Archive for January, 2018

High and Wild and Holy

Posted: January 31, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

As some of you will already know, I am writing my dissertation on narrative ethics, thinking about how we use story to express and explore ethical ideas, both in the Christian tradition and in popular culture. (And you though I was just writing about Doctor Who!) As I’ve been reading for it over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found a number of quotes that have both inspired and challenged me.

You might remember that a while ago I posited the idea of scripture as myth, not in the sense that it is invented, but in the sense that it is intended to communicate deep truths. Well a number of other authors have talked in a similar way about the gosepl as fairy story.

JRR Tolkien, who understood the importance of myth and was a devout Catholic, said this in his essay On Fairy Stories: “The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories…This story begins and ends in joy…There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits…This story is supreme; and it is true”.

And Frederick Buechner, whose book Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale is heavily indebted to Tolkien, puts it this way: “That is the Gospel, this meeting of darkness and light and the final victory of light. That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, the one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still”.

For me, that is the inspiring part, and I don’t really want to add anything to it, but simply offer it to you. The challenge comes from Beuchner, who goes on to say this: “With his fabulous tale to proclaim, the preacher is called in his turn to stand up in his pulpit as fabulist extraordinary, to tell the truth of the Gospel in its highest and wildest and holiest sense…Let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy…as the tale that is too good not to be true, because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and uplifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have”.

I know I have a tendency to err on the side of the apologist, but I want so much to be the fabulist. I want to “tell the truth of the Gospel in its highest and wildest and holiest sense” because it is glorious and it is joyous and it is supreme and it is true. I want people to be as excited when I speak as I am when the words first find their way out of me.

But this isn’t just about me as a preacher. Everyone who follows Christ has a duty to bear witness to him and to tell his gospel, and so we must all find ways of telling this high and wild and holy story. The question then is ‘how?’. A couple of months ago, a group I am part of at college spent an hour sharing what the good news is for us. Not just giving a neatly packaged presentation of the gospel story, but speaking from the heart about what it has meant for our lives.

I’d never framed my story or the gospel in quite that way before, but it was a really interesting and moving experience. Others spoke of finding acceptance and purpose, but I found myself speaking of the presence of God. I have experienced this through the Spirit, but I also see it in the way the incarnation assures me that Jesus has entered and understood what it means to be human, so that nothing I experience is outside of his care.

Perhaps this week you might take some time to think about how you could tell the high and wild and holy story of what the gospel that is the supreme and true fairy story has meant for you.


Picture is cover image from Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories


Radical Faith, Radical Hope

Posted: January 23, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Last Sunday was the 493rd anniversay of the founding of the Swiss Anabaptist movement, and one year since the Women’s March that was organised for the first full day of Donald Trump’s presidency. These were radical acts which challenged the religious culture and the political climate of their times. Jesus too was unafraid to subvert expectations and speak truth to power, so what does it mean for us to live radical lives in the footsteps of the one who turned the world upside down?



In Matthew 23, we see Jesus challenging the religious culture, a radical act in a society dominated by that religion. It’s important to say that I don’t believe that Jesus was opposed to religion itself. I think at its most fundamental, religion is about creating a community of faith, and that was certainly something Jesus did. Bringing together the disciples, giving the Lord’s Prayer, instituting the Lord’s Supper…that’s all religion. What he is criticising here is religion that is hypocritical and burdensome, religion that is used to give power and status.

I think that criticism comes from two directions. Firstly, that kind of religion damages people on a very personal level. It weighs them down with guilt and fear, and it can place demands on their time and energy that they just can’t bear. And secondly, it damages people on a spiritual level. If religion is about the community of faith, then spirituality is about our walk with God, and when the community becomes oppressive, it can become a stumbling block on the walk.

