Almost six years ago, I embarked upon a new way to exercise, one that still impacts me today. And looking back over my life, it may be the most transformative thing I have ever done. Although I love to workout, this exercise is not a physical one. It’s an exercise of the soul. It’s pumping the iron of the spirit. It’s experiencing communion with God in a way I never imagined possible. And starting in the fall, I will be offering these same exercises to other men. They are the Ignatian Exercises, but I just like to call them the Exercises. Here’s a brief primer about them.
A Little History Lesson
In the early 1500s, St. Ignatius developed these Exercises as his primary way “to help souls,” to use his own language. He had undergone a huge conversion, leaving behind his fame-seeking, sword-brandishing ways. He now wanted to follow Jesus and was helped along the way by mentors as well as the Holy Spirit. So with the Exercises he could now pay it forward, giving away what he had so freely received. It then became the major formative experience for every priest entering the order he founded, the Jesuits. But Ignatius intentionally structured the Exercises so that anyone could walk through them.
In the last 25 years or so, they have exploded onto the Protestant Church. And after walking through them, I understand why. Not only are the wonderfully ecumenical, they introduce new ways of praying and interacting with Scripture that bring a man close to the heart of Jesus. Ignatius hoped the Exercises would help others feel connected to Him as a real man and ignite a love for Him and His mission. Ignatius even ended his letters this way: “Go and set the world on fire.”
The Structure of the Exercises
It’s helpful to see an overview of the Exercises:
Preparation Days – soaking in the personal love of God
Week 1 – meditations on sin, death, and hell
Week 2 – walking with Jesus through His birth and ministry
Week 3 – staying with Jesus through His crucifixion
Week 4 – experiencing Jesus in His resurrection
The Exercises uses the old terminology of weeks, as they were first done in a concentrated manner over four weeks. But now they are usually spread out over nine months, which is how I give them.
Each day there is Scripture given along these themes, as well as suggested ways to pray, culminating in a conversation with the Father, Son, and Spirit. Then at the end of prayer, there is time for journaling. Finally, you meet weekly with a spiritual director to process all that is happening in you. All of this exercising the spirit. It’s pumping iron into the soul.
My Experience with the Exercises
Everyone’s experience with the Exercises is different. That’s because Jesus meets each man uniquely with what he needs for the journey ahead.
For me, I felt a number of internal shifts. Unhealthy ruts were smoothed over and new tracks of feeling entered my heart. But I think the primary shift was how I experienced Jesus. Sadly, because of ways of relating to others I learned in my formative years, Jesus was mostly a theological construct, who happened to teach wonderful concepts. But in the Exercises, I met the man Jesus, with a heartbeat for the world — and for me. I felt seen and known by Him for the first time, and it has changed so much for me.
This fall I am also paying it forward and offering the Exercises to men. I would love to help you discover this new way to exercise! Reply back if you want to hear more.
Image credit Mathew Skate on Wunderstock (license)