The first travel guide along this journey is St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491- 1556) who founded the Society of Jesus or Jesuits, a religious order within the Roman Catholic Church. Writing in the early part of the 16th century, St. Ignatius’ booklet Spiritual Exercises recorded various prayer and meditation practices that he found helpful in experiencing the Living God. These practices placed a “great emphasis on discerning God’s presence in the everyday activities of ordinary life” [Jones 2015]. Similar to St. Paul who saw the Lord as filling “everything in every way” [Ep 1:23, NIV], St. Ignatius refused to embrace the sacred/secular divided that permeated Christian thought then and now.
St. Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) is the second travel guide drawing travelers into an experiential spirituality of the Living Creator. A proponent of the contemplative life, her book The Interior Castle is an allegory of a soul on a journey through seven mansions within itself to find the Lord. When the soul enters into the seventh and last spiritual mansion, St. Teresa writes about how the Living God will come and dwell within the soul of the pilgrim.
“Oh, God help me! What a difference there is between hearing and believing these words and being led in this way to realize how true they are! Each day this soul wonders more, for she feels that they have never left her, and perceives quite clearly, in the way I have described, that They are in the interior of her heart – in the most interior place of all and in its greatest depths. So although, not being a learned person, she cannot say how this is, she feels within herself this Divine companionship” [2008, 129]
There can be no greater expression of experiential spirituality than to feel the everlasting companionship of the Living Creator.
Living about a hundred years later, Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is the third travel guide along the experiential spirituality journey. Known primarily for his advances in mathematics, physics, and philosophy, Pascal may seem like an odd travel guided into the mystical realm of a personal experience with the Living God. However rather than being a hindrance, it was Pascal’s philosophical mind that led him to the understanding that God was seeking a personal relationship with him. “If we submit everything to reason,” Pascal says, “Our religion will have no mysterious and supernatural element” [1958, 78]. Building upon this understanding, he declares that “it is the heart which experiences God, and not the reason. This, then, is faith: God felt by the heart, not by the reason” [1958, 78].
To be continued….
Jones, Lorna. 2015. A Brief Introduction to Ignatian Spirituality. Ignatian Spiritual Formation III class handout, St. Stephen’s University, St. Stephen, New Brunswick, Canada, October 5.
Pascal, Blaise. 1958. Pascal’s Pensees. Trans. T.S. Eliot. New York: E.P. Dutton.
St. Teresa of Avila. 2008. Interior Castle. Trans. E. Allison Peers. Radford, Virginia: Wilder Publications.