The Campus Ministers

Finding God in All Things

The Inclusive and Universal Spirituality of St. Ignatius

 

There is really nothing special about the spirituality of St. Ignatius in finding God in all things, because this should be normal to us. Although we tell children that God is everywhere, we adults tend to see God in very defined and prescribed ways.

Finding God in all things is liberating ourselves from the idea that we only find God in our religious ideas and practices. It is freeing God from all our contrived and artificial ways of being pious and holy. It is coming to God without any add-ons or put-ons. It is encountering God directly, as expressed in Psalm 139.

This spirituality respects the freedom of God not to be imprisoned by our categories and methods, because God “is above and beyond all our ways, means and methods.” It acknowledges that God’s ways are not our ways, neither are our ways God’s ways. It remembers what Jesus said, “The wind blows where it wills… you do not know where it comes from or where it goes; so it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-8).

Finding God everywhere is a no-beating-around-the-bush spirituality. It is a come-as-you-are-warts-and-all spirituality. It is a no frills and uncomplicated way of experiencing God. It is the inclusive spirituality of the compassionate and forgiving father of the prodigal son. It is also seen in the compassion shown by Jesus to the woman caught in adultery.

It is realistic because it is not trapped in image, appearances or rules. It is encountering God without the false pretenses and dramatic externals that distract or even deceive us. It is stripping away all the superfluous theological make-up we have put on ourselves and God.

Finding God in all things is rediscovering our true God, because we have gotten lost in the maze of our complicated beliefs and traditions through the centuries. Jesuit theologian Karl Rahner tells us to love God and live life with the mind and heart we actually have, not with the mind and heart we are supposed to have.

A theological distinction here might be helpful. If God is in all things, all things are in God. Theologians call this panentheism (from the Greek pan-en-theos, literally all in God), the everywhereness of God. Panentheism is different from pantheism, a heresy which maintains that God is all and all is God.

Today we pay more attention to the non-essentials instead of the essentials of our faith. Instead of worshipping in truth and spirit, we worry about liturgical guidelines or pomp and circumstance.

Finding God in all things is a spirituality that is open, inclusive and accepting of all that is good, true and just. This spirituality honors God as the author of all creation. It recovers the principle of welcoming everything according to the way God unconditionally welcomes everything. True catholicity or universality does not classify, discriminate or exclude anyone, because it remembers what Jesus taught in the gospels – God does not judge by appearances.

Finding God in all things is walking in the footsteps of Jesus, who taught us to find God beyond the narrow boxes of our religious observances. It respects the freedom of God and transcends the traditional scope of religion to welcome unfamiliar but universal realities.

The Old Testament Psalms show us the oneness of their ancient faith with the whole of human experience. Psalm after psalm speak of justice, mercy, wisdom, forgiveness and thanksgiving. They mention fields, forests, mountains, streams, storms, animals, shepherds, kings and God’s laws. The psalms are likely the original source of the spirituality of finding God in all things.

The starting point of our encounter with the Author of Life is life itself. This is not clear anymore because of the many layers of beliefs and traditions. We now find it difficult to find God in all things, because we have learned to find God only in particular things.

We may go through the Spiritual Exercises agreeing with St. Ignatius about finding God in all things. However, actualizing this is something else. After the retreat, we return to our usual specific ways of finding God. Subconsciously, we may not be approaching the Exercises spiritually. We may think of the Exercises only as a fixed methodology to return to year after year. Instead of exercising spiritually, we may be exercising methodically, fixatedly or theologically. We may forget that the very nature of a spirit is its freshness, flexibility and adaptability.

St. Ignatius started his long road to sainthood by teaching catechism to small children. He did not get stuck with this but went on to university studies and founded a new apostolic religious order that spread to the rest of the world.

Our experience of God starts with our religious beliefs and practices, but we need to move on to grow and mature in our Christian spirituality and develop a realistic approach to God and life. We need to outgrow our abstract and limited ways of finding God, in order to truly find God in all things, the way Jesus and Ignatius showed us.


Salvador Wee SJ

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