Despite his best efforts, that kind of toxic religion didn’t end with Jesus, and it is for those same reasons that we need to be willing to challenge our own religious culture. The banner photo for the Cafe Theologique Facebook page is an image of a woman wearing a t-shirt saying ‘Bad Theology Kills’. And at its worst, it’s true. Last year there was a Twitter hashtag which I followed with interest, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. The most disturbing tweets came from women who had been told by their pastors to stay in abusive relationships because the man is the head of woman and it is up to her to obey and to please him. Women die because they stay in those relationships. That is bad theology and it does kill and so it has to be challenged.


That’s an extreme example to push the point, but there are plenty of other examples that may feel closer to home, whether it’s the prosperity gospel that blesses materialism and curses suffering, or a view of mental health that sees it as purely spiritual and so denies proper care, or an understanding of sexuality that leads to abusive treatments in the name of correction, there is bad theology that needs to be countered. And I want to be clear that these are the kinds of things I’m talking about. I’m not talking about criticising the church down the road because they use a different translation of the Bible or swing some incense about every now and then. I truly believe that the church reflects the glorious kaleidoscopic beauty of God, and the diversity of styles and spiritualities is something to be celebrated. I’m talking about challenging the kind of damaging and deficient religion that Jesus saw in the scribes and the pharisees.

But of course, however right and necessary that challenge is, it is difficult for a number of reasons. There can be a fear that challenge opens us up to doubt, and that doubt is a bad thing because it is the opposite of faith, but I don’t believe that to be true on either count. On the first point, challenging the religious culture is not the same as doubting God. The church is not yet made perfect as the Body of Christ, and so we can ask questions of one without asking those same questions of the other. TThe Anabaptists saw challenging the Catholic Church as an expression of belief, not doubt. The truth is that confronting religious tradition does not lessen our faith, in fact it is not confronting it that is more likely to do that, as we become increasingly disheartened with its flaws, and begin to project the wrong we see in the church on to God. And the truth is that many people who reject God do so because of what they see in the church, and so rather than maintaining the status quo to avoid doubt, we have a duty to keep challenging in order to encourage faith.

On that second point, even if asking questions of the church does lead us to ask questions of God, the Bible is full of people who challenged and doubted and wrestled with God, quite literally in the case of Jacob, and in those instances, doubt was part of the process which led to greater faith, because it brought them closer to God, even if it didn’t bring them answers. We see that really clearly with Job. He questioned the religious wisdom of the day as presented to him by his friends, and they added that to his list of transgressions, but God responded by painting a vivid picture of his might, so that Job was left unable to do anything but declare his power, to which God replied that he had spoken well as his friends had not. God’s declaration to Job at first reads like a reprimand, but it becomes an affirmation that he was right to question the theology espoused by his friends because it did not speak truthfully, and that it was okay for him to doubt because it led to a deeper expression of faith.

There can also be a fear that challenge can lead to disunity in the church, and so we should keep from rocking the boat, but I believe there are ways to challenge within a greater unity. Jesus criticising the pharisees is perhaps not the best example here, because even though he had to hold them accountable as he did, they didn’t respond well and that relationship was so fractured it ultimately led to Jesus’ death. Sadly that is the path the church has often taken, and challenge has lead to division and violence. Many of the first Anabaptists were killed, drowned in the river they baptised one another in, as some kind of twisted poetic justice. This fear is not unfounded, but I remain hopeful nonetheless. If Jesus could confront Nicodemus with his misunderstandings in such a way that it would lead the pharisee to defend Jesus in the Sanhedrin and help prepare his body for burial, then there must be a way for us to hold church authorities to account in a way that brings repentance and renewal. And if Jesus could have a zealot and a tax collector, two men with completely opposing political views, in his inner circle without all hell breaking loose, then there must be a way for us to disagree well within the church.

I think there is a great model for this in the conversation between Jesus and the women at the well in John 4. She was not a religious authority, but she did represent a different religious tradition. Their differences are acknowledged when she says “Our fathers worshiped on this mountain; and you say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” But Jesus moves past those differences when he says “Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for such the Father seeks to worship him.”  He challenges her with the claim that she does not know what she worships, but he keeps going to say that beyond the ritual of worship is the spirit and truth of worship, the implication being that this is something they may share, so that where they worship really doesn’t matter. In the same way, I believe we can challenge what we see as damaging or deficient in our own and other traditions, without the need to argue against every little difference, always looking beyond them to what we hold in common. That’s why associations and relationships within our own denomination, and ecumenical projects such as the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity, which we are in at the moment, are so important.

