Re-Wilding – Caroline’s experience of the Full Spiritual Exercises

Re-Wilding – Caroline’s experience of the Full Spiritual Exercises

Caroline Coggins

‘Re-wilding’ – perhaps an unusual way to describe a deeply profound spiritual experience. How can that be? But this is what happened to Ignatius.  He set out, alone, hobbling on foot, filled with something he did not understand – in love, desiring  to save his soul. The young Ignatius lived a young man’s life, caught somewhat blindly in the social norms and behaviours of his day. But, when he was called /arrested- he bowed, listened and followed. I think this is like re-wilding, experiencing ourselves with God, gusto is felt with the whole of ourselves vibrating, silent and often thrown about.  It has seemed to me that if you trust what you love, God is leading.

Recently I read a poem of Mary Oliver’s. The poem stayed talking to me. She let herself be taken over by the natural world and the silence. I could not help but feel the grace given her. It was akin to the experience of walking away, retreating for 40 days, to do the Spiritual Exercises. Then, coming home to my room and recognising that everything was brighter, simple and grace lit the room.

I went away to St Beuno’s in Wales, a large, isolated, silent retreat house in the North of Wales, where the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins had lived. His was a soul I could perceive. Hopkins knew these things too, ‘shook foil’[1] and ‘dappled things’[2].  It was a long journey to an unknown place, and I was so excited. ‘Go away, where no one knows you’ was the advice of the priest who had journeyed with me in my conversion. What a freedom he encouraged.

I went out too, to lie on the grass, wander the hills and ponder this God who had called me to him. We prayed five hours a day, and soon the  silence started her work, pulling the inner reptiles out to the surface.  Our patterns were regular each day,  Mass, meals and direction all becoming highlights and relief.  By the ‘second’ week I found so much anxiety erupting, that I fled  to the library to seek  ‘the proper way’ ‘to do’ the  Spiritual Exercises. I felt I was not doing them ‘correctly’, there must be a right way that I could strive for so that I wouldn’t feel so shaken by this love relationship. I was being shaken out of doing it on my own.

Then stepping out into the meadow I lifted my eyes to see a great hawk flying over, giving herself to the wind currents, soaring and falling so easily, given over, wild, just herself. Loved.

Don’t we learn/taste like this? We try but it is these moments which St Ignatiius knew so well from his own life, that we are turned and turned again, opened and freed.

These days had only one purpose, God and me.  This was the very best I could imagine, to listen with a silence in my heart. I was full of desire for this, and over the years since, it is what stayed – this most tender understanding. God is in communication with me even when I am busy orchestrating everything.  All of these movements, interior and exterior are a call of love. On the long retreat there is a singularity, an immersion, silence, time and God’s company.

Caroline Coggins
Caroline is a Spiritual Director, with JISA-Canisius in Sydney.


Six recognitions of the Lord. Mary Oliver


[1] Re wilding definition; is a form of environmental conservation and ecological restoration that has significant potential to increase biodiversity, create self-sustainable environments and mitigate climate change. Re -wiilding aims to do this by re-introducing lost animal species to natural environments.
[2] Ignatius uses this lovely term in relation to experiencing prayer: gusto- to taste(and smell) the flavour, to savour (appreciate/pleasure), to come to know, not just in the mind but  through our bodies, souls and  hearts. The whole of us.
[3] God’s Grandeur
[4] Pied Beauty