By Mike Jordan Laskey
September 20, 2022 — The invitation I emailed to a handful of people last spring to something tentatively called an “Ignatian Creators Summit” was so vague on details, I was shocked that anyone said yes at all.
But 14 of us, writers and photographers and filmmakers and retreat leaders and podcasters and woodworkers, dropped what we were doing to gather for three days at a retreat center in exurban Maryland last month. Collaborators came from places like Seattle and New York, Atlanta and Boston. We reflected on the intersections between Ignatian spirituality and creativity. We wrote poetry. We prayed, asking the Holy Spirit to guide whatever this gathering was.
And as is so often the case when two or three or a dozen are gathered in God’s name, the Spirit delivered in a big way. It was one of the most graced, beautiful experiences of my career.
The summit was part retreat, part workshop, part “daydream about future collaboration” conversations. Ultimately, it was a cathartic blessing: We met people in the flesh we had only encountered on the Ignatian internet over the past 30 months. There’s just no substitute for that.
Here are three key takeaways I’m still reflecting on after the summit, graces that will guide our future work as we continue to make Ignatian content and expand our circle of collaborators.
1. When you make space for people to share their passions, the energy is contagious.
The summit was a hands-on experience led by the participants, based on the gifts and interests they were bringing with them. A few examples:
- Ken Homan, SJ, is a woodworker. He brought pieces of wood for everyone to hold and inspect and shared how he approaches the process of making a piece, in both technical and spiritual terms.
- Cameron Bellm, who writes the Spirit & Verse column for us at Jesuits.org and is the author of “A Consoling Embrace: Prayers for a Time of Pandemic” (2020) and “No Unlikely Saints: A Mental Health Pilgrimage with Sacred Company” (2021), has a Ph.D. in Russian literature. She led us in a reading and discussion of a powerful short story by Anton Chekhov, finding parallels between the story and Ignatian spirituality.
- During an activity where we all spent time reading a Gospel passage and making a creative piece in response to the reading, Jay Dunmore, who runs the multimedia studio at Loyola University Maryland, drew on his love of rap to compose some mind-blowing, Scripture-based bars.
- Self-professed space junkie Kathy Powell, who is the creative director for the Ignatian ministries initiative run by writer and retreat leader Becky Eldredge, led us in a “visio divina” prayer with images from the Webb Space Telescope.
It was invigorating to watch and work with creative people in action in so many different sorts of ways.
2. Ignatian spirituality can provide powerful fuel for the creative life.
We explored how central elements of Ignatian spirituality can nourish creators and help us notice God’s Spirit at work in every moment of our lives. A key theme that emerged throughout the gathering was the importance of paying close attention to the world around us.
“St. Ignatius teaches us to notice, to pay attention, and I think that is the starting point for any form of creativity: paying attention both to the world around us and the world within us,” says Cameron, who especially loved a session during the summit during which we all went outside and spent 15 quiet, uninterrupted minutes looking closely at something in nature. “We find God in all things, and we can also find a portal to creativity in all things.”
Sister Colleen Gibson, SSJ, a writer, Sister of Saint Joseph, and student at Boston College’s School of Theology and Ministry, echoes Cameron’s sentiments. “Ignatian spirituality recognizes that everything — every moment, every thought, every feeling — has something to reveal to us; human creativity helps us to process those moments, thoughts and feelings with God to distill the richness of God’s grace all around us,” she says.
3. As creative work is often a solo pursuit, there’s true gift in collaboration and community among creators.
“My professional creative life, while fulfilling, is very solitary and I hadn’t realized how starved I was for the companionship of my peers until halfway through this summit. Their curiosity about the world and determination to find God in it nourished me deeply,” says Shannon Evans, a writer, retreat leader, National Catholic Reporter editor, and author of “Rewilding Motherhood” and the upcoming “Feminist Prayers for My Daughter.” “To be honest, something about this summit broke me open in a way that I am continuing to pay attention to and seeking to understand.”
A few different times during the summit, we’d go off individually to reflect on our own creative process or to make something. We’d always come back and share what we had come up with, and I was struck by the generosity and excitement each person showed in response to others’ work. Nobody was bashful to share even unfinished work in progress — a comfort level that’s just not common to reach in only a few days together.
“Being able to share this time and space together was like standing in the open air and breathing with companions on the journey,” Sr. Colleen says. Our shared faith and Ignatian language helped us go deep quickly. As Jay puts it: “The experience of collaborating with creators that have recognized and developed a relationship with the Creator made a huge difference.”
In the weeks ahead, our group wants to capitalize on this energy to keep making and sharing Ignatian-rooted creative content with the world. We’ll keep meeting on Zoom to support each other and share resources. And we’ll meet up again in person.
The group won’t stay static, though. We are always happy to travel with others who are on the road — folks who feel like God is calling them to write and paint and make podcasts and videos and who knows what else. If this sounds like your crew, please email me or find me on Twitter. We’d love to connect with you and see what the Holy Spirit might have in store next.
Mike Jordan Laskey is director of communications for the Jesuit Conference of Canada and the United States in Washington, D.C. He is the author of “The Ministry of Peace and Justice” (Liturgical Press) and lives with his family in Maryland.