Why I spent a year of my life doing the Ignatian Exercises

In January 2017, I decided to invest an entire year of my life on the journey in discernment (doing the Ignatian Exercises).  I found myself at a critical crossroad. My work, my marriage, my heart needed attention and care. The future felt looming and did not excite me.I decided to do an ancient, year long, proven way of deepening my own heart and experience with God that helped me; renewed my heart and is rekindling love in my marriage.  I think I've morphed into a new place; a new space and a new way of living my life and expressing my faith.I did this because:

  • as I aged—my answers and boxes were not working or fitting me or others anymore. Old paradigms were crumbling. I was de-constructing.

  • as I worked and poured my life into others—I needed to be poured into;

  • as my marriage also aged, we both saw thin spots-- with sounds of the ice cracking around us. We needed deep renewal and rekindling or we would not end well. We were not coupling well. We admitted that something was wrong.

  • as I contemplated my future being relatively healthy, yet acknowledging my inner weariness—I needed to find some answers about my next stage.

  • I needed to find some answers to questions that seemed to have plagued me nearly all of my life. I felt unsettled in thinking about repositioning my life but unsure how to do what I wanted to do.

 Motivated by these questions and certain disillusioning events that had happened in a key staff relationship at my work,  I felt like I was at my end. I well recall telling our Board, “I’m done. I cannot go on. I’ve hit a wall and I will not recover from this impact.”

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Sacred Synchronicity: When Life Comes Together

