Our purpose—our aim and intention—is knowing, loving, and following God in Jesus. As this journey unfolds, everything along the way—relationships, possessions, events and experiences—can either lead us closer to or farther from our goal. Ignatius urges us to become “indifferent” to all these things, caring only about how help us to know, love, and follow God. Indifference has a neglecting or even hostile ring to it. A better term for “indifference” or “detachment” might be spiritual freedom—meaning that our desires are not so attached to things that we fail to recognize the divine presence in and around those things. When we love the world properly, we are loving God through the world. Creation is the medium, the milieu, the stage, the environment where God communes with us.
Read this somewhat longer but updated translation of the Principle and Foundation:
"God who loves us creates us and wants to share life with us forever. Our love response takes shape in our praise and honor and service of the God of our life. All the things in this world are also created because of God's love and they become a context of gifts, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily. As a result, we show reverence for all the gifts of creation and collaborate with God in using them so that by being good stewards we develop as loving persons in our care for God's world and its development. But if we abuse any of these gifts of creation or, on the contrary, take them as the center of our lives, we break our relationship with God and hinder our growth as loving persons. In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some responsibility. We should not fix our desires on health or sickness, wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one. For everything has the potential of calling forth in us a more loving response to our life forever with God. Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God's deepening life in me” (trans. David L. Fleming).
We experience spiritual freedom not by simply scorning or rejecting created things, but by finding God in them. As James says, "Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change” (James 1:17). All things are gifts that reveal the Giver. This means that our life with God beings here and now. We are not waiting to escape all this and finally experience life with God somewhere else. God communes with us in and through his creation. The practice of prayer is all about taking hold of that eternal life here and now.
The ultimate goal is life with God; the earth and everything in it composes the landscape on which we pursue this end. This really is the heart of Ignatius’ spirituality: there is nothing separate from your life with God. The purpose of everything “good" in the world—health, success, possessions, experiences—is to enjoy life with God. It is in this sense that Paul declares, “Everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected, provided it is received with thanksgiving; for it is sanctified by God’s word and by prayer” (1 Timothy 4:4). But created things also have the potential to draw us away from God. If we seek and enjoy things for their own sake, not loving God through them, they can become idols and obstacles to our life with God.
This also explains the purpose of the spiritual exercises themselves. They are means to this ultimate end—tools for cultivating love of God. They are not heartless habits; exactly the opposite! They are all about desire. They speak to and shape the needs and wants of our heart by pulling together the splintered fragments of our wild desires to draw and direct us toward God.
Pray through the following things…
- Ask God to search your heart. Honestly ask yourself what you really want. Hear Jesus asking you as he did his first disciples: “What are you looking for?”
- Take an inventory of your activities today—everything you use, enjoy, experience, and interact with. Think about each thing in its potential for drawing you closer to God. How does each thing shape what you want and seek?
- Use your inventory to consider what one thing you could give up during this Lenten season in order to experience greater spiritual freedom. Commit to fasting from it.
About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC