Christ, the Consoler.
I would like to begin unpacking this idea with a thought experiment. Imagine someone comes to you and says something like the following:
I’m really struggling at the moment. I am so busy after a recent promotion at work meaning much longer hours, with three kids at home, not to mention the dog. When I get back from work I am mostly knackered and all I want is a glass of wine and to zone out. And I’m getting up so early to get into work that there’s just no time for prayer. I miss spending time with God. The weekends aren’t much use either because they’re the only time I get to spend with the kids and my husband. I don’t want to be taking myself off somewhere alone to pray in the few precious hours I get with them. It all feels a bit hopeless, what can I do?
What would your initial response be to this person?
Most people would feel for them, and want to help find a solution, fix the problem. You might suggest a series of options they have not thought of, or explore whether they need to re-think their work-life balance. Or if you’re an Ignatian person, how about Pray as you go? It’s perfect for busy people! All of these are legitimate responses. However, they would not necessarily be thoroughly Ignatian responses, or at least they would not be the first port of call or prime focus in Ignatian spiritual direction. Why not? Because Ignatius had a firm conviction that the first thing anyone should do when paying attention to another, or indeed themselves, is to look for where Christ seems to be with that person now, and what Christ might be up to there. In Ignatian language, we are looking for the ‘spiritual consolation’, or a more contemporary translation describes it as looking for the ‘movement of God’ (that which moves us towards rather than away from God). Importantly, Ignatius assumes that Christ is already active and doing something with each person, regardless of how busy they may be, or how distant they may feel from Christ at the moment – Christ is there and is active. One of the core roles of an Ignatian spiritual director is to hold onto that fact, to the hope that Christ is present and active, particularly when it feels as if the opposite is true. So we encounter the risen Christ in the present reality of our lives, not in some fantasy of how we might like our lives to be, or feel they ought to be in order to encounter Christ. The risen Christ comes into the mess and complexity of real life. As Gerry W. Hughes SJ puts it, ‘God is in the facts’. Similarly, Walter Burghardt describes prayer or contemplation as a ‘long, loving look at the real’. Again, the important word in this sentence is ‘real’. The risen Christ is active and present in the reality of my life and the world, despite how often it may seem to be far from the case.