We see something of that sense of pointing further on in the passage we started with. The subtext seems to be that the scribes and pharisees have got as far as understanding the word of the law, but have fallen short of understanding its spirit, and surely that is a fault that can be corrected. The woes to the pharisees that follow are pretty damning, not least when Jesus says that all the righteous blood shed upon the earth will fall upon them, but I don’t believe the religious leaders were entirely without hope of redemption. Jesus asks how they might be saved from Gehenna, and I think the answer is that they might look further on, past their rules and rituals to the God who they serve in name but have forgotten in spirit.

This brings me back to the original question. What does it mean to be radical in the footsteps of Jesus? To be radical is to keep asking questions and posing challenges, and so that has to be a part of it. But anyone can do those things, and so to be radical in the way of Jesus must be something more. It is to remember that our first commitment is to God as revealed in Christ, and all else comes after. Only that will tell us what questions we need to be asking. Only that will keep us anchored when those questions lead to doubts. And only that will keep us civil when we find ourselves challenging our brothers and sisters.

The Beatitudes in Matthew 5 are perhaps the best example of Jesus speaking a different word to that spoken by the world, and that is a radical. On the face of things, those who mourn are supposed to be miserable, but Jesus promises that they will be comforted, which says that our pain will be made bearable. When we play by the rules of this world, those who are meek are bound to be taken advantage of, but Jesus promises that they will inherit the earth, which to me suggests that authority will be given to the ones who know how to use it wisely. Righteousness seems to be in such short supply that those who hunger and thirst for it seem sure to be disappointed, but Jesus says that they will be satisfied, which can only mean that righteousness will flow as Amos prophesied. It seems obvious that those who are persecuted must suffer, but Jesus says they will be rewarded in heaven, which tells us that there is beauty beyond all ugliness.

The beatitudes give us a world turned upside down, and they start and end by speaking of the kingdom, so they must surely be breaking through just as the kingdom is breaking through. These aren’t just promises to be fulfilled in some distant future, they are promises which can begin to find their fulfilment now, and as they show us the world as it can be, they are a challenge to the world as it is.

The world has changed in many ways since Jesus spoke those words, but in many other ways it has stayed very much the same. People still mourn without comfort, power still sits in the wrong hands so that the meek are exploited, righteousness still seems like a rare delicacy with not enough to go around, and thousands still suffer unspeakable pain and indignity at the hands of their persecutors. And of course there are still many who are poor in spirit, who must show mercy because they have suffered injury, who find their purity a matter for ridicule, who are forced to make peace because there is none.

The world still needs to hear the words of Jesus, and not just the Beatitudes but all of them, perhaps most particularly the call to love and the promise that we are loved. We still need to hear them too, no matter how many times we have heard them before. I think we can grow tired of hearing the gospel, or at least we can forget that it is radical and beautiful and countercultural. Of course it is right that it should become so familiar that it is simply a part of us. God spoke about putting his law within us and writing it on our hearts, and it is a wonderful thing when we take it into our very souls. But that should be about making us radical and beautiful and countercultural, rather than about making the gospel ordinary.

radical gospel (1)

If that sounds like I think you should be heading out of the door to lead a revolution, hold tight because I think there are a couple of things we need to remember to keep things in balance. First, when we think about being countercultural, there can be tendency for us to feel like it is an us and them situation, the church against the world. But we’ve already seen that there are things that need to be challenged in the church, and there are equally things that should be celebrated in the world. This isn’t about challenging the culture for the sake of the challenge, but about challenging the things that are wrong with the culture for the sake of the culture itself. We are called to be a blessing, not merely an aggravation.

