Saint Ignatius College Geelong

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    Faith Matters

    Article by Mr Brendan Nicholls

    Faith Matters – Petite abstraction

    St Ignatius was a dreamer! He spent much of his time in contemplation. He considered many things, but in particular he focused on God. The word contemplation is often used in the Ignatian context and indicates thinking that leads to a plan of some kind. For Ignatius his time at Manresa culminated in the journaling of his Spiritual Exercises. As we explore the life of St Ignatius and come to know him more it prompts us to consider a change in the phraseology as Ignatius in fact often did not enter into meditation or contemplation as we define it today. Therefore, what word or phrase might be used to encapsulate the wonder and joy his ‘contemplation’ consisted of. I think the term ‘day-dreaming’ is apt, as it describes well the overwhelming and joyous experiences of Ignatius as he came to know God and experience transcendent moments.

    Day-dreaming is such a wonderful distraction for us as human beings. In our busy lives we often avoid such trivial behaviour or label it as unproductive and not worthy of a mature approach to life. In limiting our natural inclination to ponder, we find that when we do fall into this thought pattern it’s often forced and focused on points of tension in our interaction with others. We often find that the only time we ‘day-dream’ is when we role play hypothetical scenarios about unpleasant situations and how we might respond. These thoughts cause us great angst and in fact never actually resemble the situation we eventually encounter and therefore such thinking is truly pointless.  

    In the Bible we find day-dreaming as a determinant point of salvation history. In the Gospel of Matthew, we observe day-dreaming through Joseph. As he pondered the news that Mary is pregnant while he was thinking about this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream”. If God used day-dreaming as the method to reveal his plan to Joseph and ensure a family for his Son surely there it’s a practice that is valuable to people, even in the modern day. Without entering into a day-dream what may have Joseph done and how else might God have been able to make Joseph aware of such an important and sudden revelation?

    Day-dreaming is a behaviour that we are in fact predisposed to. Young people spend much of their time day-dreaming. They think about their future, their hopes, their desire to be somewhere else or to be doing something else, working out what they hold true and how they view the world. Our culture transitions this behaviour from a young age so that it ‘fits’ various frameworks that provide an outcome that is considered useful. As a society we assign a value to thinking. If it’s not quantifiable it’s considered worthless. Mindfulness is the contemporary model for ordered and productive meditation that allows contemplation, but is ordered to a predetermined outcome. Mindfulness has much merit but is limiting simply because it has a structure and purpose.

    As parents and teachers we have students think through an idea with various markers that force a response that can then be used or applied to achieve a purpose. Thinking that can respond directly to a concept and a decision that can be articulated in the context of a study area that will afford a quantifiable value to the thought process. Of course such practices are useful and necessary in their own way. We have to harness our thoughts to be able to concentrate and respond to specific needs in our lives. But very often this the only model of thinking we as adults, encourage outside spiritual practices. This is such a shame. Unstructured deep thinking was something that was important to humans for many thousands of years. It helps us develop new and creative solutions, better ways to interact with one another and awareness of what is real, that cannot be measured. I wonder where thinking that does not lead to empirical data in some way became associated with useless or unproductive behaviour.

    I believe that St Ignatius would support the view that day-dreaming is the most useful thinking of all. When we day-dream we have freedom we become creative and explore ideas just because they arise. When Ignatius was recovering from his injuries received at Pamplona he spent much time day-dreaming. When he “stopped to think” his ponderings had no predetermined outcome or reason as such. He simply allowed thoughts to enter his consciousness and moved along with them, exploring what came from these experiences. From such moments he became clear about a new way of life and a different outlook that moved him deeply and offered him consolation.

    At Manresa Ignatius noted that “thoughts and ideas used to come over him”. Rather than dismiss them he entered into these thoughts and ideas. He followed them and explored the course these ponderings took. In doing so he learnt many things and became aware of the magis. In these moments he explored the ‘more’ or ‘deeper’ of the thoughts and ideas that developed. Rather than responding to the first realization he went further and allowed the time required to go further and experience more and was enlightened by what he found there. He could only achieve the magis in this way. By being free and going further he became aware of more than he expected and confirmed the importance of day-dreaming.

     At Manresa he also focused his attention on God in a structured way via meditation. The particular intent of meditation is different to his day-dreaming though. In meditation the intention is to moving away from thought or consciously letting thoughts move aside so that the meditator might find what is revealed. Day-dreaming is the opposite of meditation. When one day-dreams, they allow themselves to be distracted and go with the thought. Like sitting beside a river and watching what goes by and allowing your mind to be distracted or captured by something that is passing by, rather than letting it float by as meditation would promote.

     Day-dreaming allows us to be curious. When we day-dream we enter into petite abstraction – little preoccupations. There is no framework required or style to follow. When we day-dream we are guided only by our thoughts, in doing so we go deeper and deeper and with great curiosity we explore ideas that in reality we are unable to. The outcome is superb as become aware of possibilities or at the least a vision that beforehand was non-existent. The fullness of our humanity as God desired is not only to know and love him but to be creative and whole. We can only achieve this state if we offer ourselves and others the permission to day-dream. In an Ignatian way we can consider all things and strive for the magis in our free thought and in turn be offered the gift of great insight that cannot be achieved in any other way. Then in community our unique creativity can be offered for the good of all and build the Kingdom in new ways as guided by the Spirit.

     God moves within our hearts and the Spirit guides us as we complete our life’s pilgrimage. Be affirmed in knowing that day-dreaming is purely human, whole and life giving. Do not dismiss unguided or the lack of a predetermined outcome as juvenile or less worthy of your time. Follow the track of your mind on journeys that will reveal beauty and creativity that only you can discern and offer to the world. The dreamers are those who experience true freedom. Be like Ignatius. Go outside, sit down, let you mind wander and become aware of the magis within.

    Yours in Christ,

    Brendan Nicholls  Liturgy Coordinator

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