Everyday Ignatian is a monthly series by Shannon K. Evans, a writer and mother of five living in Iowa who is chronicling moments of grace in the midst of her chaotic daily life through the lens of Ignatian spirituality.
By Shannon K. Evans
October 26, 2020 — A few weeks ago I opened up my email inbox to find a note from my friends Natalie and Alissa, asking if I would be interested in co-facilitating an Ignatian prayer group over Zoom that could help its members reflect on the election and their civic duty. Using the document Contemplation and Action: An Ignatian Guide to Civic Engagement as a guide, the idea was to equip participants with the opportunity to pray over their own political leanings within principles like detachment, solidarity and discernment.
It sounded incredible. So obviously my instinct was to say no.
Excuses ran through my head like wildfire. I just don’t have time in the evenings to commit to this once a week. (Uh actually, because of the whole global pandemic thing, I am free virtually every night for the foreseeable future.) I don’t want to get entangled in political division and debate. (Oh, right, the point of the group is to pray and reflect, not argue.) I don’t want to leave my husband to handle bedtime with five kids alone. (But we could easily schedule it to begin afterward.)
So strong was my initial emotional reaction that it was clear I needed to stop and pray about the tumult going on in my heart. As I slowed myself down and asked questions about my feelings and desires, the Holy Spirit made my true inner state known: As much as I professed to practice Ignatian spirituality, when it came to this presidential election, I really didn’t want to become more free.
The painful truth was, I didn’t want to give up my holier-than-thou attitude toward those who planned to vote differently. I didn’t want to be challenged to practice detachment from my own perspective and worldview. I didn’t want to be part of a group that might include people who supported the candidate I disliked. I wanted to stay bitter and hardened rather than be renewed by God to love more purely.
I sat back in my desk chair and groaned. I was going to have to say yes.
However reluctantly I began applying Ignatian spiritual principles to my inner processes about the current political climate, I’m glad I started the journey. This year has been an emotionally challenging one for all of us and the closer we creep to the election, the more acutely I feel the effects on my mental and emotional health. Like so many others, I have been experiencing a consistent onslaught of anxiety, negative thoughts and insomnia. But the wisdom of St. Ignatius reminds me that I don’t have to stay there: I can choose, over and over again, to find inner freedom in prayer.
I’m learning that finding inner freedom is not the same thing as disengaging — after all, Pope Francis has said that “a good Catholic meddles in politics.” My faith does not excuse me from civic engagement; on the contrary, it requires it of me. The Holy Father explains it this way: “Politics, according to the Social Doctrine of the Church, is one of the highest forms of charity, because it serves the common good.” As Christians, participating in politics is a way we can fulfill the Gospel mission of feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger and caring for the sick or imprisoned.
But the trouble comes when I become so blinded by my own perspective and agenda that I can no longer see with the eyes of Jesus: sometimes because I fail to consider the perspective of the most vulnerable; sometimes because I judge those who prioritize different issues than I do; and, sometimes because I give way to the hopelessness of anger and anxiety.
This is where Ignatian spirituality has been such an anchoring force for me. Instead of solely praying for the outcome I personally believe to be best, the teachings of Ignatius remind me to come before God in honesty about my own attachments with a willingness to be changed. I can trust that once I am emptied of the biases and preferences I cling to, I can then be filled with the spirit of Jesus, who is always considering the needs of the vulnerable, addressing the disease instead of the symptoms and relentlessly believing the best about people. He is the model of perfect inner freedom, and I know that’s what he desires for me too.
By the time our group gathered over Zoom for the first of four sessions to pray through our political engagement with an Ignatian lens, I was ready to be changed. As I led the participants through reflection questions, prayerful silence, deep breathing and the Examen, I knew I was leading myself every bit as much as I was leading them. And when we closed the session 30 minutes later, I experienced a feeling I hadn’t welcomed in a long time: peace.
Shannon K. Evans is the author of “Embracing Weakness: The Unlikely Secret to Changing the World.” Her writing has been featured in America and Saint Anthony Messenger magazines, as well as online at Ruminate, Verily, Huffington Post, Grotto Network and others. Shannon, her husband and their five children make their home in central Iowa.