Midrash as a Creative Hermeneutic for the Festive Pilgrimage with Ignatius

Midrash as a Creative Hermeneutic for the Festive Pilgrimage with Ignatius

Space Between the Words”, By Robert Gonsalves https://marcusashley.com/artists/rob-gonsalves/space-between-the-words/

Our world is in great need of healing. As we join Ignatius on this pilgrimage, which one of joy, celebration and healing, we are also joining our heart with his, in our con-joined desire for wholeness and joy. One way of accompanying Ignatius on this journey, is by engaging in the creative hermeneutic of midrash.[1]

The word midrash (midrashim, plural) is a Hebrew word meaning “to search out, to seek, to inquire.”[2] Midrash is the imaginative retelling of a story, based on the facts we know, and imaginatively filling out those areas about which there is no record. Midrashim tend to have three basic elements: they are responses to a specific text or a life story in history, they are imaginative, and they aim to give voice the silences, the unknown, and the white spaces between words. Midrashic ‘giving voice’ can release silences into the wide realm of images, art, drama, poetry, prose and music.

One of the hermeneutical assumptions of the midrash is that current issues and frameworks can be brought to bear on ancient texts and histories. Midrash gives us permission to travel as explorers into the infinite depth of meaning and possibilities that arise.

For example, in one beautiful and mystical midrash from the Zohar on Israel’s crossing of the sea, it is suggested that the Song at the Sea (Ex 15:1-18) was “sung by embryos in the womb.”[3] This evocative phrase beckons our imaginations to picture what kind of experience this might have been for all the pregnant women who were crossing from Egypt into the new land, wondering what would lie ahead for their yet unborn children. It evokes the way babies kick when they hear a familiar voice, or for Christians it touches on Elizabeth’s experience of John leaping within her womb at the sound of Mary’s arrival at her door. (Longley, 2021, p83)

Thus the hermeneutic of midrash engages our imagination at the service of transformative creativity. And herein lies the healing element of midrashim. In Judaism, tikkun olam means “repairing the world” through social action and spiritual engagements intended to bring about healing of our broken world. Writing a midrash is done as a spiritual exercise, accompanying Ignatius on this pilgrimage, and as we do so, healing and transformation may emerge from the text’s silences. When we explore both the what the texts offer us as well as the silences about Ignatius’ life journey, we notice what might be behind and beyond the text. As we do this, we invite our readers to venture with us, and allow themselves to be touched, beckoned into unknown landscapes, and be transformed and healed by the touch of Ignatius’ life. What might he have felt at the age of 7 years old? What may have been behind his deep drawn-ness to a deeper relationship with the Black Madonna?

The creative hermeneutic of midrash[4] will be the vehicle by which many of us will explore the life of Ignatius as we go on this celebratory pilgrimage of Erromenia: a journey of tikkun olam, healing the world through transformation and joy.


Thank you to Dr Sally Longley for this contribution to our Erromeria Pilgrimage. Sally is a Spiritual Director and Giver of the Spiritual Exercises with Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia. She is also a retreat leader and author, with experience in dreamwork, theopoetics, midrash, and labyrinths as creative responses to sacred texts, and the sacred stories of our life.


[1] Midrash lies in the midst of the Jewish interpretive practice called pardes (PRDS) as a way to delve into the Tanakh (Hebrew Scriptures). This is a fourfold approach. The P represents peshat, and is the literal or surface meaning. The R refers to remez, which is the more allegorical or symbolic meaning. Derash is the D, the metaphorical meaning including word associations and engages the active imagination. This is where midrash (darash, meaning to inquire, seek) takes place. The last layer S or the sod is the discovery of a hidden meaning or mystical applications

[2] Curzon, Modern Poems on the Bible, 4.

[3] Hammer, Sisters at Sinai, section: “The Bones of Joseph,” para. 5.

[4] In an email discussion with Rabbi Addison, I was alerted to the fact that this fourfold mode of exegesis was found in the writings of the Venerable Bede of the eighth century, and probably served as a model for what was then adopted by Baḥya ben Asher of Saragossa (1291), who then went on to make this a popular exegetic method with the Tanakh.