This Sunday I along with other Grail women will be facilitating a reflection day for young women at “Avila,” the Sydney Grail Centre at North Sydney. The reflection day is entitled “Your Wild and Precious Life” taken from the famous poem “The Summer Day” by Mary Oliver ¹ (who died in January 2019). As part of the reflection day we are introducing the participants to the Japanese concept of Ikigai ² which can be translated into “reason for being.”
While I have been preparing for this reflection day, as part of a 9 month Retreat in Daily Life, the 20th Annotation of the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius, I have been reflecting on “The Principle and Foundation” which is fundamental to the Spiritual Exercises. Or should I say grappling with making sense of “The Principle and Foundation.”
The Principle and Foundation, written by St Ignatius in the 1500’s, in a particular place and context. It tells of the purpose of our life in God and how we’re supposed to live it. A common translation of St Ignatius’ Principle and Foundation is ³:
Man is created to praise, reverence, and serve God our Lord, and by this means to save his soul. The other things on the face of the earth are created for man to help him in attaining the end for which he is created.
Hence, man is to make use of them in as far as they help him in the attainment of his end, and he must rid himself of them in as far as they prove a hindrance to him.
Therefore, we must make ourselves indifferent to all created things, as far as we are allowed free choice and are not under any prohibition. Consequently, as far as we are concerned, we should not prefer health to sickness, riches to poverty, honor to dishonor, a long life to a short life. The same holds for all other things.
Our one desire and choice should be what is more conducive to the end for which we are created.
A more modern translation4
God created human beings to praise, reverence, and serve God, and by doing this, to save their souls.
God created all other things on the face of the earth to help fulfill this purpose.
From this it follows that we are to use the things of this world only to the extent that they help us to this end, and we ought to rid ourselves of the things of this world to the extent that they get in the way of this end.
For this it is necessary to make ourselves indifferent to all created things as much as we are able, so that we do not necessarily want health rather than sickness, riches rather than poverty, honor rather than dishonor, a long rather than a short life, and so in all the rest, so that we ultimately desire and choose only what is most conducive for us to the end for which God created us.
A commonly used contemporary version paraphrased by David Fleming SJ
The goal of our life is to live with God forever. God, who loves us, gave us life. Our own response of love allows God’s life to flow into us without limit.
All the things in this world are gifts of God, presented to us so that we can know God more easily and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God insofar as they help us develop as loving persons. But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives, they displace God and so hinder our growth toward our goal.
In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice and are not bound by some obligation. 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 deeper response to our life in God.
Our only desire and our one choice should be this: I want and I choose what better leads to God’s deepening his life in me.
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 of 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.
I had several challenges with these renditions of the Principle and Foundation that seemed to be blocking me taking them from my head to my heart:
The use of the masculine pronoun.
The anthropocentric world view
The focus on personal salvation
The lack of interdependence in bringing forth the kin_dom
I was heartened in finding a more cosmic rendition of The Principle and Foundation in “The New Spiritual Exercises- In the Sprit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin” by Louis M Savary 5.
“You were created to make a unique contribution to the great evolutionary project initiated and continually supported by God, namely, bringing all creation together into one magnificent conscious loving union.
Since all other created things in the universe share with you this common eternal destiny, they are essential to and inseparable from you as you participate in the pursuit of that ongoing evolutionary process.
Individually and joined with others, you are to use all means available to promote and carry out this shared purpose with all your personal creativity, compassion, and energy, always seeking and choosing what is more conducive to that purpose.
For this, God empowers you to grow in passionate love and care for all elements of the cosmos, since they, as you, all live and move and have their being in God’s love.
And God is with you as you undergo whatever diminishments may befall you as you cooperate with others in your efforts and actions in pursuing this divine project—the purpose for which we, individually and collectively, were created.”
Still something was missing for me. But is came together when I came across this poem by American poet Christine Rodgers 6
Love made me –
Love sustains me –
Love leads me forth.
For this I sing praise
bow low, and put
my life at the disposal of Love.
Every tree – every
single star in the sky
points back toward
May nothing pull me
away from Love – no
small wish of mine
next to the immensity
of the Beloved.
With the Beloved
may I shine.
I now was able to write my own Principle and Foundation.
Created in Love
Sustained though Love
Co-created in intricate webs of relationships
For the on-going, unfolding of Divine Love
Praise, honour, glory
In thought, word and deed
Finding the Divine in all
At all times, in all places
In sickness and health
Fortune and adversity
Despair and hope
May nothing draw me
From dwelling one with the Beloved
As the Beloved
Then in cinquain form
reason to be
created for love
sustaining, nourishing, healing, reconciling
reason to be
bringing to birth
evolving, manifesting, creating, emerging
reason to be
free and indifferent
laughing, crying, dying, rising
reason to be
in conscious union
praising, honouring, witnessing, dwelling
It appears to me that Your Wild and Precious Life, Ikigai and The Principle and Foundation are inviting us into the same reality, using different language. All is gift. The Divine in all.
4 Elder Mullan, SJ and edited by Rick Rossi, March 2015 https://www.bc.edu/content/dam/files/offices/ministry/pdf/First%20Principle%20and%20Foundation%20-March%202015%20%282%29.pdf
5 “New Spiritual Exercises, The: In the Spirit of Pierre Teilhard de Chardin” by Louis M Savary. Paulist Press 2010
6 From Jesuit Social Services Foundation Document, p6. http://jss.org.au/wp-content/uploads/2018/07/Foundation_Document_-_web.pdf