Ignatian spirituality and me…

Workshop at JRS photo by George Torode with English PEN

Stained glass by St Thomas the Apostle with ChristWe pray at the beginning of each day in offering. Today with St Thomas whose feast we celebrate.

Offering on the feast of St Thomas


Ignatian spirituality .. by accident

Somewhat accidentally, Ignatian spirituality has become a key driving force in both my personal and professional life. If you’d asked me four years ago about Ignatian spirituality, I likely would have looked at you blankly and said, ‘what’s that?’. Looking back, my exposure to Ignatian spirituality began long before I was connected to the Jesuits, when my ecumenical university chaplaincy offered a retreat in daily life.

It was during my second year when I was struggling with whether I should change the specialism of my degree or indeed change the very nature of my degree to focus more on Sustainable Development, a desire which was driven by my extensive experiences of volunteering overseas. I didn’t know then that the retreat in daily life was filled with Ignatian spirituality, but I found it deeply helpful and began connecting with my faith in a new way.

Space to notice God

I’ve done a few retreats in daily life since and I find them to be hugely fulfilling – deeply challenging, as the whole point is that you continue with your daily life but allow for a renewed purpose and dedication of time for prayer and space to notice how God moves in your life. Anyone who knows me will know that I tend to fill every waking moment with something, there’s rarely an evening where I’m not volunteering somewhere, attending a fundraising event, or organising. It drives my wonderful husband barmy and is one of the reasons a retreat in daily life is so fruitful and difficult – it’s a huge challenge to dedicate that time, but when I do, it empowers me to pause and reflect on where I put my energies, to notice where God is working in me, and when I might be able to refocus my energies.

In the end, I stuck with my initial degree choice, Medicinal Chemistry, and it was the right decision. Although I haven’t done anything directly related to Chemistry since, the skills I developed and the friendships I formed have carried me through many a tough time and great times too!

Space to understand the meaning and the message

Four years ago was when I was able to name my experiences as Ignatian spirituality – I was ecstatic to be accepted onto the Catholic Parliamentary Internship Scheme, and the chaplain to the scheme was David Stewart SJ. Through the internship scheme we were privileged to have regular one-to-one spiritual direction and two residential silent retreats at St Beuno’s Jesuit Spirituality Centre, alongside studies at Heythrop College.

Silence is a huge part of Ignatian spirituality, as it is in silence that we truly have the space to understand the meaning and the message. I hated the silence at first and really struggled – I found it difficult to enter into it fully. I am so used to being surrounded by noise and by chatter and by continuous updates – I find comfort there. I even struggle to sleep without the TV or radio on in the background. To be honest, I still struggle with silence, but gradually as I enter into it I feel a peace and a closer connection to God. I can’t always hear what God is asking of me, or where God is working in me; but the desire to enter into a relationship is there and I’ve come to trust that sometimes that is enough.

God is present in human history, even in its most tragic episodes. Image: Poppy field‘God is present in human history, even in most tragic episodes’

The internship and the experiences of Ignatian spirituality have changed the direction of my life, for the better. It affirmed my understanding that a relationship with God doesn’t sit in isolation of a relationship with the world, God is working in the world within each of us. I am privileged now to work for the Jesuit Refugee Service UK (JRS UK), and one of the phrases of our charter sticks with me and often provides comfort when presented with the tragedies of recent times, ‘God is present in human history, even in most tragic episodes’: in the faces of the refugees whom we accompany; in the Mancunian spirit; in the generosity of Londoners.

It is such a joy to work for JRS UK with an incredible team of people who all care deeply about accompanying refugees, ensuring they are treated with dignity and respect – always. Working for JRS UK allows me to put my faith and passion for social justice into action – it didn’t take too much discernment to accept the job. I am blessed to work in a small organisation, where I get to see the impact of our work and ensure that refugees are able to participate in our communications and their voices are heard as often as possible.

There isn’t an ‘end’ to a journey in spirituality, so what’s next? I’m hoping to deepen my understanding of Ignatian spirituality through the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius over the next year – 30 days in silence or perhaps alongside daily life…. either way, wish me luck!

Megan Knowles

Go Deeper

Experience an Ignatian retreat day for yourself.  Ignatian retreat day in london

Visit the website of JRS to learn more about Megans' work. JRSUK >>

Listen to these audio reflections below created to mark Refugee week.

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