“We live out of our stories,” Monty Williams, SJ said to our little group of Ignatian directors. We listened intently to this wise, amiable priest who was born in Guyana seven decades ago.
Father Williams explained that each of us has a blessed history made up of experiences that make us feel good. These stories affirm that God knows, loves and values us.
We also have a conversion history. This history contains the difficult circumstances or events we lived through. We look back at what happened and see how God worked in it to transform us or the situation.
In addition to these histories, we have an unredeemed history. This one contains the stories that are unresolved in our lives. Awful things happen to us that tell us we are worthless, unlovable, ugly or bad. Some of these stories have no happy endings and continue to rob us of life.
“In the first week of the Ignatian Exercises, the retreatants who pray the exercises see how they live out of their unredeemed stories and how those stories trap them. In their prayers, they become overwhelmed by sin–theirs, other people’s, our culture’s and humankind’s. They discover that they don’t and can’t control their lives or protect themselves from horrors or terrors. Their security in themselves or their system falls apart and they become aware of their utter dependencies.” When that happens, he explained, they can feel like they’ve lost themselves, like they’re falling off a cliff, about to drown or be shattered into a million pieces. “Yet, in that moment, as they continue to wait on God in prayer,” Williams says, “they discover that they are held.”
“You can’t give someone the experience of being held by God,” he says. “You can only give them the space to discover it for themselves.”
I sat there with the other directors, riveted to his words.
I know that moment of feeling shattered and then discovering that I’m held. While offering spiritual direction, I’ve sat with others as they have discovered it, too. It doesn’t just happen in the Ignatian Exercises; it happens in everyday life. I wrote about it before I even understood it.
be poured out? am I
available? can I
be used overlooked undervalued?
will I? am I? can I?
I devise ways
I could have fallen
droplets in the mist
* * *
Geoffrey “Monty” Williams, SJ’s love mischief is getting people excited about a five-century old document called the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Williams is a highly regarded priest, scholar, and guide to Ignatian spirituality. He serves as a faculty member at Regis College at the University of Toronto and is Co-Chair in the Diploma in Ignatian Spirituality at the same school. Williams, a frequent retreat leader and speaker, travels around the world and has written many books including his newest one, The Way of the Faithful: The Dynamics of Spiritual Desire (2017).