St. Ignatius and the Jesuits - The Reluctant Psychoanalyst Goes on Retreat
Formation for Jesuits involves becoming a priest. That is not on my to-do list. But the group leading this effort wants to both inform; that is, to teach us about Ignatius, and to form us; that is to help us become emotionally resonant with a Jesuit position with regard to issues that emerge in an academic setting.
Ignatius reminded me of Freud, though, not primarily because they were both transitional thinkers, but because Ignatius created a method of listening that is eerily reminiscent – or presages - Freud’s listening method. Ignatius created the Spiritual Exercises. They were based on the conversion process that he went through in the wake of his injury. These exercises are engaged in by a spiritual director and a retreatant who has a particular problem that he or she wants to address – the Jesuits have always used the exercises as a means of helping a novitiate determine whether he was truly called to be a Jesuit. They are intended, in their original form, to be undertaken over the course of a month, give or take. The part that seems to me to be centrally parallel is that the spiritual director is to help the retreatant engage as directly as possible with God – indeed, where possible, the director is to try to facilitate without interfering with the conversation that emerges between the retreatant and God. The listening perspective for the spiritual director is supposed to be one that is attentive, reverent, and devoted, which feels very much, to me, like the evenly hovering attention of the analyst. What does not feel strictly analytic is that the retreatant is asked to imagine particular scenes from the life of Christ rather than to simply follow his or her own associations.
Postscript: I did both continue with this process and continue blogging. Part of the formation experience included a trip to Nicaragua to appreciate a very different world view. I blogged in anticipation of going here, and then wrote about my experiences while there here, here, here, here, here, here, and here. I returned from Nicaragua and, a week later, did a condensed version of the spiritual exercises, which I blogged about here, here, here, here, and here. I am now aware, in putting together this compendium, that I did not write about the final, concluding retreat, nor a kind of summary blog of the experience of being a participant in the ICP.
It is also the case that, through the rest of the ICP experience, my views on Ignatius changed. I came to see him less as a protestant who didn't leave the church and more as a mystic - a person who truly believed that direct access to God was possible. In addition to being a mystic, he contributed to the reformation of the church in many important ways. In terms of education, he reintroduced Plato and Aristotle as important thinkers. The church had marginalized them as being pre-Christian and thus necessarily unenlightened. Ignatius disagreed with this position, pointing out that the world has always been God's creation and that we have always been able to learn about God by learning about the world.
As to the process of discernment that is at the heart of the spiritual exercises referred to in the post, the very simple version is that Ignatius taught us to notice how we feel about things that we engage in - as he noticed that he felt energized after reading the lives of the Saints and depleted after reading the exploits of the Knights. This process is, of course, more complex than that, but this is the foundation on which it rests. The intent, from Ignatius' position, is to discern what it is that God has in mind for us - to read His will through our experience. The psychoanalytic version of this is to live a life where our unconscious needs - the entire range of them - can be met by the life that we lead - a life that we become deeply invested in leading. Or, as Confucius is reported to have said, at 70 I follow my heart's desire without breaking moral principles.
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