Ignatius on Spiritual Conversation

Ignatius has three foci in his letters about spiritual conversation.

The first is slowness. He says, “Be slow to speak,” to begin with quiet listening for meaning, for understanding, and above all, for catching the driving desires underneath the other’s words. Only then does your receiver make a choice, whether to speak or be silent.

The second focus is freedom. He asks conversing people to be free of personal opinion, quick decisions, attachments, outside authorities, and rigidness. Rather, your receiver should cultivate kindness, compassion, humility, sincerity, equality, and adapt to the other in her or his manner.

The third focus is openness. He believes spiritual conversations awaken self-knowledge and love in people, bringing their interior life into the sunshine and enlarging their vision of what could be. They open people up to God’s action. In such openness your receiver needs to respect how other receivers express their prayer experience, tell their life story, express need or vulnerability. Group awareness and care in this openness is everyone’s responsibility, because God is equally in all.

A Guide to Spiritual Conversation

We offer this Spiritual Conversation process to you as a way of engaging in respectful conversations and discernment in an group or environment.

Spiritual conversation is a way of listening deeply to one another, allowing all voices in a group to be heard, respecting all opinions and being open to where God is leading us. It was developed from the General Congregation of the Jesuits in 2016.

Spiritual conversation has been used widely in the Australian Plenary Council, in education, corporate and pastoral settings, and it is currently being used in the Synod on Synodality.

With thanks to Ian Cribb SJ from Jesuit and Ignatian Spirituality Australia for this Spiritual Conversation Guide.

 

After gathering all the information available, praying with it personally and communally, a spiritual conversation unfolds as follows…

 

First Round of Conversation

Individual sharing on the fruits of my prayer and discernment. What were the main movements, modes/feeling/insights in my prayer time? Your group can give 5 minutes for quiet prayer before commencement of sharing. Begin with “in my prayer I…….”

Active listening 

Profound welcome of the other.

How is the Holy Spirit speaking to me/us through the other person?

How are you affected by what is said?

Intentional speaking

Speak from your prayer (not from someone else’s, avoid story telling)

Share from your heart.

Practical matters

Speak one after the other (From the first speaker move clockwise around the circle)

Timed (2 or 3 minutes)

No comments or crosstalk (even in one’s own sharing). No discussion.

 

Second Round of Conversation

This is where the communal movements of spirits start to emerge. (Allow a few minutes of quiet reflection before beginning sharing.)

Reflective Sharing

How were you affected interiorly by what you heard in the first round? Begin with “I heard in the group…” or “I was moved by…” For example:

What did you hear in the first round?

Were you struck by a common theme or one comment?

Did you experience harmony/dissonance with the others as they shared?

What are you feeling now?

Practical matters

Be intentional in speaking.

Speak only once. No cross talk.

This is not a chance to say something you forgot to say in the first round.

Timed (2 or 3 minutes)

 

Third Round of Conversation

(Allow a few minutes of quiet reflection before beginning conversation.)

Open Discussion

  1. Name the spiritual movements recognised in the second round of conversation.
  2. Keep the same attentiveness and sincerity of the previous rounds.
  3. If there is a question to be considered or feedback to the larger group. This is when a communal response may be formulated.
  4. Popcorn Style

 

Conclude with a Glory be

Prayer for Spiritual Conversation

Lord give me the time I need for this conversation,

Help me to let go my own convenience and work,

to be a fully present to each person here.

May I be slow to speak. Give me the wisdom to listen quietly,

to sense the meaning, positions and desires of each speaker,

to know whether to be silent or speak.

Free me to listen without prejudice, to treat each speaker equally.

Keep me considerate and kind with matters that arise,

sincere in my opinion, respecting better opinions.

Help me to hold each speaker’s prayer experience reverently,

their talents and faith gently,

and to enkindle in them love of our Creator and Lord,

and to serve them in body as well as in word.

Let the Spirit descend upon this circle with an abundance of her gifts.

Above all, give me the greatest possible reverence and humility,

and even affectionate awe, of the way you dwell

in the speakers before me. Amen.

The Craft of Spiritual Conversation, from Ignatius

In 1546 Ignatius wrote instructions for three men he was sending on mission. The ten points below are from this letter and in his own words.

  1. Be slow to speak. Be considerate and kind on matters discussed.
    Be slow to speak. Be considerate and kind, especially when it comes to deciding on matters under discussion, or about to be discussed.
  1. Listen quietly, understand the other. Learn when to speak or be silent.
    Be slow to speak, and only after having first listened quietly, so that you may understand the meaning, leanings, and wishes of those who do speak. Thus you will better know when to speak and when to be silent.
  1. Be free of attachment to your own opinion.
    In discussion, I should consider the reasons on both sides without showing any attachment to my own opinion, and try to avoid bringing dissatisfaction to anyone.
  1. Do not cite authorities. Deal with everyone equally.
    I should not cite anyone as supporting my opinion… and I would deal with everyone on an equal basis, never taking sides with anyone.
  1. In giving your opinion, speak with humility and sincerity.
    If you ought not to be silent, then give your opinion with the greatest possible humility and sincerity, and always end with the words with due respect for a better opinion.
  1. About time.
    If I have something to say, it will be of great help to forget about my own leisure or lack of time—that is, my own convenience. I should rather accommodate myself to the convenience of him or her with whom I am to deal so that I may influence him or her to God’s greater glory.
  1. Adapt yourself to others.
    Consider their temperaments and adapt yourselves to them. If they are of a lively temper, quick and cheerful in speech, follow their lead while speaking to them of good and holy things, and do not be serious, glum, and reserved. If they are shy and retiring, slow to speak, serious, and weighty in their words, use the same manner with them, because such ways will be pleasing to them.
  1. Ask the Spirit to descend with abundant gifts.
    Pray and lead others to pray particularly to God our Lord to deign to send forth his Holy Spirit on all who take part in the discussions so that the Holy Spirit may descend in greater abundance with his grace and gifts upon the (conversations).
  1. Awaken knowledge and love in souls.
    Awaken in souls a thorough knowledge of themselves and a love of their Creator and Lord.
  1. Open people to God’s grace.
    It will be helpful to lead people, as far as possible, to open themselves to God’s grace, exhorting them to a desire for salvation, to prayer, to alms and to everything that conduces to receiving grace or increasing it. This will be effected by good example, by friendly contact through the Exercises and spiritual conversation.

How to Guide Spiritual Conversation

To teach your receiver spiritual conversation, take her or him slowly through the Craft of Spiritual Conversation points above with examples from both your lives.

Ask your receiver to practice sacred conversation with family, friends, at work etc. In this, she or he could follow Ignatius in his instructions on paying attention to the person’s character and feelings – as to the manner of doing this, remember that, adapting yourselves to the character and inclinations of persons, you should act with prudence (discretion) and proportion (adaptability). Invite your receiver to go gently and with great suppleness.

In the practice of spiritual conversation, your receiver may receive the gift of affectionate awe and loving reverence for the other. Ignatius had a vivid way of encouraging this, he says that those conversing, should prescind from the outward person and look upon creature, not as good looking or attractive, but as someone bathed in the blood of Christ, an image of God, a temple of the Holy Spirit.

Spiritual Conversation Resources

John Dardis SJ introduces the practice of spiritual conversation for groups, communities and organisations.

T15. The Art of Spiritual Conversation
T16. The Art of Mini-discernment

FSE Listening Book

T12. How to Use Listening Book
T11. Intro Listening Book
T14. The Art of Sacred Listening