The psalmist declared that the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, and so there is much that is true and noble and just and pure in the world, and we can get alongside that, whether it names God or not. People interested in mission will often talk about seeing where God is at work and joining in. It certainly felt like that at the Women’s March last year. For me my faith was part of what had driven me there, but it was good to stand with others of all faiths and none, sharing a common purpose. God’s love is expansive, and it should lead us to cross borders, not enforce them. It’s all too easy to live in a holy huddle, but that wasn’t the way of Jesus, and it’s not the way to empower real change in the world.

There can also be a tendency towards negative feelings like bitterness and cynicism. Things don’t go the way we want them to, and that disappointment turns inwards, so that we stop expecting change, and our speaking becomes little more than a raving. One of the things that I found so encouraging about the Women’s March was the humour and warmth that were on display, because the world needs those things to change it, and we need those things to sustain us as we try to make that change. I rather liked the poster which said “a woman’s place is in the resistance”, with a picture of Princess Leia. And perhaps the one that popped up the most was the declaration that “love trumps hate”.

Related image

It was clear that people were marching because they were angry and scared, and when we look around us it is clear that they are legitimate emotions. A couple of weeks ago I read a Twitter feed from a foodbank, telling stories of parents fainting at the school gates because they had gone hungry to feed their kids, and I cried tears of deep fury and sadness. And then last week I read that Russia is funding a Serb paramilitary group in Bosnia, and I cried out of sorrow and a terrible fear that history will repeat itself. But it also felt like people were marching because they thought they could be a part of changing things, because they really believed that if we can just keep smiling and keep being kind, we can make things better.

There should be that kind of positivity about the way we deal with the world, because no matter how bad things seem, our faith declares that nothing is beyond the love and redeeming power of God, and our history tells us that it only takes a handful of men and women to change the world. Of course they did not act in their own power but in the power of the Spirit, and that is why our own activism must be more than marches and petitions and a few hours of volunteering a week. Those things are all good and important, and I do not want to devalue them at all, but they must be underpinned by a deep commitment to prayer, and a constant calling on the Spirit to bring the life and light of Christ into the world.

When I first started thinking about what it means to be radical, I thought I was going to end up on my soapbox, and maybe I have a little bit at times, but as I have written this, I have increasingly felt that the most radical word is not a shout but a whisper. The Beatitudes speak of a gentle revolution, one that holds nothing back and is utterly transformative, but one which comes with comfort and mercy and peace, and so even if we are moved by anger and fear we must proceed with that same gentleness. 

And so we return again to the question we began with. What does it mean to be radical in the footsteps of Jesus? To be radical is to speak a new word into the world, and so we must find ways to make our voices heard. But again anybody can do that, and so again to be radical in the way of Jesus must go further. I think for me it is all about hope. If our primary commitment is to God as revealed in Jesus, the one in whom the nations put their hope, we also have a commitment to that hope, and it must infuse all that we do. And this hope is not optimism or wishful thinking or naivety, as the world so often sees it, but the sure and certain knowledge that because of Christ things can and will be different, and that because we are in Christ we can be a part of making that difference. Hope will lead us on when the path is difficult. Hope will keep us as beautiful as we are countercultural. And hope will keep us radical in the way of Christ.


Ignatian Spirituality 101

Posted: January 16, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Last Sunday we started a new series exploring Ignatian Spirituality, the tradition that comes from the insights and teaching of Ignatius of Loyola and is practised by the Jesuits, the Catholic order he founded in the sixteenth century. We started with the basics, and you’ll find everything we covered below. In Ignatian style, there are also some questions for reflection built in, so I do encourage you to make some time for those if you can.

I cannot claim to be an expert on Ignatian Spirituality, and I am even less certain of the history and inner workings of the Jesuits, but I have really benefited from Ignatian traditions of prayer and contemplation, and am excited to share them with you and to learn more as we explore this together.