Synchronicity is "the coincidence of events that seem related". It is a coming together of events, people in places and in time that could not manipulated or “MANiuplated.”(Emphasis entirely my own and intentional.)As we look back on our lives, we can most likely remember times in our lives when a door opened that changed our direction or perhaps our entire life.  Somehow and in some unimagined way, things came together and this coming together was a good thing--a very good thing. Before THAT precise time, life looked cloudy—foggy and it was hard to find the way. There was no coming together. There was no synchronicity.  But then the fog lifts or the cloud separates, the light comes and we see...oh, do we see.For those of us have have been raised in the church, there is some church language which speaks of a similar kind of synchronicity. But in the church world, it is called, “divine providence.” Divine providence "is the governance of God by which He, with wisdom and love, cares for and directs all things in the universe."  Honestly, it's easy for us to get tripped up on words like "governance" and such and in the getting tripped up, alas we have over 250 Christian denominations who cannot agree on the amount of water to baptize someone or the alcoholic content of grape juice or wine. It's sad that we cannot major on the majors and minor on the minors.I think perhaps because most of my work is with people have suffered at the hands of hair splitting doctrine and pulpit pounding preachers, that I feel at liberty to choose another way to explain what I want to give a witness to at this important stage of my life.I once heard a very distinguished theologian say that there is no such thing as “divine” providence for all providence is divine. That, again, seems more to me like splitting hairs and fighting about words which folks in the church world are experts at. What's important here is to expand our thinking and our experience a bit and to wake up to some of the mysterious ways of God that we cannot explain in a PowerPoint presentation or in a bullet point list of explanations.Synchronicity helps me embrace mystery more than logic. It helps me live in the clouds of the transfiguration moments of my life rather than choosing to be like Peter in that precise moment of a cloud enveloping him and choosing to do a logical, manipulated, developed strategy of build three, mind you, monuments.  And Luke gets us to laugh at the Peter in each of us when he says, "He, Peter did not know what he was saying" (Luke 9:33).One of the great malady's of our particular day and age is that we have left mystery and embraced  a more left brain approach to knowing God. It's a desolation for sure. Because what embracing mystery and synchronicity teaches us is that God is in love with cloud like moments in our lives and in the clouds is where we can experience God most deeply. It is in the clouds where the transfiguration moments happen or they do not happen at all, perhaps.But the more I sit with with the word “synchronicity” the more I am liking this term: Sacred Synchronicity. By this I mean, that when things in life come together in such a way that there is no real human explanation for it is just as a sacredness to it.It felt like sacred synchronicity when Gwen and I met each other and finally realized that “we” were meant to be. We attended the same high school. Raided in the same town. But I never knew her until sacred synchronicity unfolded.  It felt other worldly. It felt, as I look back on it as sacred synchronicity.It felt like sacred synchronicity with Gwen and I had a vision to move out west from North Carolina to pioneer and envision an entirely brand new ministry called, Potter’s Inn. There was a "done-ness" in me that invited me to leave all I knew and to embark on a journey with great risk and danger. Yet we did it and that moment of choosing to follow the unknown path has made all the difference in my life, marriage, family and heart. That "done-ness" led us to a synchronicity of beginning Potter's Inn and again at this important time of envisioning a new chapter of our lives as we reposition and prepare ourselves to slow down and throttle back. You know, "retire."It felt like sacred synchronicity when on a frigid, cold, windy day in January 2018, I met a man who I just somehow knew would one day buy our very own retreat that we have labored so hard to establish and build for these 20 years. His heart and my heart met while climbing the summit at the retreat and I felt a deep, surreal—impression that “this” was the person to take the retreat and to continue to use the retreat for God’s glory.The sacredness of events in our lives that truly do “come together” in a way that there is no real, logical, left brain, linear way of explaining the coming together but by God.This is really a foundational principle taught by Paul, the writer of most of our New Testament about a God who cares and who is able to orchestrated events in a way that is beyond the human capacity to do. One verse that we often quote or go to for comfort was penned by Paul when he said:"Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God’s Spirit is right alongside helping us along. If we don’t know how or what to pray, it doesn’t matter. He does our praying in and for us, making prayer out of our wordless sighs, our aching groans. He knows us far better than we know ourselves, knows our pregnant condition, and keeps us present before God. That’s why we can be so sure that every detail in our lives of love for God is worked into something good" (Romans 8:26-26, Message).This is a foundational principle that Ignatius of Loyola expounded upon in his brilliant treatise four hundred years ago. It is simply this: In life, we learn to see God in all things. God in all things becomes our heart beat. God in all things becomes our heart's desire. For once you've tasted the good wine of tasting God's goodness in this, I'm not sure you can ever go back.We see God in the details or our events. We see God in the movement in nature and in the movements within the human heart. We can learn to trace his movement to see a sort of sacred synchronicity happening and we are humbled by it. We drop to our knees because of it. We wind is knocked out of us and we breath both shallow and then sigh in magnificent relief.The journey of discernment—of seeing clearly—of seeing through the fog and beyond the clouds and to see into the very heartbeat of a very personal God who loves us enough to show off a bit by bringing things together from time to time so that we might enjoy his power; his ability; his might and his great care.

