Sometimes it’s best to leave well enough alone. When basic organizational structures are valid and substantial, an infrastructure can withstand the test of time, but with, of course when needed, occasional pruning and grafting. Any enduring enterprise is built upon a strong infrastructure but with enough flexibility to be updated or applied to differing situations.
My reference here is the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. It is a strongly structured compilation of prayers, meditations, and reflections on Holy Scripture. The numbered “rules” and annotations are designed to bring one closer to God, and through Gospel meditations, to have an encounter with Christ.
The Exercises actually grew out of the life story of Ignatius of Loyola (c.1491-1556) as he described his conversion from being a chivalrous Basque nobleman to a pilgrim, a mystic, and founder of a religious order (Society of Jesus) made up of his followers, who then traveled around the world to spread the practice of the Spiritual Exercises.
Some of my friends ask me, “what is it that you do?” That is difficult to answer without a mini-course in the art and skill of Spiritual Direction plus a grasp of the Spiritual Exercises. The simplest answer is that, at Oblate School of Theology, I teach certified, experienced Spiritual Directors, in a two-year spiritual formation program, how to lead others in the Spiritual Exercises.
Generally lay people, of all faiths and denominations, who seek a closer relationship with God through praying Holy Scripture meet for a 9-month program known as the “Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life” with an Ignatian trained Spiritual Director. Many “Exercitants” come to discern a call to a particular way of life. Others simply want a deeper prayer life. My teaching specialty is leading the Exercises in the “healing mode” with those for whom a spiritual wound may be an obstacle to relationship with God.
The Spiritual Exercises have existed over 500 years and have recently experienced a significant increase in popularity, with new formation programs in Protestant seminaries, because of their clear, understandable, infrastructure. Well-rooted in Holy Scripture, the Exercises offer flexibility of application across faith beliefs while addressing the needs of the Exercitant. Even though I was trained in Spiritual Direction with emphasis on Ignatian spirituality and certified in 1993, I continue to see the effectiveness of the Exercises to be ever increasing because of their solid spiritual infrastructure.