Sun, storms, desert and spirituality

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A number of years ago, accompanied by an excellent Jesuit director, I did a 30-day retreat using the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. In the third week of that retreat there's a meditation on Jesus' agony in the garden, writes Ron Rolhesier.

I did the meditation to the best of my abilities and met with my director to discuss the result. He wasn't satisfied and asked me to repeat the exercise. I did, reported back to him, and found him again dissatisfied.

I was at a loss to grasp exactly what he wanted me to achieve through that meditation, though obviously I was missing something. He kept trying to explain to me that Ignatius had a concept wherein one was supposed to take the material of a meditation and "apply it to the senses" and I was somehow not getting that part.

Eventually he asked me this question: "When doing this meditation, have you been sitting comfortably inside an air-conditioned chapel?" My answer was yes. "Well," this wise Jesuit replied, "no wonder you aren't able to properly apply this to your senses.

How can you really feel what Jesus felt in his agony in garden when you are sitting warm, snug, secure, and comfortable in an air-conditioned room?"  His advice was that I redo the exercise, but do it late in the evening, outside, in the dark, cold, subject to nature's elements, and perhaps even a little afraid of what I might meet physically out there.

He made a good point, not just for my struggle with this particular spiritual exercise but about one of the major deficiencies within contemporary spirituality. Simply put: Our prayer and spiritual quests are not enough connected to nature.

For all of our good intentions and hard work, we are too platonic, too much trying to have our souls transformed while our bodies sit warm, safe, and uninvolved. The physical elements of nature and our own bodies play too small a role in our efforts to grow spiritually.

This is the major critique that Bill Plotkin, an important new voice in spirituality, makes of what he sees happening in much of Christian spirituality today. From our church programs, to what happens in our retreat centers, to the spiritual quests people more deliberately pursue, Plotkin sees too little connection to nature, to the sun, to storms, to the wilderness, and to the desert that Jesus himself sought out.

FULL STORY Sun, storms, desert, wilderness and spirituality (Ron Rolheiser)

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