Embrace the Mystery: Being Embraced by Mystery

You’ve most likely heard the expression, “God works in mysterious ways.” But the problem with this statement is that it’s not found in the Bible. It sounds as if it should be. It sounds like a Proverb—like a very, very wise statement. But this often quoted statement is nowhere to be found within our pages of Scripture. It is inferred in a hymn which William Cowper penned in the 19th century. There he says, "God moves in a mysterious ways; His wonders to perform; He plans His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm." But Cowper uses the metaphor of ocean waves and white-capping stormy seas to help us grasp how mystery happens—how God rides the wings of mystery to help us know him and to know God’s ways. But just because we can’t find something in the Bible does not mean that it is not true—that God does indeed move in a mysterious way. I confess that I’m at a point in my life now where I am seeing the “mysterious ways” of God more than I ever have before. Circumstances, events, divine appointments, sacred interruptions, and more can call converge in our lives to give us the distinct impression, if not realization that God, indeed moves in mysterious ways. Take a look at the image I've posted here. This huge, sweeping cloud enveloping our big, red barn at the Potter's Inn retreat. This photograph is iconic for me because just looking at it causes something to stir in me. How about you? I heard a friend describing an accident that he narrowly avoided. What could have been a fatal car crash was avoided by slowing down to avoid a deer in the road only to have “just barely” missed being T-boned by a driver texting on their cell phone. Was this a mysterious way? What if I had not been at the Christmas party where I had met Gwen 40 years ago? Was that a mysterious way? We met. I knew on the spot and right in that place that she would be my wife. I did marry her and that night is etched on my mind as clear as the sun is in the sky from the place I am writing this today. What can you recall in your own life about a “mysterious way” where circumstances or events so aligned to bring providence at your feet and the clouds parted and fog lifted and somehow you just knew that the next step was an ordained step that you simply “had” or were privileged to take? In our sophisticated, technologically driven world, there seems to be little room for the mysterious movings of a clandestine God who arranges circumstances as he arranges planets in their orbit. We are logical. We are linear. We are rational people for crying out loud. So what room do we make for mystery? An event has happened in my life that has no real explanation except for mystery. We’ve prayed. We’ve asked for clarity. We have sought discernment. We have gotten counsel. Yet, in all the things we’ve done and not done, no one could have orchestrated what has happened. No one.  A mystery has unfolded. A mystery has swept across me that is larger than the cloud sweeping over the barn. I will tell this story soon in another post but for today I just want us to sit in the mystery. A mystery explained takes the bones out of the body of a mystery. I am only left to conclude that mystery has been at work. I am left to believe, yet again that God is loving and his ways are loving despite what my present circumstances might say. My pain and suffering does not absolve this mystery. What seems awful; what seems negative; what seems catastrophic may really only be the fodder for the brooding of the Mystery. What seems like chaos; what seems like rejection, what appears to be evil may in fact be good yeast in the leaven of the loaf of my life. After all, the story of Joseph, the brother who was betrayed by his jealous siblings; beaten and left for dead, reveals the mystery that I am trying to explain here. Joseph was taken in by people who put him in the high places of govenment and in those very and precise, high places, Joseph was able to take care of his very own family who had done him in. How can we grasp today what Joseph teaches us? In the end, Joseph confesses the role of mystery in his life—a mystery that helps inform our own. We read: “Joseph replied, “Don’t be afraid. Do I act for God? Don’t you see, you planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear; I’ll take care of you and your children.” He reassured them, speaking with them heart-to-heart” (Gen. 50:20-22, Message). God used what was intended for evil and morphed it into good. I call this mystery. The mystery to consider is this: What was intended for evil actually—mysteriously—morphed into good. Embracing the MysteryThe work of spiritual discernment is to plow up the fallow ground of our lives; to do the inner work of spiritual awareness and spiritual awakening to see God in all things. Joseph saw and awakened to God’s movement in the circumstances of his life in a way he could have never, ever imagined. This is what it means to awaken. This is what it means to become more aware. This is what it means to behold and witness the mystery of God moving.Ignatius of Loyola founded a movement, 400 years ago, that embraced this core value to those who began to call themselves, Jesuits. “Finding God in all things” became their motto—their mantra—their own invitation to see God in mystery and not in just a rational, linear and logical way of experiencing God. It takes a bit of mystery to find God in ways we could never envision finding God. In a journey of investing twelve months of plowing up my own fallow ground, I could have never imagined how the answer to my prayers would have unfolded. What has happened is beyond me. It is beyond words. It is mystery.Followers of Jesus in the past embraced more mystery than we do today. We are an educated people today. We disdain the ignorant ways. In our quest to know everything, we may have attempted to de-throne the Spirit of God.Our spiritual parents lit candles to signify the mystery. Today we use our iphones.Clouds are always a suggestion of mystery in the Bible. Today, we are more concerned with the iCloud.We use to walk in nature to behold the mystery. Today, we scroll through pages of social media.Churches use to be called "sanctuaries" where we would sing, confess and bow to the Mystery. Now we watch, perform, and are talked at--and alot.We use to talk about being "spoken to" in church. Today we are Powerpoint driven and perhaps even addicted. Mystery has been replaced by the world that is driven by our left brains: logical, linear, rational and lined up.  Yet in all of this, where is the space for mystery.Questions for Consideration: 1. How would you define mystery?2. When have you encountered mystery that literally changed your life or the direction of your life?3. How can you make room for mystery in your life now?