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Light and life found in humiliation

  • 12 November 2019


Spirituality is a popular word, usually not closely defined. But it generally refers to a way of living that flows initially from an experience of the world described in religious or philosophical terms. Ignatian spirituality, for example, reflects the experience of Ignatius Loyola, and particularly his religious conversion and search for God's will. He spoke of this in terms of faith in Jesus as the Son of God.

In Ignatian, as in other forms of spirituality, people who do not share the faith that underlay the original experience often adopt aspects of the way of living embodied in it. Ignatius' encouragement of reflectiveness is a case in point. He encouraged people to take time to attend to what matters most deeply in any enterprise, to weigh the range of desires and affective responses that they experience, and so to find some measure of inner freedom in their decisions. Many groups of people who do not share Ignatius' Christian faith have also found helpful his insistence on reflectiveness and the practices associated with it. These preserve focus and encourage review in the light of new circumstances.

Other aspects of Ignatian Spirituality have also been appropriated by non-Christian groups. His commendation of wonder and gratitude in response to the beauty and richness of the world around us, for example, has proved coherent with many other understandings of the world and our response to it.

Christians should not be surprised to find that distinctively Christian attitudes and practices are welcomed and adapted by people who do not share their faith. After all, Christians understand Christian faith to offer a full and rich experience of humanity, which does not compete with other forms of spirituality but completes them. They might expect that other aspects of Ignatian spirituality would also speak to the desires and discontents of our broader society.

For our culture the most challenging aspect of Ignatius' experience and of the way of living he commends may be the value he places on humiliation. To see any possibility and gift in humiliation will instantly be dismissed by many as masochistic or self abasing. But it is worth following Ignatius' argument through its roots in Christian faith. Like other more culture-friendly aspects of Ignatian Spirituality, his attitude to humiliation is built around his personal relationship with Jesus. He sees Jesus as the Son of God who has joined us in our human life and invites us to follow