Friday, January 02, 2009

Happy New Year!

I hope everyone has been off to a graced and peaceful New Year. For my part, we returned from Clarkston Michigan yesterday after the Tri-Province Formation gathering. This year's event drew together the men in formation of the Milwaukee, Detroit, and Chicago Provinces. Nearly 100 young Jesuits came together to get to know one another, rest, and pray over the course of three days. 

A reader challenged me the other day to talk more about Jesuit spirituality and to refer more to the formation that I am receiving. To a point, I can be sympathetic to this request: of late, I have been talking quite a bit about exercise and running...and, I suspect, for good reason: it's my blog and I tend to reflect on my experiences. 

Seriously, it seems to me that the 'physical' dimension of my life is not, nor can be, separated from the spiritual side. Just last night, I was reading Henri de Lubac's Catholicism: Christ and the Common Destiny of Man. In the introduction of the text, de Lubac acknowledges how often Christians lead isolated lives, as though salvation applied exclusively to the realm of one's own personal existence. Engaging the early Fathers of the Church, he attempts to demonstrate the social side of Catholicism. Indeed, he writes that "the Word did not merely take a human body." Rather, "he incorporated himself in our humanity, and incorporated it in himself." Jesus, in other words, becomes the flesh of our universal humanity. 

Part of what I have learned in my Jesuit formation is the importance of human flesh in the spiritual life. If you go back to the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius does not assume that a person can simply propel herself into immediate contemplation of the Mystery of God. Instead, he draws us into mediation through Ignatian Contemplation: using the imagination, see what is happening; hear what is being said; feel your surroundings. The senses are engaged. From this engagement of the senses, from the visualizations one engages, the retreatant is gradually led into meditation in God's presence. We cannot stop with the physical sensation, but we have to begin there. In this sense, Ignatian spirituality is profoundly Aristotelian-Thomistic: human knowing begins with physical sensation (q 76 of the Summa emphasizes the importance of touch). 

So if it appears that all I want to do is to talk about exercise because I want to be the next fitness guru, that is not my intent. I take seriously what I see as a trajectory within Christianity that acknowledges the importance of the body, a trajectory that does appear to have been ignored by those who want to emphasize "spirituality" as opposed to "physicality." I cannot imagine a facile separation of these two, which leads me to speak often of my journey as involving both physical and spiritual influences. 

So today I'm off to Houston to play for a feis. It's about 25-degrees in Cleveland and the high in Houston is like 76-degrees. I'm packing a polo shirt and khakis and I'm going to stand in the sun and try to get burned! Seriously, though, it'll be nice to head down to see my friend Anne Hall and spend a few days in the warmth before I return to NYC on Monday. After my return to the Bronx, I'm off to a Triduum retreat so I may not be posting again until January 8th or 9th. I'll try to get something up here before then but, if I don't, please be assured of my prayers for your New Year!

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