A while ago I asked for prayer regarding my wife and I starting the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises under the weekly guidance of the Jesuits in Johannesburg (“Ignatian Retreat in Daily Life”, an hour a day of prayer-meditation over a ten month period). It drew quite a bit of feedback. A few years ago a friend of mine in Norway gave me an eastern orthodox prayer rope (he makes them). He recently asked if I could share a picture of it, as he wanted to put it on his Facebook page. This too has drawn comments. I’ve been asked, “why are you doing this Catholic and Orthodox spirituality stuff?” Here’s a brief perspective.

As a follower of Jesus in the Evangelical tradition – some would add Charismatic and Pentecostal – I want to learn from the whole Church. John Wimber taught us in the Vineyard, “We must love God’s Church. We must bless the whole church and learn all we can from it”. That’s exactly what I’m doing!

My first marriage ended in a very painful divorce in 1984. Going for counseling, doing recovery courses and receiving ministry as in laying on of hands, healed me up to a point. My deeper pain at that time led me to begin a journey in historical Christian spirituality, reading the Desert Fathers and other writings, seeking healing in solitude and silence, in mediation and contemplation – some of the classic spiritual disciplines. All along, while being a Vineyard church planter and pastor, I have continued digging my wells by learning from the good in Catholic and Orthodox spirituality. It’s been truly life-giving, to say the least.

So I’ve tried different things – various “tools” for prayer – like the use of icons in aiding encounter with God (my wife has painted some beautiful historical icons which hang in my study). E.g. I got beyond my prejudice of people “worshipping” icons and now appreciate their purpose and meaning. Years ago I began praying the eastern orthodox “Jesus Prayer”, and continue to do so to this day with great personal benefit.

I can go on and explain the usage of the prayer rope, how some exercises or tools for prayer help me, while others help only for a season – and others simply didn’t ‘do it’ for me. As always one has to watch for a method becoming an end in itself – besides pride, legalism, empty ritualism and other things that war inside (and outside) of you when you become intentional in such a journey and experimental with various methods. That’s why accountability to an experienced spiritual director or mature leader is key to keep you from the wiles of the evil one. I am grateful to God for the grace of wise spiritual direction.

For many years I’ve wanted to do the Ignatian exercises, having read up on Ignatius and Jesuit spirituality in the past. All historical spiritual movements and denominations contain the good, the bad and the ugly (the Vineyard included)! The Jesuits have a checkered track-record. For some they are very controversial. But I have learnt – in discerning and learning the best from the whole Church – it comes down to the quality of the original root that still flows through local relationship. One can drink from the historical fountain that God gives via leaders and movements, through whom you come to know and trust at the local level. I have found some local Jesuits imparting, with relative integrity of heart and life, the spring that first flowed in Ignatius.

So pray for us as we embark on “The Exercises” – structured prayer meditations based on the life of Jesus, aimed at an experiential journey of coming to know the love of God – in Christ Jesus. Read up on Ignatius and the Jesuits, and see his story and the motivation behind his “exercises” – you may appreciate why we’re doing them!

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