This painting by Catalan artists Gemma Guasch and Josep Asuncion hangs in the entrance to the spirituality centre at Manresa where, in the cave above which it is built, St Ignatius prayed and wrote the beginnings of the Spiritual Exercises in 1522. It is the first of four canvases representing the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises.
This painting can help explain the dynamic of the First Week of the Exercises and especially of the examen.
The painting may be interpreted as representing me. The bright patches and lines in white, orange and yellow, represent all that is best in me. It is what Christian theology calls the 'imago Dei' doctrine: the belief that I am made in the 'image and likeness' of God, my creator (cf. Genesis 1:26), and brought to life with God's own breath/spirit (cf. Genesis 2:7).
In front of the bright colours are dark blotches and lines which may be represented as the less good side of me - the stuff that spoils my best self and gets in the way of my growing to be what God calls me to be.
All people are a mixture of the good and the bad. The examen is a spiritual exercise which helps us be attentive to the good and the bad, to focus clearly on it, to grow the good, and resolve to deal with the bad. This is the art of discernment.
Spiritual Exercises painting (jpg)
Photograph © 2018 Jesuit Institute London
Les Quatres Setmanes d’Exercicis Espirituales I
Gemma Guasch & Josep Asuncion
Cova de Sant Ignasi, Manresa, Spain