Why Should I Consider Doing the Ignatian Exercises?

“Go and set the world on fire.” St. Ignatius

“I know things about Jesus, but I don’t really feel close to Him.”

“How do I know if what I desire to do with my life is what God wants me to do?”

“I can read verses about God’s love in the Bible, but I don’t know how to experience His love.

” I feel the need to develop better rhythms of prayer, but I don’t know how.”

“I tend to approach decisions impulsively or just freeze, but I don’t know how to choose wisely.”

All of these statements are good reasons to consider the Ignatian Exercises (or the Exercises for short). Perhaps you have heard of them. Perhaps you haven’t. I was in the latter category until I went through them eight years ago. It turned out to be one of the most marking experiences of my life. I haven’t been the same since, and I never want to go back to what I was. Listen to one man’s experience of the Exercises, one that also marked him forever…

What exactly are the Exercises?

The Ignatian Exercises are a 500-year old, time-tested way of drawing closer to the heart and mind of Jesus. First conceived by St. Ignatius of Loyola, they are literally exercises for the soul, stretching and strengthening it in the same way that you would exercise your body by running or lifting weights. The Exercises typically take nine months to complete, with Scripture and prayer meditations given each day for you to work through. And once a week, you meet with a spiritual director (like myself) to process what is happening inside of you. As always, we start our time in silence, process what the past week was like, and then end with more silence to be able to talk to Jesus about everyrthing. As a backpacker, I like to say that if spiritual direction is like a weekend backpacking trip, the Exercises are like thru-hiking the Appalachian Trial. There is much more energy and time required, but so are the rewards!

What is the structure of the Exercises?

The Exercises are structured into five basic sections. Going in order, you first spend a number of weeks focusing on God’s personal love for you, followed by a period of time meditating on sin and its effects. Next is the longest section of the Exercises, where you spend over three months walking with Jesus through his birth, life, and ministry. The last two sections work through His death and resurrection.

Why are they so transforming?

The structure of the Exercises doesn’t seem especially innovative, so why are they so transforming? There are a lot of reasons, but I want to point out three.

  1. The way you interact with all of stories of Jesus is not by studying them or even meditating on them. You are asked to imagine each story and place yourself in it. This type of immersive experience yields all sorts of surprises and shifts. Ignatius definitely was on to something by using the imagination in prayer. We now know from our modern neuroscience how important the imagination is to changing the way our brains are wired.
  2. You are always asked to name your desires, especially the deep ones. Exploring your desires then becomes a window into discovering how God wants you to spend your life, following the desires He has already planted in you. This is so opposite of how we often conceive of God’s will, as something we really don’t want to do.
  3. Instead of looking at God’s love through the lens of your sin, you are asked to do the reverse, to look at your sin through His never-ending love for you. That one perspective shift can alone revolutionize a man’s whole way of being in the world.

How does it work with the calendar year?

Typically, the Exercises are offered during the school year as it conveniently fits that calendar. This also allows for the birth of Jesus passages to come around Christmas and for his death/resurrection passages to happen right before and after Easter. But there is some preparation needed before even beginning with the school year. Starting in May, I will begin to take names and have conversations with those interested in taking the Exercises. Then we go through an application and discernment process in June or July that usually takes a month. You want to be sure you really desire to do this and that this is the right time for you. Final commitments are given by August 1, and someone will start the Exercises in early to mid-September. Most finish them by the end of May.

Want to hear more?

If you are interested in hearing more about the Exercises, the best way to proceed is to schedule a call with me. You can ask any question that comes to mind. Go to the Contact page and email me or scroll down to find an online calendar to schedule a call. It’s not hard for me to talk about the Exercises after all the amazing things that happened to me in them!

I look forward to hearing from you….

Bill

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