The Exercises across cultural divides

AnneMarieFrom the Jesuit Institute in Johannesburg, South Africa, Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell and Puleng Matsaneng commented that ‘internationally we seem to be at a crisis point in relation to issues of race and culture’ and asked:

  • How can the Exercises be a tool for a radical transformation of consciousness?
  • How do we give the Exercises in a way that recognises and honours the cultural diversity of the people who make them?
  • Can the exercises be a leaven in our global society and a means of healing and reconciliation?

Puleng MatsanengMore than twenty years since the formal ending of apartheid, the legacy of violence and suspicion is still subtly shaping South African society. This affects people’s image both of God and of themselves and their own worth in God’s eyes. It affects the way in which people can accompany others when trust across barriers of generation and race may be hard to build.

The fundamental differences between cultures also affects the way spiritual direction and the giving of the exercises can best be done in South Africa. White western society has a long history of one-to-one direction whereas the communal nature of African society means family and the ancestors are the forum within which guidance is given and decisions made.

Picking up Philip Endean’s suggestion that ‘aplicar’ in the Exercises does not mean ‘to adapt’ as much as it does ‘to apply’, Annemarie and Puleng talked of the need for directors to really understand both the dynamic of the Exercises and the circumstances and context of the individual excercitant in order to use images and examples which will be true to Ignatius but have meaning to the excercitant.

The communal nature of African society impacts on the way people will approach the Exercises. Puleng described the way in which she takes a group through the Exercises, meeting for six hours at a time and patiently listening to each other in the African way – something which would not be possible in suburban white culture but which is highly appropriate in African townships.

In the South African context, healing and reconciliation is an important facet of the experience of the Exercises, but can in turn lead to a decision about a way of life. Parish Weeks of Accompanied Prayer are also times of healing when people grow together as they deepen their relationship with God.

To see Annemarie and Puleng, young women from opposite sides of the racial divide, working together as equal partners in passionate commitment to the task of bringing healing and reconciliation to individuals and communities through the dynamic of Ignatian spirituality and the Exercises, was a moving experience for all at the conference.

Dr Annemarie Paulin-Campbell is head of the Jesuit Institute School of Spirituality in South Africa. Her primary work is the training and supervision of spiritual directors and givers of the Spiritual Exercises. She has given workshops internationally and is an editorial correspondent for The Way.

Puleng Matsaneng works in the Jesuit Institute South Africa. She is an experienced director and trainer of directors and has given the 30-day retreat several times. Her main area of interest is the inculturation of Ignatian Spirituality in South Africa.