlackie.com
>> Rooted in Love is available at Amazon.com.
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