A Case for Ignatian Spirituality Memes

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The first time I made a meme, I was in deep, deep spiritual desolation. Faced with all the uncertainty of my future, I felt all of my desires would never materialize, and I desperately sought to attach myself to plan after plan, finding only more hopelessness at the thought of each plan.

When at some point I remembered Ignatius’ “make no major decisions when you’re in desolation” rule, I became angry and I snapped at God: “What the **** am I supposed to do?“ and then resorted to teenage sarcasm: “Then I have decided I’m just going to lay down and die.” When I heard the high-pitched drama of that thought, I chuckled. The chuckle was enough to light a spark of compassion for myself, which became kindled by memories of friends saying similar things to me in their darkest moments.

I thought of my cohort from the Contemplative Leaders in Action program — a young adult ministry to form leaders and grow communities rooted in Ignatian spirituality — and picked up my phone to send a message in the WhatsApp chat. Not finding the energy to explain and seeking not to compound the desolation but lighten it, I kept deleting drafts of messages. I wanted to connect and make them laugh and ask for prayers … and then I went to memegenerator.com and made this:

At that dark moment, even just the “reactions” in the WhatsApp message were enough to widen the crack in my armor and soften me enough to then receive the inevitable loving messages from friends who reached out independently. We could laugh about it, and therefore connect.

Humor has long been a tool to lighten darkness. Most of my favorite comedians come from backgrounds of violence, trauma, abuse, neglect. But even those without nominally traumatic stories seem to have a keen sense of the kind of human pain caused by experiencing the world with an open heart. Often, for me, my emotions are powerful tools for connection, but my mind, having been traumatized by past relationships, is scanning for threats. But when one laughs one cannot think a thought at the same time. There’s some science on it. It stops the cycle of negativity that tells me I’m alone, it’s hopeless, I’ll never feel better again.

Memes are a recent addition to the humor toolkit for me. They started sliding into my DMs as friends and family sent memes on various themes that spoke to a sort of inside joke we could share together — memes about being a kid in the 90s, about what it’s like to work remotely, about what it’s like to do CrossFit, and any number of other identities and communities that overlapped among us.

When a meme makes me laugh, I go searching for other memes. And, after I sent the desolation meme to my cohort, I was disappointed by the lack of Ignatian-themed memes that really spoke to the depths of the experience of trying so earnestly to live the principles of Ignatian spirituality in the modern world. (Please, reader, if you know of good Ignatian memes, send me them!) And then I began to think how useful such a collection could be, not only to lighten moments of darkness in desolation but to literally read the signs of the times on social media and practice discernment as the good and evil spirits fight for how to direct my fingertips across my phone screen.

One night I was feeling good, in consolation, and all my thoughts and feelings, as Ignatius says, flowed like water on a rock: Even if I do not have any answers, God will take care of me. I tended to my tasks with prudence and presence and gratitude. I was not elated, but calm and joyful. Doing the dishes felt like praise. And then, the thought came — abrupt but presenting as “good” — to text an ex-partner with whom I had a toxic dynamic.

I dried my hands, took my phone out of my pocket and began watching the blinking cursor populate letters to their name and then WAIT. I remembered the drop on a rock. I put the phone down, I prayed, and I asked God to remove the desire. It didn’t go away right, but that loving, impish tickling spirit came and made me laugh at myself again. There I was shadowboxing demons with 500-year-old instructions at the kitchen sink with an iPhone. And I’m sure I wasn’t the only one. So I made and sent this meme:

As someone who needs daily, constant reminders of my own spiritual values and principles, Ignatian memes meet a need for me deeper than just entertainment. They can remind my mind when words or ideas or abstract concepts can’t. And they can help me to get out of the self-centered despair of thinking I’m alone experiencing desolation or I’m alone confusing consolation with indulgent prizes. I need to laugh about all of it, together.

Almost as a confirmation that this is good, I have been tempted by the evil one to disparage and humiliate myself for finding spiritual values in memes. And then I realize I must be really close to the good spirit if I — a self-proclaimed intellectual snob — am sitting down anyway to pitch the value of them to you. It’s uncomfortable but in a good way. Kind of like….