Wednesday, May 25, 2005

The Spiritual Exercises in Daily Life.

Back in February, I promised a reader that I would post some comments on the method of making the Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius over a period of several months while remaining immersed in one's everyday life, a practice often referred to the 19th Annotation Retreat. For a mix of good reasons (e.g., the planning and execution of my Short Experiment) and bad ones (laziness) I've put off this task until now, but hopefully readers will accept these comments as better late than never.

Making the Spiritual Exercises in daily life is a fairly straightforward if challenging endeavor. The 19th Annotation Retreat takes as its basis the same set of meditations that make up the thirty-day version of the Spiritual Exercises commonly known as the 'Long Retreat.' The chief difference between these two forms of the Exercises is that individuals making a 19th Annotation Retreat complete the assigned meditations in small daily doses over a period of about eight months rather than in the hyper-concentrated form of the one-month Long Retreat. While persons making the Long Retreat typically spend four or five hours a day in prayer, 19th Annotation retreatants usually devote forty-five minutes to an hour each day to the meditations of the Retreat. Persons making the Long Retreat typically meet daily with the spiritual director who is guiding them through the experience; understandably, 19th Annotation retreatants meet with their director less frequently - weekly meetings are common - but spiritual direction remains a key component of the experience.

Like Ignatian spirituality itself, the 19th Annotation method of making the Spiritual Exercises is both vitally contemporary and essentially timeless. The 19th Annotation Retreat can seem like a perfect response to our increasingly fast-paced society, giving individuals who can't put their careers and families on hold for a month to make the Long Retreat an opportunity to make the Exercises without having to lay aside the urgent demands of their daily lives. In a sense, the 19th Annotation Retreat is just the thing for busy people accustomed to multitasking at work and at home. As much as the 19th Annotation Retreat appears to be a concession to modern circumstances, its roots go back even further than the foundation of the Society of Jesus. It's easy to forget that Ignatius developed the Spiritual Exercises as a layman, relying on his own experiences in prayer and as an informal spiritual director to others. The first people who made the Exercises under Ignatius' direction did so under circumstances much closer to those of modern 19th Annotation retreatants than to those of us who have experienced the Long Retreat. Though it was lost for a good many years, the practice of making the Exercises according to the method of the 19th Annotation thus has a very venerable history.

As one may expect, there's a wealth of information about 19th Annotation Retreats available on the Internet. Australian Jesuit Pat O'Sullivan provides a basic introduction to the Spiritual Exercises and some helpful pointers for prospective 19th Annotation retreatants in an article available here. This 2001 NCR article discusses the growing popularity of 19th Annotation Retreats among laypeople. The appeal of 19th Annotation Retreats crosses denominational lines, as evidenced by these reflections from a Protestant laywoman who made the Exercises in daily life. If these links pique your interest or whet your appetite for a 19th Annotation, you may want to get in touch with a Jesuit retreat center near you for more information; failing that, you can at least check out this online version of a 19th Annotation Retreat offered on Creighton University's superb Online Ministries site. I'd also be happy to answer any questions that interested readers may have. Enjoy! AMDG.


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