Religious spirituality in secular institutions

Ulrike Gentner

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

Religious spirituality in secular institutions

Ulrike Gentner

Congress | Saturday, 30 nov 2019

1. (Finding God in all things)

To understand Ignatian spirituality, the Jesuit Alfred Delp gives us a deep insight:

One thing is as clear and noticeable to me as ever: God’s world is so full. From every pore of things it gushes towards us, as it were, but we are often blind. We get stuck in the beautiful and the bad hours and do not experience them right through to the bottom of the well where they flow out of God. That applies … to everything beautiful and also to misery. In everything God wants to celebrate encounter and asks and wants the adoring, devotional answer. ”

How does a person come to write from this confidence? Are all of our daily events godly?
On November 17, 1944, Alfred Delp was able to secretly smuggle these lines out of the Nazi prison in Berlin. He talks about the “presence of God in all things” – also in prison, with his hands tied, in the midst of the terror of National Socialism and imminent execution. How does Delp, who is alien to worldly escapism, arrive at such courageous, mystical utterances? “God’s world is so full. From every pore of things it gushes towards us, as it were. ”“ That  would be nice ”, it may cry out of us. How much disappointment and effort, not to mention hunger and injustice in the world – and then this experience: God’s world is so full. Delp found the fountain point, the centre and abundance. His diagnosis gives food for thought and encourages – also today.

From our Ignatian point of view, three building blocks form the foundation that is God’s basic messages to us humans:

1.1. You, human, are OK

Pamplona / Spain 1521, Ignatius’ dream of a career as a knight shattered. A cannonball was not enough to drive out his heroism paired with perfectionism.
Only in retrospect did Ignatius see that his great example, Jesus, had gone a different way. Jesus never put himself above others. On the contrary, he respected people on an equal footing, with their good and bad sides.

Then Ignatius had an enlightenment on the bank of the Cardon River! As he relaxed, he suddenly began to see connections that had previously remained hidden from him. It occurred to him that God is the deepest and most beautiful core of all cosmic processes; that God is never outside or absent, but there in the here and now.

Ignatius now understood that he does not have to prove himself before God. He realized that he is valuable because he is part of a creation of which God said: It is good! He had realized that God is not punitive, judgmental, or corruptible through good works. You don’t have to earn dignity first. He heard God say: You are OK!

What Ignatius understood here is extremely important for secular organizations: Only those who know themselves to be loved can sincerely love others. This attitude becomes concrete when one consciously tries again and again to find what is good and valuable in oneself, in other people, in their actions, behaviour and speech and to convey to them that they are valuable and have dignity.

“You’re ok” – for many colleagues from secular institutions, also for Catholic people who are often deeply insecure, this is significant: “Who am I actually?”, “Is my belief correct?” Do I fit? Can I be who I am?

The Ignatian spirituality is spot on here: because those who feel loved and who are free inside can make freedom possible. You, human, are ok! God says “YES” to the world and to every single person. Man has dignity even though he is not perfect and finite. That gives support, orientation and shapes the posture. Having an attitude means acting out of a core conviction. This shapes the behaviour and the design of structures and relationships, also in secular organizations and interactions.

1.2. God says: I am here!

When a fight breaks out between children at the bus stop: God is there.
When a wife or mother dies: God is there.
When a company threatens to go bankrupt and people struggle with fear of failure: God is there.

God is everywhere – every moment. So how do I know if God is there? How is it with you? Perhaps longing describes your relationship with God. God’s word nourishes our longing – like a guitar string that God tunes and plucks in us.

Managers and employees from the Ignatian spirit build on this:

  • They count on God in the here and now.
  • They promote a culture of mindfulness, of interruption, of listening together to the presence and voice of God. Yes, you can, for example, pray before, during and after meetings, and incorporate quiet moments. What would Jesus say about what we are doing right now? And how does that fit in with Jesus’ and my values and those of others?
  • The Ignatian art of reflection is more than just thinking, it also needs the space of silence that gives God’s voice and intuition a chance.

