Expanding on several previous Latter-day Faith episodes that centered on scripture or the concept of Zion, our discussion this week revolves around several elements in LDS scripture and early church teachings that shifts our thinking regarding these areas in wonderful ways. Guided by the brilliant Brittney Hartley, we explore how we need to create a better balance between the scriptural teachings about Zion being brought down “from above” as well as up “from beneath.” (D&C 84:100) The vast majority of teachings about creating Zion have been driven by church leaders and through top-down pronouncements, even to the point of talking about how Zion should be “administered”! Instead, Brittney asks what would it mean to take seriously gathering Zion from below?
You don’t want to miss this discussion! It is very frank about current failings, including really missing the point in how we understand 2 Nephi 29’s critique about “A Bible! A Bible! We have got a Bible, and there cannot be any more Bible,” but it is also full of optimism and very practical steps we might take to restore proper balance and become the kind of church needed today in this pivotal time of increasing disaffiliation among members, and especially among the rising generations.
For so many of us whose religious world views have begun to shift, and previous ways of viewing various elements of what we had been taking for granted start to become less stable, scripture is one of the components for which we can easily lose affection and appreciation. But rather than abandon our reading and study practices altogether, there are approaches to it that match well with what our journeys have prepared us be able to engage. One such method is the focus of this episode, an Ignatian spiritual practice/approach to scripture. (We’d already introduced another practice, lectio divina in Episode 014, but the Ignatian method is quite different from that.)
Our guide into this practice is Mark Crego, a regular guest on Latter-day Faith podcast as well as Mormon Matters. In this discussion with host Dan Wotherspoon, Mark briefly introduces us to Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus, which came to be known as Jesuits and that is a recognized monastic order in Catholicism, one that places high value on education, scholarship, and science while at the same time nurturing deep self-reflection and enlivened spirituality. (The current pope, Francis, is the first Jesuit to receive that ordination.) Mark then takes us into a few more elements of the Jesuit worldview and what they hold as the highest goal of a human life, but his main focus in the Ignatian practice of imaginatively entering into scriptural stories (settings, persons, what and who else is there that the scripture isn’t mentioning) that can lead into insights and personal transformation that can gained through a practice of this type. In the course of the conversation, he and Dan briefly reflect on ways we might shift our understandings of the Adam and Eve story, and then Mark shares a powerful piece he wrote about his experiences and transformations of insight and how he came to understand himself differently as he practices this approach during Holy Week 2017. It is gorgeous, rich, emotional, discerning, and not to be missed. From it and a closing few minutes that re-introduce the various steps in the Ignatian method, you will be able to gain both a delicious taste of and some know-how about this practice and what it can yield.
Read Mark Crego’s writeup of his imaginative entering into the place of Jesus’s final instructions to his disciples (men and women included at the table) and Last Supper.
Ignatius of Loyola was much like many of us: he aspired to be great and significant in the world, but as luck would have it, he was injured, and spent much of a year in recovery. During this period, he had few books to read, so he spent his days reading scripture and daydreaming.
He found that his daydreams of grandeur, of recovering the life he once aspired to, caused him to feel depressed. On the other hand, his daydreams of imagining himself within the stories of scripture brought him joy. In fact, as he lived within the narrative about the life of Jesus, he came to a personal relationship with the subject of scripture: the Christ as manifest in both the narrative and in his creative consciousness. He came to know God, not just know about God.
Motivated by his love for and with Jesus, he and his companions devoted their lives to not just reading and contemplation, but to active involvement in the world: that the love of Jesus is best manifest in our being men and women for and with others. They founded the “Society of Jesus”—Jesuits—based upon these principles of seeing God in all things, of practicing spiritual exercises including imaginative reading of scripture, of daily self-examination, and practicing love in the world, all for the greater glory of God.
I personally have found great benefit in reading scripture the Ignatian Way, that is, allowing scripture to open up as a creative, spiritual exercise, to live within the narrative, or as Nephi put it in the Book of Mormon, to liken scripture to ourselves.
To read the Scriptures as Ignatius suggests is not about just reading the text. Rather, it focuses on specific stories. For example, during the first phases of Ignatian spiritual exercises, it’s a good idea to explore the nature of sin—not as a stain on our soul, but as the process of learning to discern. The story of the Garden of Eden is particularly useful, exploring how Eve and Adam made choices in the Garden, and how those choices enabled them to learn through their own experience how to discern good and evil.
Another story is the birth narrative in Luke. In the video “Mr Krueger’s Christmas,” the title character played by Jimmy Stewart finds himself daydreaming as if he were physically present at the birth of Jesus. As he looks around, he sees shepherds, animals, Mary and Joseph, and of course the Jesus child. As he walks through the narrative, he connects in relationship with the baby Jesus, praying from his heart and enveloped in love.
