Two helpful insights from a saint
How do we live in a time of uncertainty and upheaval? Many people across the globe have asked that question as we collectively face the onslaught of COVID-19. Countries have shut down; schools and universities have sent their students away offering online classes; churches are closed; we cannot go out of our houses or invite others in; we have to practice ‘social distancing’. People’s livelihoods have been destroyed; economies are buckling. We are living in an unprecedented time.
We do not know how much longer we are going to have to live in this way. As the spiritual writer Ronald Rolheiser OMI says: “like the inhabitants of Noah’s Ark, we’re locked in and don’t know when the floodwaters will recede and let us return to our normal lives.”
Many ‘Health and Wellness’ practitioners have reported that they are busier than ever as this pandemic draws on. They find themselves listening to people who are struggling to cope emotionally, physically, psychologically and spiritually.
The saint whose feast is celebrated on 31 July, St Ignatius Loyola, offers us two insights which, at this time, might help us face the fluid and fragile situation in which we find ourselves.
St Ignatius proposes two things at the beginning of his Spiritual Exercises (SpE).
First, Ignatius makes it clear that the SpE are to be adapted to “the dispositions of the persons who wish to receive them”. He suggests that if a person can only do the first part of the SpE, then they should be adapted accordingly. He also says that the SpE can be given in various forms: either in the thirty-day format or in daily life.
Ignatius was smart enough to recognise that changing contexts and varying personal situations meant that things need to be adaptable, flexible. We need to be open to change. Perhaps now, more than ever, Ignatius’ principle of adaption is one that can help us cope. Instead of longing for what was or hoping for what might come, how do we adapt to and live flexibly in the present as best as we can?
The second insight that Ignatius offers is much more challenging. In the Principle and Foundation of the SpE, Ignatius invites the one doing these exercises to “make ourselves indifferent to all created things”. He goes on to say that indifference means that we “want not health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honour rather than dishonour, longer rather than shorter life”. He says that all we should want is “desiring and choosing only what is most conducive for us to the end for which we were created”. Ignatius says that the purpose of our lives is to “praise, reverence and serve God”.
Ignatius invites us, first and foremost, to seek God’s will before anything else. His challenge to indifference is not suggesting that we should be uncaring or apathetic or not listen. It is an invitation to see what is most important, real and authentic. He says that we cannot make good life decisions if we are weighed down by desires that do not come from our true selves.
How might the practice of ‘adapting’ (or flexibility) and indifference give you the spiritual, emotional and psychological resilience you need at this time?