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Two-way Journaling Combined with St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises

Mark Virkler's picture

Shelley Maw took the course Communion with God way back in 1986 in John and Carol Arnott's church in Stratford. Listen as she tells her story of combining two-way journaling with the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.

A game-changer: At that time I began two-way journaling which I continued on and off for many years.  But also because of this course, when I did the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius about 5 years ago, I had an amazing experience of it.  During the first themes of the exercises I was able to have a two way dialogue with God about the themes.  But, new to me - I was also able to fully experience the gospel contemplation portion of the Exercises - and this turned out to be a game-changer for me. Thanks to your course, I was able to enter into the gospel stories with my imagination and without hesitation and fear that this might not be 'okay.'  

In the Spiritual Exercises, the participant is invited to journey through Jesus' entire life and ministry, from his birth and including his death and resurrection - by using our imagination.  As a result of what I learned in Communion with God about flow and trusting the Holy Spirit to lead me in that, in my imagination Jesus and I shared his life, his ministry, his death and his resurrection together as childhood friends.  In 'flow', I chose to enter the gospel stories of Jesus' life as one of Jesus' friends, and as though I was experiencing them alongside Jesus as they unfolded way back then.  The experience transformed my relationship with Jesus and also with the Father God, as I encountered God in quite a different way than I had through years of reading and studying the stories and the scriptures. 

I now carry in my heart memories I made with Jesus as his earth story unfolded.  I saw things in my mind's eye that I never noticed before about the very familiar stories - things like how it might possibly have felt, for Jesus and for the people around him, and how it might have been in real time, without knowing what was going to happen next. I noticed over and over again the gifts of Father God for his human Son.  I saw that things like how my current and very real anxiety and apprehension must have been shared by Jesus' disciples as they walked with him.  

When I began, my spiritual director assured me that what I noticed in the stories and the topics of my imaginative conversations with Jesus would naturally reflect my own current emotions and concerns, and she was so right.  I found the imaginative conversations I had with Jesus were very relevant to my current life situations over and over again. And in my imaginative conversations with Jesus about what was happening (or not happening, or might happen!) my own personality, perspective, empathy, fears and worries came through and I saw myself a bit more clearly, I was able to 'be myself' with my friend Jesus as I reacted and interacted in these life situations, in quite a different and authentic way than I tend to do sitting in my chair trying to pray and study scripture.  Of course then because I was authentic I also encountered Jesus more authentically - as I saw him react to who I am as an understanding friend, and not as a far distant task master GOD that I tended to do so often in my prayer life.  It was like the difference between going somewhere with a friend, or going to sit in a sterile little room and trying to explain to my doctor how I am feeling and what is wrong with me.  A totally different shared experience. 

The feelings of shared experiences with Jesus, the conversations, the time spent together, the understanding between us - all those things deepened my personal connection with Him tremendously.  I feel much more known by him, and that I know him a little bit more.  I have now a tremendous new respect and awe of what it might have been like for Him, as I watched and walked and talked with Him in such a human way as He moved deliberately toward his own execution, all the while loving and caring for those around Him.  In a strange way I am encouraged and inspired to move forward in my own life!  And I saw God the Father; his Father and also mine, in quite a different light than I viewed him before. The number of times I noticed Father God give to, encourage, validate and equip Jesus was revelatory to me. Now, looking back on this, I can see how the Holy Spirit was teaching me about the Father's heart as I walked with Jesus in my imagination!

By way of explanation of the style of my journal entries: Because I am a reader and a writer (in the sense that I process my life best by writing journals about it), I used writing to help me focus and enter a story with my imagination.  I found that sitting quietly and trying to picture a scene in my mind and let it play out didn't work for me - I was too easily distracted by other thoughts.  But when I began to write down the scene and record the action I was able to completely focus and watch the story unfold in front of me as I recorded it.  The added benefit of that is that now I have it all written down and I can go back and re-live and re-learn it again and again.

Examples: Following are a couple of my journal entries of these encounters to encourage others to use imagination as they read the scriptures.  I'll include an introduction and template to the practice of gospel contemplation that I received when I began, concluded by a personal note from me about how I chose to do it for myself.  I found the framework a very helpful guide, as I had done two-way journaling before, but not gospel contemplation. 

Lastly, there are two different journal entries from my gospel contemplation.  The first happened as Jesus left to see John the Baptist and begin his ministry; and I tagged along.  The second is my experience of watching Jesus raise Lazarus from the dead.  After both I tried to explain, very briefly, a bit of how that imaginative experience impacted me in my current life.

Thank you, Mark, for 'bringing it' as they say, for putting yourself out there over and over again, for trusting God to use your ideas and teachings to further the journeys of your fellow travelers into God.  You opened a way for me to connect emotionally with my God, which of course has created a heart bond with Him and I; a bond that has changed my life and my way of being.  It is a bond that will never be broken.


Shelley Maw

Biblical Contemplation Three Part Series - by Shelley Maw

  1. Combining Two-way Journaling with St. Ignatius Spiritual Exercises
  2. A Template for Biblical Contemplation
  3. Two Biblical Contemplations - Meeting John the Baptist and Resurrection of Lazarus 

The Treasure Chest – Spirit-Led Prayer Organizer: Devotionals to Meet Your Specific Needs


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Anonymous's picture

It's a shame most of the church has thrown out mysticism--actually encountering God--along the lines of St. Ignatius. 10,000 canonized saints over the course of 2,000 years, many of whom experienced and encountered God first-hand, should speak to the fact that supernaturally hearing from God, and encountering him any number of other ways, should be normal for people. I hate to see people settle for a "stained-glass Jesus" for an hour a week instead of a day-by-day supernatural adventure/lifestyle they are entitled to through Christ.

Anonymous's picture

I agree with what you said about the stain glass affect. I was in that mode for my first 25 years of lfe.I finally said there has to be more! Like Paul said you are stuck eating the milk of the word and you should be eat the meat of the word.when I learned to he God for the first time my eyes were opened to all he had for me and I really am able to thank him like the father he truly is.I hope and pray that he will awaken the whole church to hearing his voice.
Yours in Christ. Frank

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