I met the Jesus of the Gospels is a new and a fresh way[horizontal ellipsis]


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During a sabbatical leave, I pursued the study of spirituality in nursing to be prepared to strengthen this content across our nursing curriculum and in my personal life. My goals included deepening my knowledge of my Protestant faith tradition and other expressions of Christianity. I had been drawn to the disciplines of silence, solitude and daily prayer. I had been in spiritual direction for five years and had made several eight-day silent retreats at a Jesuit retreat center. My sabbatical leave provided the time to pursue full Ignatian Spiritual Exercises during thirty days of silence at the Jesuit retreat center.1


A silent retreat is not totally without speaking: the participant talks with a spiritual director each day and during the response portions of the daily liturgical service. The community, however, remains silent and establishes an environment without speech. The Ignation Spiritual Exercises are divided into four weeks or movements; the goal is to become a companion of Jesus by experiencing his life as told in the Gospels. The first week is the transition into the process and coming to know that one is a loved sinner. Week two follows episodes in the Gospel records of Christ. The third week is praying through the sufferings of Jesus from the Last Supper until his crucifixion. The fourth week starts with the resurrection of Christ and addresses episodes from his ascension to heaven and Pentecost.2



I learned ten lessons of great value from the retreat for myself and for fellow Christian nurses. They are ordered from least (ten) to most (one) important.


NUMBER TEN: Transitions take time and cannot be rushed. Along with twenty-three other participants, I arrived at the retreat center. Until silence began the next evening we met in groups, individually with our spiritual director, and we worshiped together at a Roman Catholic Mass. The transition from the bustling American culture to monastic silence is not easy, even for one who came prepared and yearned for silence. As the exercises began, we were not rushed into a rigid routine but gently led over several days until our daily rhythms unfolded.


Silence ended several days before we left the thirty-day retreat. The days of post-silence reflection included focused presentations to the entire group, time to review the entire experience and small group sharing of experiences. These deliberate activities made space and time for the transition to our usual routines.


The focus on transition was the antithesis of been there, done that and the what's next demand of our culture for constant stimulation and instant gratification. The value put on transition time confirmed that reflection is an important part of spiritual formation.


NUMBER NINE: I can live more simply. I had a small room with a sink, table, chair, mirror and bed. Simple meals were of fruits and vegetables. We dined in silence, as we looked out over the Atlantic Ocean and listened to classical music. There were paths for walks or bicycle rides. We read no outside books, watched no televison, and the only outside contacts were daily newspapers and the radios that were listened to with headphones in the dining hall. One pay phone was available; those with cell phones used them only while outside.


This experience opened my eyes to see my spacious home and many possessions in a new light. What is necessary? What can I do without? What can I give away? The challenge is to incorporate the simplicity I experienced into my everyday life.


NUMBER EIGHT: A rhythm of prayer, even continuous prayer, emerges in an environment designed to foster prayer. We aimed for five scheduled hours of prayer each day, as recommended by Ignatius. In an environment devoid of distractions, five times of prayer naturally arose: morning, midday, late afternoon, after supper and before retiring. I discovered how easily prayer occurs outside of designated times. Prayer became a constant listening, attending to the movements of God in the ordinary everyday things of life, an increased sense of the presence of God underneath daily activities.


NUMBER SEVEN: Spiritual authority is God-given and is recognized by other believers. It cannot be granted by human institutions. My spiritual director is a nun; she is barred from certain roles in religious life because she is a woman. However, in this retreat setting, each spiritual director took turns sharing insights on Scripture. The words I heard were filled with life and wisdom. As I received the Word, I realized that spiritual authority is God-given; it rests within the being of the person, granted by the Holy Spirit. Human institutions, whatever their policies, cannot negate this reality.


NUMBER SIX: The experience of who I am in Christ: a loved sinner. The grace goal for the first week was that we would come to know ourselves as we really are: sinners saved by grace. I had sung or spoken these words thousands of times. In making space and opening up in the retreat, I experienced being a beloved sinner in a new way. Jesus moved me in the unknown places of my heart. I sang with great joy, "Jesus loves me, this I know."


NUMBER FIVE: The fellowship of believers is real and exists beyond words. It may seem odd to describe a community of twenty-four retreatants and their spiritual directors during a month of silence as a Christian fellowship. However, nonverbal communication is powerful, and deep bonds developed despite the silence. I experienced these dear people of God-priests, nuns and lay persons, as sisters and brothers in Christ.