This series will be based on The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything by James Martin (a Jesuit priest not the tv chef!) but I will also be digging around to find answers to any questions that come up, so after the picture of Ignatius at the end of this post, you will find a little bit of research I have done this week.


The Life of Ignatius

Ignatius of Loyola was born in the Basque region of Spain in 1491. As a young man preparing for life as a soldier and courtier, he was vain and hotheaded, but then when he was thirty, his leg was shattered by a canonball, forcing him into a long period of rest. While struggling for things to entertain himself with, his sister in law offered him a book on the life of Jesus and another on the life of the saints. They wouldn’t have been his own choice of reading materials, but they captured his imagination and changed the course of his life.

He began to wonder if he could live like the saints, and his ambition to succeed in the military life was transformed into an ambition to succeed in the spiritual life. He began by going from one extreme to other, replacing a life of wealth and pleasure with a life of hardship and austerity, but after an intense spiritual experience while walking by a river, he began to form the ideas that would later form what he called his “way of proceeding”.

After several false starts, including a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, he began training for ordination in the Catholic Church, during which time he gathered around himself several new friends, with whom he founded the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits. This was in the early years of the Protestant Reformation, and it is sometimes thought that the Jesuits were founded, or at least approved by the Pope, in order to counter the reformation. However the founding documents for the order speak most about helping souls, and Ignatius believed God met people where they were and wanted his methods to be available to everyone. It seems appropriate then that we should be exploring his style of spirituality, even as members of a different tradition.

Much of Ignatius’ life was dedicated to writing the two texts that contain most of his thinking. Spiritual Exercises to Overcome Oneself and to Order One’s Life, Without Reaching a Decision Through Some Disordered Affection, which focuses on how to live one’s own life, and offers a series of  exercises which are generally worked through with a spiritual director. And Constitutions, which focuses on how to live with others, setting out the rule of life for the Society of Jesus but always with a degree of flexibility and pragmatism built in.

Ignatius died of malaria in 1568, and became a saint in 1622, with his feast day celebrated on July 31st, the date of his death. I didn’t realise this when I suggested looking at Ignatian spirituality, but that means this year marks the 450th anniversary of his death. In those 450 years, hundreds of thousands of people have benefited from Ignatius’ way of proceeding, from Jesuit priests to lay people of all backgrounds.

The openness of Jesuits to the world means they have been active in many different areas, from the arts to astronomy to activism. They invented the theatre trapdoor and discovered quinine, and there are thirty five craters on the moon named after Jesuit scientists. St Peter Claver was known as the slave of the slaves for his ministry to the slaves in what is now Colombia in the seventeenth century. The Nazis perceived the Jesuit ethos as the most intransigent opposition to Nazism, and a Jesuit college in Innsbruck served a centre for anti-Nazi resistance until it was closed down in 1938. The 1945 film On the Waterfront was inspired by the groundbreaking labour relations work of John Corridan. Daniel Berrigan was for a time on the FBI’s ‘Ten Most Wanted Fugitives’ List as a result of his protests against the Vietnam War. And of course the current Pope, known for a degree of theological free thinking more characteristic of the Society of Jesus than the wider Catholic Church, is a Jesuit. There are inevitably darker moments in Jesuit history, not least their implication in the child abuse scandal, but I do think that we should judge the merit of an idea or a tradition when it is at its best and most true, and I think men like Corridan and Berrigan argue strongly that the Jesuit tradition is worth engaging with.

What is the most compelling part of the life of St Ignatius? Where might your life intersect with his?

Four Way of Understanding Ignatian Spirituality

A spirituality is simply a way of approaching God, which when fully embraced can become a way of life. Many Christian spiritualities have grown out of religious orders, and each has its own “charism” or founding spirit. For example, the Franciscans are known for their love of the poor and environment, and the Benedictines are notable for their generous hospitality. We might say that the charism of revive is a willingness to question.

James Martin notes that it used to be said of the Jesuits that they were so well disciplined that if you asked five of them what their charism was then you would get one answer, but that they are now a more independent movement and so you would more likely get six different answers. But he ventures to suggest that there are four elements of Jesuit spirituality, or four ways of understanding it, that all Jesuits would agree on.

Finding God in all things This is about acknowledging that there are no dividing lines between the secular and the spiritual, that God cannot be boxed into church or religion but is present in all things. In our work and our relationships, in the music we listen to and the games play, in doing the weekly food shop and in crying on the stairs because it’s been a really long week. It means that every aspect of our lives is important and open to God, and that we can engage with God whatever we are doing. Perhaps it sounds obvious, but it was a revolutionary idea when Ignatius thought of it, in a time when the church got to say what was and wasn’t holy.

Being a contemplative in action The Jesuits were never a monastic community, but were expected to lead active lives out in the world, and so they had to learn ways of weaving prayer and meditation into the chaos of their everyday lives. That is one of the things that is so attractive about Ignatian Spirituality. I’m sure I’m not the only one that’s contemplated running off to a hut in the desert, but the reality is that we have jobs and families and social lives, and we’re not really going to sack all of those things in, so we need to find way of holding all of that business within a deep rooted spirituality. Action includes social justice, community, simple living.

Seeing the world in an incarnational way The fact that Christ took on flesh and blood means that God takes embodied life seriously, and that means we must take it seriously too. This really links back to the idea of finding God in all things, as it calls us to look for the ways in which God is still incarnated in the world, but it really emphasises that we can engage with God through the physical. It gives us permission to enjoy the world, while calling us to engage more with God through it.

Seeking freedom and detachment This is about ridding ourselves of distractions and unhealthy desires, so that we can become the people we’re meant to be, love and accept love, make good decisions, and experience the beauty of creation and the mystery of God’s love. That may mean letting go of things, but when held in tension with the previous point, it isn’t simply a denial of pleasure. It may mean reordering our priorities, so that the things we can not or need not let go of have less of a hold on us.

Think about these four ways of understanding Ignatian spirituality. Are there any that come more naturally to you? Are there any you shy away from?


Six Paths to God

If spirituality is simply about approaching God, then it may help to step away from Ignatian Spirituality for a moment to think about the our own experiences.  James Martin identifies six paths people may take to God, acknowledging that many of us will move between them at different times in our lives

The path of belief For people on this path, God has always been part of their lives, and they have always been more or less confident of their beliefs. That doesn’t mean that they have never experienced doubt, but that faith has been their dominant experience, giving their lives meaning and sustaining them through struggle. This path sounds great, but it can lead to complacency or become stuck in immaturity.

The path of independence People on this path have rejected organised religion, perhaps because they have been hurt or rejected or quite simply bored by it, but still believe in God. This can be a very well considered path, and where there has been serious pain it may be a necessary part of the healing process, but it can be a lonely journey.

The path of disbelief People on this path have come to reject not only religion, but belief in God. Some have thought more deeply about God than those on the path of belief, and they have a knack for detecting hypocrisy and lazy answers, but there is a danger that they can raise intellectual or emotional barriers, so that they are no longer able to see the other paths.

The path of return People on this path grew up with religion and walked away from it, but have found their interest reignited, perhaps by a believing friend or a major life event, and started to feel their way back to faith. They start on this path with questions gained in their period of atheism or agnosticism, questions which can lead to a more mature and considered faith, but they can also come with hurts which must be resolved.

The path of exploration People on this path are constantly asking questions, with genuine curiosity rather than cynicism, and trying out different ways of engaging with faith. This willingness to explore can lead to greater depths of understanding and the right spiritual home, but there is a danger of never settling or committing because nowhere is perfect.

The path of confusion For people on this path, finding God is a worry or a problem. They may believe enough to pray in a crisis and attend the odd service, but their faith runs hot and cold, and their questions weigh heavier than their beliefs. There is nothing wrong with having doubts, but this kind of confusion can be uncomfortable and ultimately lead to disbelief.

