"Remember, I am with you always to the end of the age" (Mt 28:20)

Immediacy of Encounter

or our first consideration, two related words in the Gospel merit great attention—the words "secret" or "κρυπτός" (kryptos) and "hidden" or "κρυφός" (kryphos). The two are closely related words but have slightly different nuances. Both words can be used interchangeably in many contexts, but "secret" is more frequently used in the New Testament to describe actions done secretly for the sake of God’s recognition rather than human praise. In Matthew 6:4, when Jesus says, "so that your almsgiving may be in secret," the Greek word used is "κρυπτός" (kryptos), indicating the act is done in a way that others do not see it. One major difference between a secret and what is hidden is that secrets are intentionally kept hidden while the other may not be. It means that the person may not be even aware that something is hidden or out of sight.

Second point, when we meet our retreatants during spiritual direction sessions we will be put in a sacred space to listen to their personal secrets and hidden thoughts.

We must be careful when we accompany someone. Sometimes, you get the feeling of listening without hearing. This happens a lot and there is a great temptation for guides to immediately inquire into the unknown. When we do that, prematurely, we will lose the trust of the person. Do not be surprised when, in the next session, your retreatant starts to shut himself or herself off from our probes. It can be irreversible, or a point of no return.

Gentleness and tenderness is the most important virtue for every spiritual companion especially when the retreatant says that nothing seems to be happening. Often a retreatant will say about his or her prayer, “In my prayer, nothing seems to be happening.” Almost all the time, even for those who are advanced among us in the spiritual journey will still, from time to time, have the nothing-seems-to-be-happening prayer experience. Some call it spiritual dryness or spiritual doldrum which refers to a state of inactivity, stagnation, or depression. When someone says they are “in the doldrums,” they mean they are feeling stuck, unmotivated, or lacking energy and enthusiasm. This usage captures the sense of ships trapped in the calm waters officially called the Intertropical Convergence Zone (ITCZ). It is characterized by low pressure and little to no wind, which can cause sailing ships to be becalmed for extended periods. The doldrums are marked by light, variable winds, which can change direction and intensity unpredictably.

When this occurs, the retreat giver must be attentive to what I call the ‘murmurs’ or 'agitations' of the retreatant. Nothing-seems-to-be-happening is a form of an invisible murmur. The doldrum is a perfect image where you feel there is no movement of wind, if you are looking only sideways, the greatest movements in the doldrums are, maybe, in different directions like bottom up.

Annotation 17 of the Spiritual Exercises says, "It is very advantageous that the one who is giving the Exercises, without wishing to ask about or know the exercitant’s personal thoughts or sins, should be faithfully informed about the various agitations and thoughts which the different spirits stir up in the retreatant. For then, in accordance with the person’s greater or lesser progress, the director will be able to communicate spiritual exercises adapted to the needs of the person who is agitated in this way."

Only then, would a spiritual companion, be mostly needed. I always tell my retreatants that my most valuable help is like a mirror. Mirroring is a way of gently naming something, not only what is already manifest but also what has not yet fully manifested itself. Being a mirror is not perfection. Only God is the true mirror of each of us. This brings us to the third and final consideration.

Why is St Ignatius so careful about spiritual movements as they occur within the person? We go back to the gospel where the Lord emphasized the importance of sincerity and truthfulness in prayer, suggesting that when we are in conversation with God, we must be honest and transparent, as God sees and knows our innermost secrets, thoughts and intentions. This concept underscores the necessity of approaching prayer with a genuine heart, free from deceit or pretense. Similarly, St Ignatius of Loyola, considers and respects the encounter between the retreatant and God as sacred. The retreat director's role is to guide a person towards this sacred space. It will be up to the Spirit to move. St Ignatius gives a very stern warning to get out of the way, to protect the immediacy of the communication between God and the creature. At all cost, it must be safeguarded. Spiritual guides who actively encourage or discourage exercitants most especially to a particular "posture" risk contradicting the spirit behind Annotation 15 and, worst, interrupting ipso facto the immediacy of the religious encounter.

St Ignatius of Loyola, writes in Annotation 15, "during these Spiritual Exercises when a person is seeking God’s will, it is more appropriate and far better that the Creator and Lord himself should communicate himself to the devout soul, embracing it in love and praise, and disposing it for the way which will enable the soul to serve him better in the future. Accordingly, the one giving the Exercises ought not to lean or incline in either direction but rather, while standing by like the pointer of a scale in equilibrium, to allow the Creator to deal immediately with the creature and the creature with its Creator and Lord." We just point the way and the person in his or her freedom will decide through the help of God's grace. Amen. Fr JM Manzano SJ