The advent of the First Spiritual Exercises reaches back in time to 1540 when Ignatius is quoted as saying, “As a rule I would give the Exercises of the First Week”
Murray Adams, spiritual director and giver of the Spiritual Exercises in New Zealand, reflects on these early beginnings.
The early Jesuit directories for giving the Exercises indicate that there are multiple methods, or forms for giving. The First Week, or First Spiritual Exercises are the most suitable form to widely reach individuals and groups who have little knowledge or experience of Ignatian spirituality. Ignatius wrote that he gave the full Exercises to very few. As a rule, he would give the Exercises of the First Week.
There is little evidence on how the early Jesuits gave the Exercises. What is known is that how they gave the Exercises, allowed many people to receive them. The companions wrote from Parma in 1540 that,“… those who made the Exercises then give them to others, so that at present there must be more than a hundred making them.” Ignatius and the companions gave encouragement to freely give, (“the first week of the Exercises can be given indiscriminately to anyone…”), to be ecumenical and to work in collaboration with others.
Ignatius began with spiritual conversations and simple exercises at Loyola and Manresa. To make first contact, the early companions were known to call out and wave their caps around to attract attention. We too need to step out of our comfort zones to make contact. Be prepared to give even a single exercise as Diego Laínez did in 1540, when fourteen nuns asked to be given the Exercises. “…without further ado, I gave them one of the exercises…”. Michael Hansen’s The First Spiritual Exercises, and the FSE Field Hospital exercises are rich sources that are applicable for this context. A single exercise has a structure and a dynamic that a receiver can profit from.