July 31, 2007 The Feast Day of St. Ignatius Loyola
For a number of years I have been struck by the connection between what I would call ‘Creative Nonviolence’ and ‘Ignatian Spirituality.’ I started to do some research on this subject and found a lot of articles and essays on Creative Nonviolence and lots on Ignatian Spirituality but very little connecting the two. A while back I wrote for the Living Stones newsletter a brief essay describing some of the connections that I saw. The goal of this page is to foster a dialog on this subject. If you have any thoughts or articles on either Ignatian Spirituality or Creative Nonviolence or, most importantly, the connection, they will be deeply appreciated.
This is a wiki page and you can add to it by asking me for the password, or you can just send me your thoughts or articles at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will gladly display them on this page. Also you can check a proposal for a workshop, Nonviolent Cross that I made for a conference on Ignatian Spirituality and the Cross for the summer of 2008. The proposal was rejected but I do intend to follow up on the presentation.
A few years ago when I named a session of an Ignatian retreat in daily life “Ignatian Spirituality and Creative Nonviolence”, my fellow facilitators were concerned. They associated the word ‘nonviolence’ with ‘pacifism’ and said this was Franciscan, not Ignatian, Spirituality.
As a layperson involved with Ignatian Spirituality for many long years, there was a time I would have agreed with them. But no longer. Now I believed ‘creative nonviolence’ is at the heart of Ignatian Spirituality.
My change of heart had come some years earlier when, during a faith sharing session, a friend spoke of how she struggled with a prayer of St. Ignatius in the Spiritual Exercises. In this prayer (#98) in the second week, Ignatius asks us to pray to the “Eternal Lord and King” for the “desire to be with you in accepting all wrongs and all rejections and all poverty, both actual and spiritual — and I deliberately choose this, if it is for your greater service and praise.”
I had read this prayer many times before but this time it struck me that I had heard the same thoughts expressed elsewhere. Then I remembered that persons associated with ‘nonviolence’, like Gandhi or Martin Luther King Jr, had expressed this same sentiment, so central to the Spiritual Exercises, countless times. Judith Brown in her book on Gandhi defines his Satyagraha or creative nonviolence as “striving nonviolently to the point of sacrifice rather than fighting to attain one’s vision of truth.” Martin Luther King Jr, in his letter from the Birmingham jail, talks about how “disciplined nonviolence totally confused the rulers of the South.” They did not know what to do. “When they finally reached for clubs, dogs and guns, they found the world was watching, and then the power of nonviolent protest became manifest.”
Of course Ignatius, Gandhi and King all took their lead from Jesus of Nazareth who said “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account.”
Ignatius, like Gandhi and King, not only expressed this spirit of creative nonviolence but also practiced it in daily life. Ignatius, a soldier who was proud of his sword and his skill in swordplay, after his convalescence and conversion set out from Loyola on a pilgrimage to the famous monastery at Montserrat and the Shrine of the Black Madonna. After spending the night in prayer before the statue of Mary, in the morning he left his sword and dagger on the earth in front of the statue. In this act, and in the next day exchanging his courtly clothes for those of a beggar, he renounced his past life and truly became a pilgrim on the Way of Jesus.
When Ignatius was twice accused by the Catholic Inquisition of being a heretic he suffered the imprisonment and emerged more determined to spread the good news of Jesus by means of his preaching and directing the spiritual exercises he was forming out of his life experiences.
In The Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius permeates this guide for spiritual directors with the spirit of creative non-violence. In the Exercises Ignatius expresses a core principle of nonviolence that all creation is created by God (higher power) and is to be used by us to deepen our life in God. Like Gandhi and other promoters of nonviolence, Ignatius asks for an indifference to, or detachment from, all things. Everything, wealth or poverty, health or illness, success or failure, has the potential of leading us to greater love of each other and God. Ignatius puts a lot of emphasis on discernment, finding the true way to doing God’s will, the way of peace and love.
However, like Gandhi, King and others, Ignatius truly believed that love is better expressed in action than in words. St. Francis told his follows to “preach the Gospel and if necessary use words.” St. Ignatius says that “love ought to show itself in deeds over and above words.” Action is preceded and followed by reflection, which leads to discernment and future action.
There are many other connections between Ignatian Spirituality and Creative Nonviolence. In my limited research so far I have found a lot of similar statements on both sides, among proponents of creative nonviolence and proponents of Ignatius Spirituality. However, few, if any, have attempted to connect the two. Perhaps the time to do so is now.