By: Anthony Hermankevich
Approaching graduation from seminary, I watched for an opportunity to retreat and to rest from the rigors of academic study. While a retreat to some secluded part of the Pennsylvania forest, or to the Blackfoot River in Montana never happened, the opportunity to recharge spiritually came in the form of a prayer group being conceptualized by a friend who happens to be an ordained Anglican Deacon. She expressed an interest in using the Ignatian Exercises to provide spiritual guidance. I was familiar with St. Ignatius having read “The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything” by Fr. James Martin SJ. The Exercises deal with overarching Christian themes like: the life of Jesus, his Passion, and his resurrection from the dead. Although Ignatius was Roman Catholic as most Christians in the West were, (the Reformation had not yet taken place), the Exercises do not expound on any particular Roman Catholic doctrine. Rather, his meditations and prayers focus on the essentials of the Christian faith.
The first four weeks that the group decided were designed as preparation weeks, meaning all Scripture readings and prayers shared the same theme in order for us first to be rooted in the Love of God. Without this essential perspective, anything we would do later could dangerously resemble works rather than a faith response. Since the purpose of the Spiritual Exercises are, according to David Fleming, “to conquer oneself and to regulate one’s life without determining oneself through any tendency that is disordered,” we certainly want to proceed knowing that Jesus loves us and died for our sins. We are now free to amend our lives, taking under control any proclivity or habit that leads us away from God, and replacing them with thoughts and actions that bring us into deeper intimacy with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Therefore, this way of praying intends to seek God’s Divine Will. Ignatius’ 15th Annotation asks, “In seeking the Divine Will, is it not more fitting and much better that the Creator and Lord himself should communicate himself to his devout soul, inflaming it with his love and praise, disposing it for the way in which it will be better able to serve him allowing the Creator to act immediately and directly with the creature and the creature with its Lord and Creator?”
There are eighteen annotations that more clearly explain a different aspect of the Spiritual Exercises. Besides being rooted in God’s love, we are working to set a time for daily reading and prayer, a habit prioritizing meeting with our Lord in which these things could take place, something with which most of us struggle. Now, one of the most important and unique features of our group, which is referred to as “Praying with Your Hands,” is that our response to reading, praying, meditating, and contemplating is done through creating art pieces, or in my case, repurposing junk into something that resembles something useful. For instance, I made a tambourine from a cigar box, and I am currently figuring out how to cut wine bottles to make pendant lights. Both of these projects were inspired by Scriptures discussing worship and light.
Most often, we sort out or discuss the Word of God with more words. We do this in our group, but the action or movement of making something that you can touch that is related to something you have read can turn into something learned or something revealed to you by the Holy Spirit. This approach to prayer can help those who see the world differently - artists and creative people for instance. I can also see a benefit for people who have experienced trauma. If you asked them how they feel or where feelings of anxiety or depression originate, they may not be able to give an answer. Making something using your imagination that is inspired by the inspired Word of God, however, might provide them with insight into the source of their troubles.
To be rooted in God’s love, to discern his direction in our lives, to capture our imaginations for what the Lord wants to do through us, to detach us from our disordered attachments and distractions, and to make us more sensitive spiritually while finding healing for deep rooted hurts is merely a sampling of the possibilities for a deeper relationship with Christ and better relationships with others available through this and similar spiritual endeavors. Hopefully, this account of my experience with a guided and purposeful process of spiritual growth has encouraged you to seek out people and plans that will drive you closer to Christ our Lord and others, and to heal from past and current issues with which you are dealing. The process is painful at times, but it is definitely worth it. I will end with a Scripture from Matthew 7:7-11. It says this:
“Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him!"