Tilling the Soil
Toward the end of a seminar on Ignatian Discernment that I teach sophomore Honors Program students, I engage my class in an assignment adapted from Jesuit Robert Marsh’s article “Looking at God Looking at You” published in The Way.
Students come to this assignment after having spent the semester moving through an adapted group experience of the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. They have contemplated their experience and understanding of God, reveled in a deeper awareness of creation, and come face to face with sin found in their personal lives but also in the world surrounding us. They have prayed about the key moments in the life of Jesus from the Annunciation and Nativity to His death and resurrection. They have been steeped in the story of St. Ignatius, learned to use his rules for discernment and begun to apply them to their own tough life choices. So the assignment asks them to reflect on the semester that was filled with learning about Ignatius, quiet reflection, personal journaling and tentative faith-sharing with classmates.
The instruction is rather simple: First, take a half hour or more in a quiet place where you will not be disturbed and reflect on what happened to you in the course of the semester. Then, imagine God gazing at you with deep love and write a letter from God to you, knowing that it comes from a loving God who wants the best for you.
Their letters are not shared with the class, nor are they graded. And, yet, the letters could be assessed because they express the knowledge students have gained in understanding themselves and the spirit of St. Ignatius. Their honesty and humility are evident. They write about their lives, choices, friends, families, hopes and dreams — all from the vantage point of God, who sees something in them that is very positive. In the letters, God is the nurturing parent who loves them unconditionally; God is the “coach” spurring them on to face their own inadequacies and encouraging their best; God is the friend who sees them as they are and walks with them; God is the mentor who imagines them as young professionals, teachers, doctors, engineers, nurses, parents and spouses continuing to grow in deeper awareness of the divine.
I am humbled by what I read in the letters, humbled by the depth of their reflections.
At several places in the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius encourages the retreatant to stand before God, the Trinity or Mary for imaginative meditations. Underlying each of the meditations is the gaze of God’s love. Life is different; we are different and we act differently when we know we are loved. That is the point of the Spiritual Exercises and the legacy of St. Ignatius, whose Feast Day we celebrate July 31.
Dr. Susan Mountin, Jour ’71, Grad ’94, director of Manresa for Faculty, helps us till the soil of faith in a quarterly column on Ignatian values.