Illustrating a spiritual concept is a fascinating puzzle to me. The Spiritual Exercises, imaginative prayer, talking to Jesus as one friend talks to another… what does it look like? When I was working on the pictures for Audacious Ignatius, I thought a lot about how to make images that would convey the spirit and flavor of Ignatian spirituality, images that could unfold over time, offering meaning to children and adults.
I was reminded of this the other day when I visited the chapel at Cristo Rey Jesuit High School in Chicago. It was when I taught at Cristo Rey that I first learned about St. Ignatius’s life, and there’s a picture of the Cristo Rey chapel in the book!
Cristo Rey’s Chapel of the Sacred Heart was renovated in 2010 with beautiful art that celebrates Cristo Rey’s Jesuit and Latino spirituality. One of my favorite parts is the retablo, the paintings around the altar. The paintings show four stories from the Gospels, and the artist, Roberto Valadez, painted Cristo Rey students into the scene of each story.
I love this visual representation of contemplative prayer, and how tailored it is to high school students.
It’s also a great illustration of the progression of the four weeks of the Spiritual Exercises.
The Parable of the Prodigal Son: representing God’s boundless love, and the first week of the Exercises.
The Nativity: representing our call to be disciples, and the second week of the Exercises.
The Passion: representing Christ’s suffering, and the third week of the Exercises.
The Road to Emmaus: representing our walk with the risen Christ, and the fourth week of the Exercises.
I was reminded of the scene in Audacious Ignatius when Ignatius prays:
First, know well that I’m loved even though oh so flawed.
Next, spend time with the Lord and walk where he trod.
Offer all I possess, beg for my stony heart thawed,
And act from a deep love, the Love that is God.
As Ignatius prays, he imagines himself being baptized in the River Jordan, and walking with Jesus. I loved creating these images and how it allowed me to engage the concept slowly, savoring it and examining it in a new way. I love sharing these images with my kids knowing that their understanding of them will unfold over time.
If you ever have a chance to visit Cristo Rey and see the chapel, let me know what you think! It is a beautiful place to pray.
It is our joy to share Audacious Ignatius, and so we have sent copies all over the Jesuit world. A friend and Jesuit priest studying in Rome was able to deliver a copy to Pope Francis. Shortly after, I received the letter you see below. (I will paste a translation at the end of this letter.)
I have received your book Audacious Ignatius and I send to you my sincere gratitude. I am moved that you recall with gratitude and joy the experience of Ignatian spirituality that you were able to internalize during your years as a teacher in Jesuit education. And much more, now, that it will be a spiritual inheritance for your sons.
I hope that the fruit of your work guides along a path to God that includes prayer, intuition, reflection, action, and understanding of who is this God that is manifested in Jesus.
I wish you and your family a peaceful and fertile Easter season. I ask you, please, to not forget to pray for me.
May Jesus bless you and the Holy Mother care for you. Fraternally,
Mo Willems is a genius, particularly when Elephant and Piggie peek past the fourth wall.
When we push past the fourth wall of a children’s book, though, we find two readers. We find the child and the adult.
Why does this matter for the readers of children’s books?
Jesus’ invitation to “become like children” is, at least in part, an invitation to become as deeply perceptive as a child. My son is young, but I am sure he can pick up on the fact that I think the Elephant and Piggie books are brilliant while others are fairly forgettable.
The child is reading the book as well as the adult’s opinion of the book.
This is a deeply important question for religious resources, as a parent’s attitudes and practices of religion form that of the child.
This is why Audacious Ignatius strives for delight and depth. The book aims to captivate the young person and also strike a chord with the adult, so that when our children read us, they find joy and wonder.
Audacious Ignatius was featured on the Sorta Awesome Show this week! In the latest episode, I spoke with host Meg Tietz all about the creative journey of illustrating Audacious Ignatius. Hope you enjoy it!
The episode and show notes are available here, and Sorta Awesome is available in every podcast app, and from Spotify, Pandora, and Stitcher.