The good news is that there is an openness and pragmatism about Ignatian Spirituality that means it can be used by anybody who wishes to engage with it. Whatever path you are on, it can meet you on it and travel it with you. But it will not travel with you alone, as we all need companions along the way. People often talk about being spiritual but not religious, but if spirituality is about approaching God, and religion is about creating a community of faith, then we need both together. That’s whay it’s so important that to remember that engaging with Ignatian Spirituality connects us with a community and a tradition.

Which path are you on now and which paths have you travelled in the past?  Who are you travelling with and how does being in community affect your faith?

Quiet Heartfelt Moments

Returning to Ignatius for a final chance to reflect, we see that his journey along the path of relief began with small steps. As he read the life of Jesus and the life of the saints, he began to intersperse his thoughts of knightly service and courtship with thoughts of doing heroic things for God, and gradually he realised that the aftereffects of these thoughts were different. The joy that came with thinking about the things of the world didn’t last, but the joys of thinking about God did, and he began to understand these feelings were the way in which God was communicating with him.

The idea that God may communicate with us directly landed Ignatius in trouble with the Inquisition, who thought he was trying to bypass the institutional church, but many of us will testify alongside Ignatius that God does often speak through quiet heartfelt moments. A sudden sense of awe at the beauty of the ocean. An overwhelming feeling of love towards a friend. A moment of calm in the midst of a storm.

When have you experienced those quiet heartfelt moments in which you have felt the presence of God? How can you be more open to recognising those moments?




A Few Tentative Answers

Can women be Jesuits? Women cannot be admitted to the Society of Jesus, but there are female religious communities that are closely connected to the Jesuits, and many laywomen engage with Ignatian Spirituality.

Are there Jesuit churches? Yes, there are Jesuit churches and even Jesuit parishes. These are part of the Catholic Church, but were founded by Jesuits and are served by Jesuit priests. Jesuits priests do also serve in normal parish churches as well as chaplaincies..and of course the Vatican.

Where are the Jesuits in Britain? This is not an exhaustive list, but they run a number of schools and charities, there are centres of Ignatian Spirituality in London and Wales, St Bede’s pastoral centre in York is run by a female order specialising in Ignatian Spirituality, and Manresa House in Birmingham is where Jesuits train to join the order.

Did Ignatius believe in Catholic doctrine? Ignatius was broadly orthodox in his faith, but he emphasised the importance of living theology and wished to reconcile the authority of church with personal faith, and his theology was above all spiritual and Christ-centred. This put him within the moderate wing of church, and it did get him into trouble, but I am not aware that he was ever seen as heretical. (In fact, if you Google Ignatius and heresy you’re more likely to find people still praising him for fighting the heretic Luther!)

Tell me more about the Spiritual Exercises. The Exercises were not written to be read by individuals, but to act as a guide for spiritual directors. As I have not had opportunity to be led through the Exercises, it seems right that I have not attempted to read them, and so I can’t give details of the finer points, only a very broad description. The original and complete form of the Spiritual Exercises is a retreat of thirty days, but the most common form now is a “retreat in daily life” which is spread over several months, and it is directed at developing discernment. An overview can be found at


Rhythms, habits, patterns

Posted: January 9, 2018 by leighannegreenwood in Uncategorized

Yesterday was my first day back at college after the Christmas break, and we talked in our afternoon session about the importance of good rhythms and habits and patterns, both in forming our characters and developing our ministries.

Then this morning I thought I would look back to what I wrote at the start of last year, and found that I had reposted the graphic I created to capture some of our thoughts around engaging with the nine styles of spirituality.

That was all about identifying practices that would give us good rhythms and habits and patterns, so it seemed to good to remind myself of it, and to share it again here.

My graphic design capabilities have still not improved to the point of being able to make something both attractive and legible, so if you find yourself squinting too much to make out the writing, you may like to head over to the posts on Styles of Spirituality and Rhythms of Prayer.

However you engage with it, perhaps you might pick a couple of the practices we suggested together as a community, and build them into your rhythms and patterns and habits this year.

nine styles