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St. Ignatius of Loyola and the Contemplative Path ~ A Love Note from Your Online Abbess

Dearest monks, artists, and pilgrims,

I am excited that we have been adding to our dancing monk icon series! We had paused for a while but now the creative juices and inspiration is flowing again and Marcy is hard at work. I am not sure when or if cards will be available (we are doing a special limited set of the 10 new cards for our Sustainers Circle supporters), but Marcy will make these available as prints as always. 

I wanted to introduce Ignatius of Loyola first because his spirituality had a significant impact on me in my early years of discovering the mystical and contemplative path. 

I attended a Jesuit college for my undergraduate studies – Fordham in New York City. I went to study philosophy and French but what I discovered was a vibrant service program rooted in the Jesuit commitment to social justice along with meaningful liturgies which helped to cultivate a spirit of mysticism in action. 

After college I joined the Jesuit Volunteer Corps which brought me from NYC to Sacramento, California where I lived in a house with five other women and worked at a group home for emotionally disturbed teenagers. I also met John who grew up in Sacramento and ended up spending the next several years there working in the group home, in a shelter for women and children, at a Newman Center for Catholic young adult ministry, and then teaching theology at a Christian Brothers High School and  working in campus ministry leading retreats and liturgies. During this time I was commuting to Berkeley to attend the Jesuit School of Theology to get my Masters degree in Systematic Theology. 

When I was accepted into the PhD program for Christian Spirituality at the Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, John and I moved to the bay area. It was my first year in the doctoral program that we also decided to participate in Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life at the Mercy Center in Burlingame. As a lover of the imagination and its power to reveal truth, I loved this experience. Originally created as a 30-day retreat, Ignatius had the foresight to also write an annotation that it could be spread out over time if someone was not able to go away for a month and leave behind their responsibilities. 

Later in Seattle I moved through the Exercises in daily life a second time with the SEEL program there in discernment about whether to be a spiritual director in their program. I ultimately discerned that was not where God was calling me to direct my energy but I did work for three years coordinating programs for the Ignatian Spirituality Center. 

So Ignatius of Loyola has had significant impact on my life and prayer life over the years. I draw on many aspects of Ignatian teaching about the spiritual journey and different practices he teaches like the Examen prayer and prayer of the imagination. 

Our Lift Every Voice book club selection for August is The Spiritual Work of Racial Justice: A Month of Meditations with Ignatius of Loyola by Patrick Saint-Jean, S.J. I absolutely loved this book and the way Patrick so astutely wove in racial justice awareness and work through the journey of the Spiritual Exercises. For anyone not familiar with the Spiritual Exercises, it is essentially a journey through the gospels and an intimate encounter with Jesus in those stories through the power of prayer of the imagination. 

He says that antiracism work is essential to becoming who God calls us to be and the sin that Ignatius describes in Week One of the Exercises is the sin of division, encompassing both personal and social sin.  For Week Three which reflects on Jesus’ journey to the cross, Patrick describes the excruciating history of lynchings in America and how Jesus calls us to really see the pain, suffering, and often agony of persons of color, to let it change us. 

While the book calls us to lament and examine our own limitations, it is also an invitation to greater love and grace. He describes the Jesuit mystic Teilhard de Chardin’s understanding of love: “he believed it was a practical, hardworking energy we experience in our everyday life. It is the Breath of God that feeds the entire Body of Christ, the human community. Love is not something sentimental or abstract, said Teilhard, but rather it is the power that moves us toward our true fulfilment and identity in Christ.”

The journey of antiracism is one that needs to be rooted in love’s impetus and guidance, as well as in magis, a Latin word used by Jesuits to describe the greater good and the fullness of life we are called to create for all people. 

Listen to our conversation with Patrick about the book and order a copy for yourself. We have reflection questions at the web page to guide your reading and integration. 

This pathway of mystical love is also at the foundation of a new 10-month series we are offering called The Mystical Heart: Love as a Creative Force. You can sign up for the whole series of monthly retreats and get reflection questions between sessions as well as a facilitated forum for conversation. Or you can register for the retreats individually, choosing the ones that speak most to your heart. We begin with Hildegard of Bingen on her feast day of September 17th. I am delighted to be co-leading that program with Betsey Beckman. If you attended our retreat for her last year, this year’s content will be all new as we will be focusing on her teachings about love. 

With great and growing love,


Christine Valters Paintner, PhD, REACE

PS – I was interviewed for Out of the Fog with Karen Hagar podcast interview on Birthing the Holy, my book on Mary and the sacred feminine. 

Dancing Monk Icon © Marcy Hall

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