30 Days of Silence
While you are reading this and running between the busy-ness of your life, a few km away, in the blazing heat of Pretoria North there is a peaceful oasis where eight retreatants are going through a 30 day silent retreat. They are doing the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, the founder of the Jesuits.
For a month they will pray for four or five hours each day and meet daily with one of the two directors (Puleng Matsaneng and Paul Fletcher SJ) to talk about what they have been experiencing during the times of prayer. Some of them are religious sisters; some of them ordinary lay men and women.
You might wonder why someone would choose to take 30 days away from family or community and work and spend them in silence. It is certainly a huge commitment.
I first heard about the Spiritual Exercises as a student at Wits University. Hearing these ‘Exercises’ spoken about sparked my curiosity. What are these Spiritual Exercises? Who can make them? Are they for only for Jesuits and religious or can lay people do them too?
I kept questioning the various Jesuits who were around and eventually persuaded one to guide me through the ‘long retreat’. I came to find out that the Spiritual Exercises are a process for growing in interior freedom so as to be open to discover and generously respond to the invitation of God in one’s life. They are also particularly helpful for someone faced with an important life-decision.
Ignatius developed the Exercises before he was ordained and they are meant for anyone who seriously wishes to deepen their relationship with God. Even though they were written in the sixteenth century, their power to transform the mind and heart through a growing relationship with the person of Jesus is as strong today as it was four hundred years ago.
As a psychologist and life coach I am struck by the genius of a process that step-by-step allows the person to become free of whatever might get in the way of their being able to live wholeheartedly a life of love and service. Many people, even some who might not be too comfortable with institutional religion, are seeking a way to discover at a deep level their unique sense of meaning and purpose – their personal vocation. The process of the Exercises provides the clarity for someone to discern what it is they are called to be and do in the world. Some people do the Spiritual Exercises in the form of a 30 day silent retreat; but some do it instead ‘in daily life’ and spread it out over the course of a year.
My own experience of making the Exercises, first in daily life at the age of 21 and later as a 30 day retreatant, convinced me that this is a gift for the whole Church – for laity, religious and clergy and for Christians of every denomination.
The Spiritual Exercises are the marathon of Ignatian spirituality. A good starting point for anyone who wants to start their spiritual training is simply to spend 15 minutes in silence with God every day.