At the beginning of the Spiritual Exercises, Saint Ignatius gives advice to the spiritual director who is leading a retreatant through the Exercises. In Ignatius’ time retreatants wouldn’t have a printed bible so their retreat director would give them a bible passage verbally and share the narrative of the story. In this annotation from the Exercises Ignatius advises the director not to give away too much detail in the passage or requested contemplation:
“The person who gives to another the way and order in which to meditate or contemplate, ought to relate faithfully the events of such Contemplation or Meditation, going over the Points with only a short or summary development. For, if the person who is making the Contemplation, takes the true groundwork of the narrative, and, discussing and considering for himself, finds something which makes the events a little clearer or brings them a little more home to him—whether this comes through his own reasoning, or because his intellect is enlightened by the Divine power—he will get more spiritual relish and fruit, than if he who is giving the Exercises had much explained and amplified the meaning of the events. For it is not knowing much, but realising and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies the soul.”
(Spiritual Exercises, )
So what’s the benefit of this? As the excerpt says: you’ll get more spiritual relish.
What is spiritual relish?
When you relish something you savour it, appreciate it, mull over it. In Ignatian prayer this is important because it allows the time for God to work through your prayer. Rushing through a contemplation, say, of a gospel scene, doesn’t allow the fruits of the prayer to unfold. Within an actual contemplation give yourself time to see the details your imagination creates. If your director gives too much detail about the contemplation you’re left with little room for imagination and therefore little room for God to fill in the blanks. So instead of obsessing over “getting right” a gospel passage, just let the general framework of the story guide your imagination. Savour the place you’re in and the things your senses feel. Relish your conversations with the characters.
Ignatius appreciates the relishing and savouring of prayer so much that he asks pray-ers to go to a separate place and journal about their prayer experience. What happens is that writing out the details of the experience, including the feelings and graces experienced, bring about new graces and new realisations that wouldn’t appear if one were to rush through the prayer without adequate reflection. When I experience a feeling of tremendous consolation during prayer I tend to get excited and almost want to end my prayer so I can be sure to remember the details in order to journal about it. Those feelings of consolation are gifts from God. Don’t rush it. The best bit of advice is spreading the “spiritual relish” thick by sitting in that moment and relishing the grace. Hold onto it. Let yourself be enveloped with consoling feelings. Ignatius says that we should relish times of consolation as a preparation for times we find ourselves in desolation. In other words, store up that “spiritual relish” for later. It can remind you about God’s goodness in down times when you feel more separated from God.
A lot happens in prayer. It is time for God to speak to us and point out certain truths by letting our heart come to notice certain graces. Ignatius says, it is “realising and relishing things interiorly, that contents and satisfies the soul.” Spiritual relish helps us be closer to God and fine tune our ability to discern God’s desires and our own desires for our lives. It is made up of the “deep down things” that Gerard Manley Hopkins speaks of. Savour your time with God, notice the graces and feelings and consolation. If you do, you’re sure to gain lots more spiritual relish. Consider it a condiment to your prayer.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod