All is lit up, all is illuminated

Vine with grapes.

Offering up the love I bear

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Judith Irving is an Ignatian spiritual director and trainer who lives in Catterline, Aberdeenshire. Presently, she is Training Co-ordinator for the Epiphany Group. She describes her own formation  and how she has overcome geography to spread Ignatian spirituality in remote areas.

Listen to God,  listen for life

The first time I saw the word ‘Ignatian’, it was lit up.  It was only a word amongst words. But in me, it was illuminated in awareness. This happened in 2003 in Perthshire at a retreat centre called the Bield of Blackruthven. I was there for a sojourn-day called ‘earth that calls us from our depths’. I asked the retreat guide about ‘Ignatian’, not even pronouncing it properly. She gently corrected me and we sat together in front of a small, fragrant wood burning stove in her art room. I spoke and she listened and eventually suggested I might find it helpful to seek someone who might listen to me more often. ‘Many people find it helpful to have a spiritual guide for themselves’, she said. ‘Someone who accompanies them; who can help you listen to God, to listen for Life’. She looked out some names of people near where I lived. Apparently, like her, they were members of an organisation called the Epiphany Group. I hadn’t heard of the Epiphany Group but the name sounded interesting – inviting, hopeful, creative, and somehow not without depth. I took the names home and placed them safely in a drawer.

Perhaps you are called

A little while later, and the local Episcopal priest came to my house.  She said, ‘Perhaps you are called to contemplation; perhaps you are called to be a spiritual director’. I didn’t know what she meant. She gave me two names with locations: Nile Grove House of Prayer, Edinburgh and St. Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre, North Wales. ‘You should go’, she said. ‘Go and make an eight day retreat’. North Wales seemed far away so opting for Edinburgh I made my first silent individually guided retreat in July 2004. ‘Perhaps you are called to be a spiritual director’ my guide (also an Epiphany Group member) said. When I came home I chose a name from the drawer – a Church of Scotland woman who lived an hour’s drive from me. She accompanied me for the next four years, taking me through the Spiritual Exercises (the 19th Annotation) in 2005. I went to meet her every two weeks. That felt manageable and helpful seeing as I was also busy with three small children. As I made the Exercises, somehow, each of them and my experience as a mother were all threaded through and into the fabric of each day and each week.

Called to accompany

A fruit of making the Spiritual Exercises was discerning this call (that others had noticed and which was slowly and yet energetically dawning on me) to train in spiritual accompaniment. An opportunity to do so presented itself and so, in 2006, I began a two-year course in Spiritual Accompaniment at the Ignatian Spirituality Centre in Glasgow. During this passage I made my first eight day individually guided retreat at St. Beuno’s. This was a wonderful experience. It was also a time which drew me into the Catholic Church – a gift which lets me rest in my faith community. On finishing my course, I joined the Epiphany Group (an ecumenical network of Scotland-wide spiritual directors whose practice is rooted in the spirituality of St Ignatius of Loyola) and became an Associate of the Ignatian Spirituality Centre. Almost nine years, and many more good St. Beuno’s retreats later and after many hours of spiritual direction with wise and gifted spiritual directors, supervision, formation and training in supervision at Loyola Hall, as well as many growing hours of listening to others, I now practise full time as an Ignatian spiritual director, retreat guide, supervisor and Ignatian trainer.

It is not so much knowledge that fills and satisfies the soul, but rather the intimate feeling and relishing of things. St Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 2Overcoming distance with new technology

Now, as well as one-to-one work offering spiritual accompaniment, I train others as they discern their call in this ministry. In the last two years I have also undertaken a role for the Epiphany Group of training co-ordinator. My work involves nurturing, harmonising, affirming and encouraging Epiphany Group training, training teams, members and courses in personal growth in prayer and reflective living as well as in spiritual conversation, spiritual direction and contemplative supervision. This happens in many parts of Scotland in various ways and formats. Most of the training and courses I’m involved with are with groups, face-to-face. Some more recent training also uses new technologies to offer input, sessions and resources. The Epiphany Group is presently facilitating spiritual accompaniment training by way of Skype, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and other online resources to individuals living on Orkney.

The Orcadian connection

This Orcadian connection sparked from a conversation at a funeral of one of our Epiphany Group members in 2015. What was shared was a desire to continue an Ignatian journey already begun. The connection and the journey carries on growing and flourishing in response to encounters, requests and promptings over some years for ‘something Ignatian to happen in Orkney’. From these first glimmerings an Ignatian retreat in daily life was held in Orkney in March 2016. I and two other Epiphany Group members spent a week guiding in four locations across the island.  A real hunger was evident in the fifteen retreatants (a mixture of women, men, denominations, clergy and lay) – with many making great progress and finding real depth in their prayer and God’s relationship with each of them. A number continue to receive spiritual direction via Skype, FaceTime or phone, with, when possible, the occasional face-to-face meeting. There is also a prayer group that offers Ignatian ways of praying called ‘The Well’ that has sprung up from the retreat. The Epiphany Group continues to resource these appropriately and in response to requests from the groups themselves. This was the first time that the Epiphany Group had worked in Orkney and was also (as far as we know) the first Ignatian retreat there.

Another outcome of the retreat was a desire for training and so in response to this I and two other Epiphany Group trainers have delivered this remotely, meeting online every Monday morning for prayer, input, reflection, discussion and triads. We are presently in the midst of this digital experience (that has felt surprisingly physical, embodied, real, connective and contemplative) and this will continue on into 2017-2018. The hope is that by summer 2018 there will be Ignatian spiritual directors living and working on Orkney.

Everything is connected to everything else and all is embraced by the silent brightness in the same loving way

As I reflect on all of this, I’m aware of the weave that has been entwined – of denominations, geography and time, of clergy, lay and religious, of Jesuits and those that collaborate with them, of centres, associations, groups, networks, of friends, of meetings and partings, beginnings and endings. Now my children are on the cusp of leaving home and I realise how Ignatian spirituality has shaped me to be a better parent. It has accompanied me, and them through me, because it has enabled me to listen more fully to myself and to God and so to them as each explores the mysteries of who they are. Over these years too, I’ve spread more into myself; have come home. I think of times when I was child and of those dimly forgotten experiences: the intense welcome of the dappled, scented wood; hearing the call of the low note of the coastal foghorn pulse the sound of its unknowingness far away; an astonishment of discovering up close the store of Eucharistic wafers, stacked in shadow and mahogany, in the silence of a church. These seem imbued with meaning, saturated with awareness. If I had known then of what I now do, and of who I now am, it would not have surprised me at all. Now as I sit here, writing this, rain is pouring down outside, yet sun floods through the windows spilling squares of light onto the wooden floor, lighting floating dust motes, giving form and depth to each shell, each stone, each feather, each flower, each pine cone, each fragment of blue-painted pottery that sit together here on my table top. Each can be comprehended, as unique and precious, held in a space where it can be seen in and for itself. Yet everything is connected to everything else and all is embraced by the silent brightness in the same loving way. All is lit up; all is illuminated.

Go Deeper

A silent, mid-week, individually guided retreat in the Bield at Blackruthven in the beautiful Perthshire countryside.  Tuesday 17 - Friday 20 Oct 2017 

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A welcoming space in the heart of the city, the Ignatian Spirituality centre in Glasgow runs courses, events and retreats too.

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