My personal encounter with Ignatian spiritual reading of scripture was in contemplating the Atonement as expressed in John chapters 13-17: the “Last Supper.” As I entered the narrative, I heard the words of the Savior through the voice of my deceased mother express God’s intimate, personal, and unconditional love for me. In turn, if I love God, I will be motivated to love others “as God loves me,” that is, with intimate, personal, and unconditional love. The experience transformed everything I thought I knew about the Atonement. Click here to read the full article.
So how does Ignatian Imaginative Reading work for me?
Before reading scripture, I find it very helpful to prepare for the experience, by going to my own personal sacred space—a place outside of the noise of the world: could be a room in my house, could be in a library or church, could be anywhere where I can be outside of my daily interruptions and concerns.
There are many ways of imaginative reading—just use your imagination! The key, in my impression, is to find a story that resonates with me, then, reading the story four ways.
- I read the text as written, straight through, so that I can remind myself of the complete story line: What is the story itself saying?
- Next I read the text for what isn’t written: What is implied in the narrative? Who is witnessing this story? What are the factors, before and after, that affect the story line?
- Next I let the text go and put myself inside the narrative. Who am I in this story? Perhaps I could be one of the named actors, or simply an observer. Perhaps, in the story of Jesus’ birth, I’m one of the animals. I’m creative here—I’m putting myself in the story and letting my creative imagination run with it. I ask myself: What are my senses telling me as I become fully aware of the story? What am I feeling? What are my emotions telling me? This reading is purely contemplative—I allow the spirit to enter my heart and reveal what I need to learn from this reading.
- Finally, I return to the text itself. Yes, I have had an experience beyond the text in my imagination, but now, as I read the text, is there new meaning to be found? How does my new perspective open up the text to me to make me a better person—more loving towards and with others? How has God spoken love to me in this text?
As I close my reading session, I find myself physically and emotionally giving gratitude for the text. For me, I do a little ritual of closing the text and my eyes, touching the text to my forehead, and giving thanks for the experience I felt in the text.
Again, there are many ways to read scripture, and my approach, informed by Ignatian Spirituality is but one way. The key, in my impression, is to allow the text to open up for me, to speak to me, to become alive in my imagination, and then walk the journey of faith according to the inspiration I feel thereby.
I hope this helps. What are your thoughts about how you read scripture?
In this episode, Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon goes solo this time to talk about the aspect of “surrendering” or “yielding” or “allowing” the Divine to work in us. He asserts that if we allow the idea that God is all in all and in and through everything, including ourselves, and if we seek to abide in and be influenced by our spiritual center that exists “in” God and is God, we will be able to grow spiritually in ways our minds and plans and goals can’t even imagine, as experiencing deep abiding in God is far richer than these can ever touch. From there, he moves into aspects of surrender and yielding, and reveals through various LDS scripture how deeply embedded this practice is, this stance of allowing something more than what our dualistic minds and beliefs can change us in our very core.
If “ideas about” God or aspects of the universe as describe in religions language are increasingly feeling constrictive and impotent, let this episode and its focus on experiencing God sink in a bit. You’ll be intrigued and hopefully motivated to trust the deepest calls of your soul.
“One” by Birdtalker, video and lyrics
Latter-day Faith Retreat, October 11th to 13th
Change the Game
Life is so immeasurably vast,
that to conclude
you are limited
is only because
you are accessing
a minuscule, subjective twig
of infinite Reality.
There will come a time,
when you will not be bound
by this current body and brain,
and instantly you will
experience and remember
more of your eternal heritage
and ethereal nature.
Why wait for that time,
when it is available to you now
while you are still here?
The game changes
when you release
your current reference points.
Poem from Educare Unlearning Institute (daily emails)
This episode features an interview with the wonderful Kim McCall about the concept (and small instantiations) of Zion, and especially how it activates and animates his soul and spiritual life. Latter-day Faith host Dan Wotherspoon gets into sharing mode about it, as well. Kim’s recent reflections on Zion were prompted by his being asked this past year to give a sacrament meeting talk on the Second Coming, a topic Kim wasn’t at all enthusiastic to speak on. (Neither would many of us, we suspect!) But then, as he further queried his heart and mind, he found a way into the topic: Zion and how it animated so many early Latter-day Saints’ focus and efforts and unified extremely diverse people with genuine purpose and a sense of call to prepare a community to which Christ would feel comfortable returning. Kim shared his beautiful heart with his ward, at the Salt Lake Sunstone Symposium this past week, and even more in this episode. The conversation here also explores what it means to have a “good will,” as well as how we can each catch the vision of Zion and go about implementing it in our portions of this world despite a world and mindsets that do not (yet?) hold much space for such things, and even work against them.
This is a terrific episode! Please jump in and then share your own vision of Zion and tales of bringing these ideals into your spheres of influence.