How to explain mystery
by Rachel Inglis
posted 6 August 2016
Linda* and I hadn’t seen each other for about 25 years, yet we picked up where we had left off. She hadn’t changed a bit.
As I was bustling about in the kitchen, Linda asked without any preamble, ‘So, what’s this Ignatian thing all about then?’ No, she hadn’t changed a bit; she still goes straight to the point!
I found myself burbling as I tried to explain Ignatian spirituality and what drew me to it. Sure, I was trying to make tea and coffee and think about dinner later on, all while rescuing her from the attentions of my puppy who was attacking shoe laces and feet. But why was I so incoherent?
Then I recalled a visit from a friend, whom Linda also knew, so I told her about that.
Sarah had arrived feeling desolate and very, very far from God. I asked her tentatively if she’d allow me to guide her through an imaginative contemplation of a Gospel story of her choice. This was a new way of praying for her, but she said she would like that. So, I gently took her through the passage, encouraging her to imagine the scene – the weather, the landscape, the sounds and smells she could sense – and to see where she was in the scene. Then to listen to the conversations and notice the body language of the people, whether she said anything and what Jesus was like. At some point during the prayer I noticed a tear rolling down her cheek.
As the prayer drew to a close, she said, ‘it’s amazing, I realise that God wasn’t far away at all!’ I could see that something profound had shifted in her. I was reminded of a phrase attributed to St Augustine: ‘God is closer to me than I am to myself’.
In answer to Linda’s question, I could have said something like: Ignatian spirituality sees God as actively working in the world and aims to help us understand and identify his actions in our lives and in the world around us.
But that just tells me about God. What changes people is experiencing the God who is close by, who waits for us to open ourselves just as we are to the mystery of who God is. That is what transforms.
*not her real name