I have been referring to the different ways the enemy works that Ignatius describes in The Spiritual Exercises. He underpins these rules of discernment in two key meditations: The Kingdom of Christ and The Two Standards. Given the Solemnity of Christ the King this week, and my recent guided imaginative contemplation on the gospel for this feast day, a reflection of these meditations in context of this great feast seems appropriate.
The meditation on the Kingdom of Christ comes in the space between the first and second week of The Spiritual Exercises, after considering sin and knowing myself as a loved sinner, and before the contemplations on the life of Christ; before coming to know Him more deeply and connecting with our desire to follow Him, and perhaps make an election, a choice as to a way of life. The military, patriarchal and hierarchical language of these meditations can be problematic depending on background: it was for me, on all accounts, but by maintaining a sense of fluidity, and a focus on the essence of each one, these initial barriers can be deconstructed until the imagery itself no longer gets in the way.
The Kingdom of Christ meditation firstly brings to mind an earthly king, or with a modern perspective, a leader or role model: someone we admire and respect, someone we may, or may not, choose to follow. The model of a knight serving a monarch as Ignatius knew it, may be akin to the representation of these relationships as depicted in the television series “Merlin”, between Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table.
This particular scene for me, depicts very well what Ignatius means when he says:
Consider what the answer of good subjects ought to be to a king so generous and noble minded, and consequently, if anyone would refuse the invitation of such a king, how justly he would deserve to be condemned by the whole world, and looked upon as an ignoble knight.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius, trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
I would like to say, if you are not familiar with the series, Merlin is joking in his answer: it is characteristic of his intimate relationship with Arthur and he did not need to be asked.
When I made the Exercises myself, I found myself choosing Martin Luther King, and I smiled at the realisation that I had indeed chosen an earthly “King”. As we ponder our choice of leader, it connects us to what it is that is moving in us, what our values are and what inspires us. For me, I was drawn to Martin Luther King’s courage and purpose; his conviction in standing his ground, even to the detriment of his family life, and the physical violence the activists he inspired had to endure; his refusal to accept his “inferiority” as the critical voices would have him believe, and his persistent challenging of the established authorities of the day. Mostly though, as depicted in the bridge scene from the film Selma, was that he connected through prayer to God: all of his actions were grounded in faith. This scene is very powerful and still moves me, even though I have watched it several times.
Then we are asked to consider:
…Christ our Lord, the Eternal King…The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
and how much more we might be prepared to do or give to follow Him than we would for the human king or leader. At this point, we are not being asked to make any decisions or commitments, just to consider the possibility of such. This key meditation ends with the prayer:
Eternal Lord of all things, in the presence of Thy infinite goodness, and of Thy glorious mother, and of all the saints of Thy heavenly court, this is the offering of myself which I make with Thy favor and help. I protest that it is my earnest desire and my deliberate choice, provided only it is for Thy greater service and praise, to imitate Thee in bearing all wrongs and all abuse and all poverty, both actual and spiritual, should Thy most holy majesty deign to choose and admit me to such a state and way of life.
The meditation on The Two Standards comes in the middle of the second week of The Exercises and assumes that we have already chosen our side, that of Christ the King, and it contrasts the modus operandi of those aligning themselves with Satan, and those aligning themselves with Christ. For the former, Ignatius uses strong language: deceit, summons, goads, lay snares, bind with chains. All of it speaks of coercion and force. He tempts us first to:
…riches, the second honour, the third pride. From these three steps the evil one leads to all other vices.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
For those under the standard of Christ, we hear that Christ our Lord is beautiful and attractive, that He chooses, recommends, attracts, servants and friends, and Ignatius uses the word desire, such an important word in Ignatian spirituality. He outlines three steps in opposition to the enemy:
…the first, poverty as opposed to riches; the second, insults or contempt as opposed to honour of this world; the third, humility as opposed to pride. From these three steps, let them lead men to all other virtues.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
The Two Standards meditation imagines a battleground between the two sides, and it is our own souls that are that battle ground. When I have been describing the movements of discernment in previous posts, the way the enemy works, the imagery of the darnel and the wheat, as described by Aschenbrenner, it is to examine how this battle is being conducted in myself. Where am I being bullied, harrassed or driven into thoughts, feelings and actions? And where am I being attracted and drawn? Where might there be misdirection, where something seems to be good, but the underlying sense of the movement is of water on a stone, rather than as water on a sponge? Discernment of spirits, discerning God’s voice from that of the enemy is both simple and complicated, obvious and subtle, clear and confusing. It will always be a battleground, no matter how deeply we advance on our spiritual path. It is always asking the questions where is this coming from and where is it leading to? Having an understanding of how the enemy works in us in our own particular situation and way is important in enabling us to be able to resist, with the grace of God. We explicitly ask for this grace in the Two Standards meditation:
I ask for what I desire. Here it will be to ask for a knowledge of the deceits of the rebel chief and help to guard myself against them; and also to ask for knowledge of the true life exemplified in the sovereign and true Commander, and the grace to imitate Him.The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius trans. Louis J. Puhl S.J.
Through prayer, with a daily Examen, and with the understanding and discerning ear of a spiritual director, we have the tools to help us to identify where and when we are being driven, rather than drawn: where our desires, thoughts, feelings and actions are leading us towards God rather than away from God. It is the freedom given here that moves us to worship Him and to accept His invitation.
Draw me after you, let us make haste.
The king has brought me into his chambers.
We will exult and rejoice in you;
we will extol your love more than wine;
rightly do they love youSong of Songs 1:4