by Fr Justin Glyn SJ
In idyllic Zinkwazi Beach, where we finished Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises in a 30-day silent retreat, I’ve been pondering “load-shedding” in South Africa and Australia.
In South Africa, load-shedding escalates through multiple levels, with growing periods of outage. Each escalation is followed by a statement like “We have now moved to Stage X and will keep you informed”. The result is a demoralising feeling of exclusion, which worsens the more Eskom is overwhelmed.
So what does all this have to do with either Australia or the Spiritual Exercises? I suggest that, like Eskom’s network, Australian society’s fabric is fraying, leaving it caring less about an ever-widening group of people who fall further off the grid of our concern. Lowlights include:
- Australia’s First Nations were never connected to the network and were not allowed into the society established on their lands. No one is successfully prosecuted for Indigenous deaths in custody, and discrimination is Constitutionally enshrined with prejudicial treatment and even genocide ratified by the Courts (although this judgment was partially reversed by legislation).
- Refugees fell off the empathetic grid years ago. Government policy deters the most vulnerable from seeking safety through exile in offshore hellholes and returns to torture.
- Disabled people were shed further when a Minister revealed (on the International Day of Disability) that certain people with autism might be excluded from automatic access to disability insurance.
- I have previously written about the (lack of) place for older people in our communal moral imagination.
In each case, the most vulnerable people, who should feature most in society’s care, are quietly dropped from our collective concern. It is not that Australians delight in others’ suffering. Daring rescues and daily kind acts remind us that, individually, we are capable of great love.
No! Instead, in an increasingly individualised society, consensus on what society is and who it owes obligations to keeps decaying and shrinking like Eskom’s generation capacity. The result is a “community” which cares even less about more people.
Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is an antidote to this decay – restoring generational capacity to the soul and rooting out the corruption, miring a once-functional collective conscience in impotence as more of society’s members go dark.
While the Exercises begin with the retreatant re-engaging with their reality as loved sinners and proceed through the active response to that of accompanying Christ through his life, death and resurrection, it is in the final Contemplation that the collective dimension of this journey is made luminously explicit.
The Contemplation to Attain Love begins by reminding us that love is found in deeds more than words. Ignatius then invites us to fall in love individually and collectively, beginning by seeing ourselves before God and all the others bound up in God’s love.
As he proceeds, he invites us to contemplate God’s gifts, presence and work in all of creation and, crucially, to see us (not just me) as God’s agents. We’re drawn into communion with a God who has not only revealed Godself to us in Christ but who is within us and all with whom we relate, constantly loving into being and wholeness.
It is a vision, not of individual superheroes, but of dependence of all on God, from whom we receive all as a gift. The invitation is to love God and others in a spirit of interdependence, seeing each other as Divine vehicles as much as ourselves.
No place here for spiritual load-shedding! All of us are interdependent and all reflections and agents of the Divine love that is gifted to, present in, and pulses through us – whatever we may be physically able to contribute at any time.
In light of this, we’re invited to offer ourselves to this Divine project more completely, to become both generators and recipients of society’s care, imaging the One who loved us first and continues to do so.
It is a beautiful vision providing an alternative to the creeping spiritual load-shedding which disempowers our society to leave a dark wasteland behind.
Fr Glyn is from the Australian Jesuit Province. He is visiting South Africa.