NUMBER FOUR: The power of Scripture, especially in the Gospel records of Jesus. I met the Jesus of the Gospels in a new and fresh way through Ignatian prayer (see sidebar). Each day I was assigned one to three Scripture passages, and as I read, studied and prayed through each passage, I was fed. By entering the Gospel stories through senses and imagination, praying enabled me to experience the reality of Jesus. I saw my sinfulness and his wholeness and healing. Reading and praying the Gospels, I felt Jesus walking with me through the journey.


NUMBER THREE: If we listen, nature calls out to us of our God. The retreat center is a converted mansion in a beautiful setting on the Massachusetts seacoast. Each window has a view of the rocky Atlantic coastline or the forest. The sunrise over the Atlantic Ocean could be enjoyed, and a short walk to the opposite side of the peninsula provided a view of the sunset over the water. As Romans 1:20 proclaims, "Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made." Indeed, the beauty of the setting cried out God's presence to us.


NUMBER TWO: The meaning of a sacrament. In my religious tradition, there are no sacraments but rather two ordinances-the Lord's Supper (Communion) and the baptism of believers. In the retreat setting, I was in a community that practices seven sacraments and believes there is a spiritual benefit in doing the sacramental act in and of itself.3 As I attended daily Mass and observed the sacrament of the Eucharist, I came to understand how those of the Roman Catholic faith view the role of a sacrament and how participating in this ritual is a critical expression of faith.


Two weeks after my retreat, I was caring for an elderly man who was critically ill with pneumonia. The man had requested the sacrament of the sick. When the priest arrived, I was in the middle of a critical physiological procedure. Before my retreat I would have asked him to come back at a more convenient time. However, with my new understanding of what a sacrament meant to the patient, I asked the priest to wait a few minutes, and I prioritized making space, time and privacy arrangements for the sacrament.


NUMBER ONE: Nursing is my calling. The spiritual exercises are considered useful for discernment of one's vocation, for identifying a change in direction of one's ministry or to confirm a life calling. As a result of my sabbatical, I serve as a resource person for spirituality for the nursing faculty, and am pursuing scholarly work in the area of spirituality in acute care nursing practice. In the undergraduate curriculum we have added spiritual care to the introduction to nursing course and to later courses on terminal care. At the master's level, we added spirituality as part of diversity in the program outcome objective. Graduate students must design, implement and evaluate care in relation to ethno-cultural and spiritual beliefs with diverse populations.


The world of the retreat center is far removed from the world of my calling at the university and critical care unit, and from my church. However, I found what I learned from the retreat has become part of who I am. My being with students and patients is qualitatively different. The retreat experience broadened my perspective, and I am better prepared to administer spiritual care to patients of diverse faiths. I encourage Christian nurses to explore diverse expressions of Christian faith. The learning and understanding that arise from entering into the faith practices of others are well worth any discomfort felt from unfamiliar forms of worship or theology.



Ignatian prayer is a form of prayer that uses words and images (kataphotic prayer). One uses all the senses and powers of the imagination to enter into the Gospel story and experience it as a companion of Jesus. In praying, the person may take various roles, and the same Gospel story can have very different results. During an Ignatian retreat, each participant's prayer is guided by daily meetings with a spiritual director trained in the exercises.


During my prayer of the crucifixion, I was to pray the burial of Jesus as recorded in Luke 23:50-56 and John 19:38-42. The picture that came to mind was a Rembrandt painting in which Jesus' body is being taken down from the cross. I have washed and prepared the bodies of many persons for grieving families before transport to the morgue, so I entered into the story as the person directing the removal of the body from the cross. In my mind, I showed Joseph and Nicodemus how to treat the body with respect, to move it gently, to cleanse it thoroughly, to position it correctly and to wrap it properly. Experiencing the burial of Jesus in this way made his death very real. The feelings of loss and grief were strong. The death was final and complete. I was overwhelmed with the sense of the sacrifice that had been made.



[white square] Spiritual retreatsdeepen our faith and improve our ability to care spiritually in all aspects of life and work.


1 Joseph Munitiz and Philip Endean, Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Personal Writings (NY: Penguin Classics, 1996), 285. [Context Link]


2 Ibid. [Context Link]


3 English translation of the Catechism of the Catholic Church (United States Catholic Conference, 1994). [Context Link]