Saturday, 16 February 2013

Lent for Extroverts 4: Where's the action?

Sooner or later Lent gets uncomfortable for extroverts as the inner life gets opened up to scrutiny by the Holy Spirit.

Because a possible extrovert fear is that 'the action' is outside; that interaction with people, places and things brings direct experience of God, but that limiting these things for the sake of the inner life, which we feel we should do during Lent, may prove there's in fact a void inside. How shallow am I? When all the fun/stimulating/interesting interaction/conversation ceases, when you put down the book/come off Twitter and Facebook and turn off the radio to look inwards in prayer, what will actually happen? It may even be that churchmanship brings expectations about turning inwards; that it might either be very desirable, or turn out to be nothing more than dangerous navel gazing. I'll leave you to ponder this one...

Someone who did his fair share of navel gazing was St Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th Century Spanish knight and eventual founder of the Jesuits. He was probably (and here's some wild anachronistic speculation) an Introvert with an over developed imagination. I'm also guessing he was more of a 'feeling' type, plus he was organised and systematic in his teachings, so let's call him an INFJ in Myers Briggs terms. 

He dreamt of achieving glory in battle and winning the hand of a beautiful maiden. Unfortunately he was badly wounded in a battle against the French and was taken to Loyola Castle where, during a long and painful recuperation, he longed to read some romance novels to pass the time. There was only a copy of The Life of Christ and a book about the lives of the Saints. Ignatius had a lot of time on his hands so he began to read both of these, whilst continuing to fantasize about romantic conquests and military glory. After a while he began to notice that there were different effects on his spirit from these two different passtimes. After his romantic imaginings he felt drained and dispirited but after reading about Christ and the saints he felt invigorated and inspired.

This led to his conversion to Christ and eventually to his spiritual writings on the 'discernment of spirit's and his 'Spiritual Exercises', still read and practised by thousands today. Discerning the 'movement of spirits', or the movement of the Holy Spirit, is something that can only happen with attentiveness, which really needs silence and (generally) solitude. Attending to the inner moods/inner life can show us where we have been blessed, which otherwise we may miss, and where something is contrary to God's good will for our flourishing. It reveals to us our drives and has a 'modern' Jungian feel to it. Taken to some depth it can reveal the whole direction of someone's life as daily awareness of what gives life and what drains, can point to our ultimate vocation.

So thanks to Inigo of Loyola there's hope for those who think that it's only in the outside world where we find all the action. St Ignatius shows us that there's an awful lot going on inside too. In fact it may even be that in some sense God himself is right on the inside.


  1. Sounds very nautical and Marine..your 'naval' gazing..!

  2. navel, navel, navel, navel, navel...