In the fullness of life, there is no shortage of retreat opportunities; we attend professional, marriage, writing and silent retreats. While retreats differ in purpose and practices, participants are generally expected to intentionally step away from life’s regular rhythms for 1-7 days and immerse in a particularly focused topic or activity.
Last fall, desiring a way to deepen spiritually, I signed up for the Ignatian Retreat. I had little sense about the possibilities for deepening through contemplative spiritual exercises inspired over 500 years ago by St Ignatius -- and even less sense about HOW I would retreat across 8 months.
Contrary to asking participants to retreat from regular life, Ignatian Retreat participants were encouraged to intentionally practice scripture-based prayer to discover God within our regular life.
Physical exercise can be challenging and rewarding; spiritual exercise is no different. The retreat’s spiritual exercises stretched us in new ways. We were encouraged to deliberately linger on a single passage for 5 days. As one retreatant said, "The intentionality of staying with a scripture passage for a week opened up my heart and eyes to see and learn in ways I hadn’t before."
Retreatants noted increased prayerful listening, and, specifically, how imagination opened and deepened a personal experience with the passage. The spiritual exercises strengthened our discipline and stretched our flexibility for deepening with God and one another. Through Ignatian spiritual exercises for prayerful listening, exploring, and deepening, retreatants discovered Triune God’s active, abiding presence individually and communally.
I discovered that listening through God’s Word attuned listening for holy presence in ordinary life. The retreat framework invited exploration through a structured rhythm, expanded prayer practices and rich conversation within an intentional sacred community. As a result participants said they were feeling more grounded, more at peace and…a greater sense of well-being.
We met Jesus personally in scripture, as Jesus met us in moments of our lives. Our deepening nurtured gratitude.
Finally, the Ignatian retreat created space for sharing and growing as a sacred community. Once a month, we gathered, sharing individual experiences in small groups. The intimacy of prayerfully sharing spiritually greening and dry experiences and offering gifts affirmed the Spirit’s presence among us.
During and after the retreat, I find myself savoring daily discoveries of God's presence and reflecting on the intersection of the ancient Ignatian Retreat practice and contemporary life.
Debra Paxton-Buursma, PhD, is a Spiritual Director certified with Dominican Center Marywood at Aquinas College. She participated in the Fall 2022 Ignatian Retreat, an 8-month experience of inviting God into your life every day. She shares her observations and reflections with an invitation to others to consider the online Fall 2023 Ignatian Retreat beginning in October.