During the beginning of Saint Ignatius’ journeys, after he had laid his sword before the altar of Our Lady of Montserrat and had taken the clothes of a beggar, he made his way to a cave in Manresa for a few days of prayer and contemplation. His time there turned into ten months of prayer and work at a hospital. It was in Manresa that Ignatius formed the Spiritual Exercises, a set of meditations and guidelines for a 30-day retreat all Jesuits make, as well as many lay people and other religious orders. What began as jottings in his notebook turned into one of the most famous spiritual guides in the world.
In Manresa Ignatius experienced profound transformation. God was like his school teacher, he often analogised. During his time there he made notes of his experience of God, the emotions and feelings he experienced as well as the fruits of his prayer. In time he discovered that God communicated to him through his feelings, his imagination, and everything around him. He noted how God would use certain feelings to guide him on the right path, while the evil spirit would use other feelings to cause him to stray away from God. All these things he wrote down, which eventually made its way into the Spiritual Exercises we know today. His teachings on things like the Discernment of Spirits, repetition, colloquy, and decision-making came out of his experience in Manresa.
Thankfully we don’t need to figure out all these things because Ignatius did it for us 500 years ago, but this doesn’t mean you can’t jot down your own experiences of God in a notebook. By making this a regular habit and reflecting back on past notes you will start to see patterns of grace and moments of God. You’ll discover how God uniquely works in your life. This becomes your own “spiritual exercises”, your own guide to how God’s spirit moves in your everyday life.
This habit will give you rich insight into how the good and evil spirits—as Ignatius calls them—affect different feelings and how different feelings tug you in different directions. It may also give you insight into what’s been on your mind (a big decision perhaps?) and if God is giving you some guidance. Once you come to see how God works and communicates with you interiorly over time, this little notebook will become your own spiritual exercises, guiding your spiritual and practical life like Saint Ignatius.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod