Meet the Authors of The Spiritual Exercises Reclaimed

Book Event

Mary Garvin, Katherine Dyckman, and Elizabeth Liebert at
book signing and party honoring KatherineDyckman at Seattle
University, November 5, 2001.

Katherine Dyckman, S.N.J.M., is an assistant professor at the School of Theology and Ministry at Seattle University. Active as a retreat and spiritual director, she is also the co-author of three other books, including Inviting the Mystic, Supporting the Prophet: An Introduction to Spiritual Direction and Chaos or Creation: Spirituality in Mid-life (both published by Paulist Press). In addition, in 1983 she and a Jesuit colleague began the first eight-month Nineteenth Annotation Retreat program in the United States (Spiritual Exercises in Everyday Life), which utilizes the gifts of the laity as directors and administrators.

Mary Garvin, S.N.J.M., has a Doctor of Ministry degree from Andover Newton Theological School and currently serves as an assistant professor in the Religious Studies Department of Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington. An experienced lecturer and spiritual director, she is also the author of numerous articles on religious life and Ignatian spirituality.

Elizabeth Liebert, S.N.J.M., is Professor of Spiritual Life at San Francisco Theological Seminary and a member of the doctoral faculty in Christian Spirituality of the Graduate Theological Union. She has written numerous scholarly and popular works on spirituality and spiritual direction. Her latest book, written with John Endres, S.J., is entitled A Retreat with the Psalms: Resources for Personal and Communal Prayer (Paulist Press).

The Authors Talk About Writing This Book

We had several goals for this work: We wanted to advance the scholarship on the Spiritual Exercises. We wanted to offer a feminist perspective. We wanted to make the Exercises available to contemporary women and thereby advance their practice. One of our first decisions committed us to a way of being together that would support the vocation of scholarship, but we only gradually learned what that meant in practice.

The process of writing this work was an exercise in collaborative scholarship unlike any other we previously encountered. For more than a year, we talked, read, reflected. Talked together about our experiences of the Exercises, what worked and didn't work for us. Talked to contemporary women who have made and been giving the Exercises. Talked back and forth to the text, trying to let it say what it said, not what we thought it said or wanted it to say. Talked to the history of interpretation. Talked to scholars of the Exercises and scholars of the period and context in which they were written. Talked to the women again and again and again. We tried to pay attention to the anger, the energy, the disjunction, the frustration and every other experience that arose in all these conversation partners and in ourselves. We frequently disagreed on substance or emphasis. We often had to hold our different perspectives in tension for a long time before the way through appeared. We began writing. All the writing came back to the three of us for comment, critique, celebration, often time after time.

Since we were working with a text that gives directions for prayer, we realized that our appropriation of the text would be incomplete if we stood outside and remained distant from the prayer to which the text invites. We had all made the Spiritual Exercises in the enclosed form at some point in the past and all had engaged in directing and teaching the Exercises in our various settings. But we needed to engage the Exercises together and on their own terms if our collective interpretation process was to move into new ground. So, every day that we worked together, one of us took the responsibility to prepare some kind of common prayer related to the aspect of the Spiritual Exercises that we were presently struggling with. Sometimes the struggle resolved itself. Sometimes it didn't. But our scholarship advanced through this common prayer. We gleaned perspectives that we might never have seen without this practice as an integral part of our writing.

We struggled with the genre-what was it that we were writing? Was it a commentary? Not exactly, though it has elements of commentary in it. Was it a directory? Not exactly, though it contains suggestions for the director. Was it a rewriting of the Spiritual Exercises? Not exactly that, either, though we desired to be faithful to the process as given to us through Ignatius's text. We finally settled on the term "companion"; we see our work as a companion for all those who make or give the Exercises, but especially women, who have been virtually invisible in the scholarship on the Spiritual Exercises.

There are some predictable pitfalls to this kind of work. One is that publishers may not know what to do with the result. It doesn't look quite like the typical scholarly book. In our case, our editor discouraged us from preparing an index, saying that the book is more pastoral than scholarly. We compromised with an author index so that readers can pursue the extensive bibiliographic notes provided for each chapter. We also include a contemporary re-writing of the dynamics in the form of a modern morality play. We had to justify not once but several times the presence of the play in the text. For us, it offered not only a way to summarize our insights, but to draw others into their own experiences of the Spiritual Exercises and to enhance that experience through their common experience of "readers' theatre." Although we managed to keep it in the final manuscript, it is relegated to the Appendix, not in the center of the text, where we had originally placed it.

We hope that many persons--women and men, scholars and pray-ers, those making and those guiding the Exercises will find this book helpful.