Inspired by Teilhard de Chardin’s vision, Louis M. Savary, a well-known spiritual writer and former Jesuit, suggests a provocative new approach to the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius—changing the focus from a concern “for individual salvation and getting to heaven” to a communal project of working interdependently with one another on the Christ Project. The Christ Project rests on two foundations: “1) We humans are not separate from this planet nor from anyone or anything else on it or in it; and 2) we need to uplift everyone and everything on it or in it.” In short, The New Spiritual Exercises presents a “re-envisioning of the original Exercises as Teilhard might envision and re-create them if he were alive today.”
Savary’s publication Teilhard de Chardin: The Divine Milieu Explained: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (2007) argued for the continuing relevance of de Chardin’s insights. The current volume continues this commitment by reframing St. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises—within de Chardin’s evolutionary and cosmic perspective: “For Teilhard, although each individual soul is intimately known and unconditionally loved by God, in the end the one Person that God wants to ‘save’ and bring to perfection is the cosmic-sized Christ, in whom lives the entire universe that God lovingly created and set into an evolutionary process almost fourteen billion years ago.”
The heart of the book is Savary’s summary of 17 basic Teilhardian principles, which guide his reinterpretation of the traditional Ignatian meditations. They include: the discoveries of modern science must form an important foundation to any contemporary spirituality if it is to be true, relevant and inspiring; evolution is happening continually on every level of being and has a direction; we all live and move and have our being in the divine milieu; an evolutionary spirituality is focused primarily on grace, not sin; an attempt to synthesize all things in the Universal Christ. The New Spiritual Exercises is basically a manual designed to help directors adopt this perspective, moving the focus for each meditation from a personal relationship with Christ toward a relationship that includes the cosmic Christ.
Note Savary’s distinctive re-articulation of the First Principle and Foundation: “You were created to make a unique contribution to the great evolutionary project initiated and continually supported by God, namely, bringing all creation together into one magnificent conscious loving union.” After reframing the entire meditation he concludes, “For this, God empowers you to grow in passionate love and care for all elements of the cosmos, since they, as you, all live and move and have their being in God’s love.”
The Meditation on the Kingdom continues the cosmic perspective. The third prelude reads: “You may ask for the grace to fall in love with this cosmic-sized Christ that includes all of humanity and the rest of creation, and the desire to be part of bringing the cosmic Body of Christ to its highest potential.” The meditation then invites us to join not a single ideal earthly king but 10,000 leaders all over the earth “who represent ten thousand different caring groups, all rising above their daily difficulties, finding ten thousand different ways to improve Earth and the beings on it.”
The cosmic dimension is justified in the Meditation on the Incarnation, using the Gospel of John: “For God so loved the world [cosmos, or “all creation” in Greek] that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son...to condemn the world [creation], but that the world [creation] might be saved through him” (Jn 3:16-17). The grace sought in this meditation is recognizing how God’s love is working for us in all creation and how in Jesus the Divine Word shows that all things are sacred and makes all things one—with him, in him and through him.
For Teilhard—and for Savary—The Contemplation for Obtaining Divine Love is the key to Ignatius’ “finding God in all things” and therefore the key to the exercises. Here is the prayer he suggests for the conclusion of this contemplation: “My deepest desire and the grace I ask is that I may live consciously in you and with you as a part of your Christ, that I may realize that my primary privilege and honor is to be a cell in the Cosmic Body of Christ. I wish to live and work no longer just as myself, but consciously as part of Christ—who holds all of us together on our way to you. “
I confess that I began to prepare this review with a suspicious attitude toward Savary’s refocusing of the Spiritual Exercises. The language was just too awkward and jarring. But my suspicion has yielded to an appreciation for his project. My recent retreats—both 30 days and eights days—have been blessed not only by renewal of a personal relationship to Christ but also by greater reverence and enjoyment of God’s presence in all creation. Savary and Teilhard seem to be inviting us to connect more explicitly our personal devotion to Christ with a devotion to the evolutionary and cosmic presence of the Christ.
Adapting the exercises to the spirit of the times is not new. The Second Vatican Council prompted the refocusing of the Spiritual Exercises—and all spirituality—from an exclusively personal relationship to Christ to a relationship that includes equally a social justice commitment. Might the Holy Spirit be leading us now toward a more cosmic and evolutionary adaptation?
I recommend The New Spiritual Exercises to all interested in Ignatian spirituality, particularly those who direct Ignatian retreats. Though Savary seems to suggest replacing entirely our current approaches to the Exercises, I see his perspective as a supplement rather than a replacement. For St. Ignatius Loyola, a personal relationship with and commitment to follow Christ are an indispensible foundation for Christian spirituality. And given the presence of the Spirit, won’t the adaptation to the evolutionary and cosmic Christ inevitably emerge?