Gently, Lightly and Sweetly…

Gently, Lightly and Sweetly…

For many modern-day pilgrims, the ‘Camino’ does not begin with the first step out of towns like Loyola in Spain, or St Jean Pied de Port in France, nor does it begin with the first step out of your home to travel to these common Camino departure points.  Rather, the Camino begins when your heart first stirs with its call, and you find yourself drawn to it, often to the point where you know that this is something you must do, at some point in your life.

St Ignatius describes feeling such a call when recuperating at Loyola, when he too noticed a growing desire to set off on pilgrimage. In this case, not to Santiago de Compostela or Rome, but instead to Jerusalem, where he would strive to emulate the lives and deeds of the great Saints, devoting his life to God.

Over time Ignatius, drawing on his own experience, came to recognise the movement of the True and False Spirit in his life by listening to the movements of his heart and recognising the effects they had on him. This would become an essential component in the ‘Rules for Discernment’ that are found in his Spiritual Exercises.

In the 7th Rule for Discernment of the 2nd Week of the Exercises, Ignatius proposes that in a person moving from good to better, the movement of the True Spirit (the Holy Spirit) “touches the soul gently, lightly and sweetly like a drop of water going into a sponge.” [SPEX 335] On the other hand, the action of the False Spirit, he states, “touches sharply, with noise and disturbance, as when a drop of water falls on a stone.” [SPEX 335]

In this Rule, Ignatius offers the modern day pilgrim seeking to move from good to better, a valuable pointer. That is, to listen more deeply to the movements of one’s heart when considering those good options before us, and like Ignatius, to choose that which touches the soul ‘gently, lightly and sweetly.’

What does it mean for the True Spirit to touch our soul gently, lightly and sweetly?

Perhaps the image of the water and the sponge can help us understand this more fully.

As the drops of water land on the sponge they are not always noticeable, they enter quietly, without disturbance, without resistance, and will continue to do so until the sponge is fully saturated. Only at this point, when the sponge can no longer hold the water within it, will the water be released, enabling it to continue its path onward and outward.

Using this image then we are encouraged to seek those desires that come from deep within, which the True Spirit, who is already at work within us, brings lightly and gently to the surface. These desires are life-giving (sweet) and complement our very being. They bring life and provide purpose, peace and joy for our life’s journey.

In seeking to follow the gentle ways of the Spirit, we too might find that our journey, like Ignatius, who’s path would lead him far beyond Jerusalem, will indeed lead us to places we could never imagine or dream of!

So, as I walk forward today…

I recall the ‘gentle, light and sweet movement’ of the True Spirit that has led me along the many paths of my life. If there is a desire for any action I might take, I ask the Spirit to guide me along this path.


With thanks to Mark and Mary Diggins for this contribution to the JISA Discernment Series. Mark and Mary are married with three adult children. They are Spiritual Directors, Givers of The Spiritual Exercises and Retreat Givers with JISA Canisius. They have worked as Educators in the School and Parish context for over 35 years in Ignatian Leadership, Spirituality and Ministry. Their life and work is informed by the experience of Pilgrimage after walking the Camino de Santiago, the Camino Pilgrimage to Sevenhill SA, and the Camino Ignaciano in Spain.