Attendees learn how to” drop their nets” through Ignatian spiritual practices
To hear the Rev. Jeff Eddings tell it, St. Ignatius of Loyola had quite a checkered past. Eddings, a co-founder of the Hot Metal Bridge Faith Community in Pittsburgh, whose own spiritual life has been profoundly shaped by the teachings of St. Ignatius, is here to keynote the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s annual Disciple-Making Church Conference.
The practices of Ignatius, who eventually went on to found the Jesuit order, are at the heart of the 2017 conference, titled Abide in Me… A Spiritual Purging, based on John 15:4. Eddings maintains that the spiritual exercises developed by Ignatius—and for which he was famous—are well suited to help today’s disciples live fuller mental and spiritual lives in order to bear more fruit for Jesus Christ and Christ’s church.
“He was a fancy dresser, an expert dancer, a womanizer, and a rough, punkish swordsman,” Eddings quoted one biographer as having said of Ignatius, born Inigo Lopez de Loyola in 1491, “and then, while he was in a long recovery following a battle injury, he had a religious conversion.”
Likening Ignatian spiritual practices to certain diets “meant to purge us of the toxins in our system”—Eddings then asked the gathering, “What would it mean to purge ourselves of the toxins in our spiritual life?” such as fear, regret, anxiety, broken relationships, addictions, expectations, and disappointments.
“Over the next couple of days we will engage in a spiritual detox of our souls, a purging of all of the stuff that has accumulated in our attics and in our closets,” he continued. “How do we make our spiritual purge last? How do we abide in Christ in a lasting manner? Ignatius talks about ‘a way of proceeding.’”
That “way” is characterized by Interior Freedom, Disordered Attachments, and Spiritual Indifference, principles that Eddings explained—and illustrated—by way of powerful personal story and example.
Eddings’s presentation on January 17 explored the impact of Interior Freedom, which is defined as contentment based not on exterior circumstances but on an interior relationship with God. Subsequent keynote presentations addressed Disordered Attachments and Spiritual Indifference.
“There is no need to wear yourself out—hear that, pastors, we’re not supposed to wear ourselves out,” he said, speaking to the call to interior freedom and paraphrasing theologian Richard Rohr. “Make a competent and sufficient effort, and leave the rest up to God. Interior freedom is not about being important or getting ahead. It’s about our relationship with God. Despite your best efforts to be terrible, you can’t make God love you any less than God loves you right now. If we can internalize that and believe that, we can find more interior freedom in our lives and in our ministries.”
Later in small groups, participants were asked to discuss such related questions as “What mental, spiritual, and physical toxins are you dealing with in your life currently?” and “What sense of importance do you need to let go of?”
The day’s schedule, intentionally designed to model the very letting go that Eddings and the other conference leaders were advocating, included ample time for rest and reflection, followed by an optional afternoon workshop on “Spiritual Direction: Sacred Listening” led by Bill Cooley.
Cooley, who with his wife Jean retired six years ago as co-pastors of Westminster Presbyterian Church in Lakeland, Florida, received training as a spiritual director at the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation, Washington, D.C., and at the Franciscan Center of Tampa.
After explaining the basic differences between therapy and spiritual direction—the purpose of the latter being an invitation into a deeper relationship with God—Cooley asked the participants to break up into small groups for an exercise in which one member acted as the spiritual director, one as the directors, and the others as observers. Together, attendees explored and simulated the potential benefits of spiritual direction.
The evening concluded with an original drama, “Stickin with Fishin’,” written and enacted by Eddings and his Hot Metal Bridge co-founder, the Rev. Jim Walker, pastor of First United Methodist Church, Pittsburgh.
In the drama based on Mark 1:14-19, in which Jesus calls the first disciples, Eddings and Walker explored—both with humor and remarkable vulnerability—what might have happened had fishermen Peter and Andrew held onto their nets.
“Have you ever really thought about what it means to drop the net,” asked Eddings as Peter, speaking powerfully to the conference theme. “It’s a metaphor for our very lives—like letting go of everything that we are.”
In the spirited exchange that followed, Eddings’ s Peter asked Walker’s Andrew, “What kind of fool gives up his life to follow, and then, when it matters most, to quit? To throw it all away, to throw him away?” Answered Walker as Andrew, “The worst thing is to have lived your life without having had that moment. If you spend your whole life holding onto the net, you never get to experience the feeling of being in love and in mission with the God who has come into this world.”
As Eddings’ s Peter lay tangled up in his own net on the floor, Walker—describing the disciple’s entanglement as a metaphor—launched into a personal monologue.
“The fist fight I have with myself is my struggle with the net, which is different for each person,” Walker said. “We are entangled by our anger, resentment…our entitlements. They lock us in and tangle us up. Then, when we try to find a way out, we’re writhing on the floor asking, how do we get out of that?”
Citing further passages in Mark where the disciples were silenced for preaching the good news, Walker closed by saying, “We can never stop preaching what we have seen, heard and experienced. We will never stop saying the name of Jesus. Did Peter and Andrew keep their fishing jobs? Not on your life.”
Emily Enders Odom, mission communications strategist
Today’s Focus: Disciple-Making Church Conference
Let us join in prayer for:
PC(USA) Mission Co-workers:
PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Let us pray:
Gracious God, we thank you for adopting us into the family of faith. Challenge us to find ways to join hands with your children in the Middle East, that we might together glorify your name. Amen.