Ignatian spirituality is an imposition for the secular space. We keep the question of God awake, not only theoretically, but we start from the real assumption “God is there and loves you”. What does that mean specifically in the now? It means not leaving people alone who feel a longing for “more” or that there is transcendence. Develop a language with them that goes beyond schemes, but what does it mean specifically for you, for me? And find out what God’s claim could be.

It is also necessary to distinguish between the spirits. Ignatian spirituality assumes that the motivating forces of the Spirit of God are at work in all of us.

Who I am and what life means to me, I answer in the many small and big decisions in my life. It is not uncommon for a person to make a choice not from a free decision, but based on preferences, compulsions, and aversions.

With all of the internal processes, there are two crucial questions:

  • What attracts me?
  • Where do I feel called?
    The questions are aimed at one’s own core, inner experience, thinking and feeling. But in our life there are many voices from outside and inside that want to pull us in all possible directions. Learn to distinguish the spirits, the inner team members and their voices, and to use the mind. Ignatius of Loyolas’ distinction of spirits can help people make free choices. How does it work? Look together with God – as with a good friend – at the situation, cf. the steps on the map.

1.3. I need you!

God says to each and every one of us: I need you! Follow me! Ignatius heard this call from God in La Storta. At that time he went to Rome with the first Jesuits and had a vision “… whereupon Jesus said: ‘I want you to serve us.’

Let’s look at Jesus: in the parable of the good Samaritan, he showed us an assignment. Take “service” seriously. It’s not just about me, it’s about a contribution to a just world, locally and globally. For us, faith and justice belong together, which is reflected in the program of the former Superiors General Aruppe and Kolvenbach. In our educational work, we pay attention to the following points and highly recommend them to you. CONSCIOUSNESS – Consciousness means: mindfulness internally and externally, also spiritually. To stay free and awake for what really matters, what I want for myself and God, who is constantly talking to me. COMPASSION – Mercy means: openness and solidarity towards others: empathy and change of perspective.

Compassion leads to COMMITMENT. God says to everyone: You have a responsibility for your life and the world. Following Jesus means charity on the individual level, and commitment to justice on the structural level – that is the answer to the “I am here” of the Father. Consciousness, commitment and compassion expand the tools and give depth and meaning. There are also COMPETENCE and CREATIVITY. Only the right mix of these approaches helps people to align their lives and their organizations.

These 5 Cs are a bridge into the secular space, also to people who are moved by similar ethos or sources.

That means: religion is not exclusive, but people of good will – also from other traditions – find a place to meet and act.

2. Practice

The educational work is an excellent place for the practical transfer of this spirituality: make your own experiences, deepen, and pass it on be it in

  • Schools whether independent or state-run in organizational development
  • Leadership courses for leaders from church institutions, hospitals and secular companies who advocate value-based access or who are looking for new ways
  • Fireside evenings for executives in the Link of economics and church for a change of perspective and who want to make a difference
  • Exercises in everyday life for people who interrupt, escape the hamster wheel and want to find their own centre.

3. Conclusion

I believe that you or people in secular organizations can, on the base of the three building blocks

  • You are OK – knowing that you are loved, what sets you free inside
  • I am there – listen to the yearning
  • I need you – mission,

develop a path that will enrich your life and give perspective to the world. God needs you to make the world a better place and you will find happiness, fulfilment and meaning along the way.

Ignatian spirituality leads me to freedom to become more and more free in Christ. From my own experience, from the exercises and in everyday life, I know that the tensions that arise can be a source of strength and inspiration. I trust that I will not walk this path alone – accompanied by Jesus, even if I am sometimes blind to it, and by other people. The perspective “to find God in all things” guides me in the difficult hours to go deeper, to ask questions.

I like to work in an academy supported by Jesuits and the bishop: to share this vision as men, women, Jesuits and lay people, seekers and finders, to set out without a plan in trust, to meet God on the way like the Emmaus disciples or by tasting the moment like the woman at Jacob’s well.

According to Ignatius of Loyola, I recommend:

Trust in God as if all the success of things depended on you, nothing on God;
however, try to do things as if you are going to do nothing, God alone.

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About the author

Ulrike Gentner

Ulrike Gentner, b. 1960, theologian and pedagogue, deputy Director of the Heinrich Pesch House in Ludwigshafen and co-director of the Center for Ignatian Education.