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Welcome to TJC Journal, which features members of TJC staff and Ignatian partners answering questions and offering reflections about Ignatian Spirituality and the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (see posts below). Other online Ignatian prayer resources also are offered (see links to the right). Additional prayer and educational resources appear in TJC's Ignatian Spirituality Resource Guide: http://jesuit-collaborative.org/welcome
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This being early in the Easter season, we hear the post-resurrection stories during the Liturgy of the Word on Sundays. A couple weeks ago, good ol’ Thomas, almost always referred to as “Doubting Thomas”, makes his appearance in the readings. Now, I’ve always been a bit troubled by this story and its implications. On first blush, it seems that Jesus is rebuking Thomas for not relying on the testimony of his fellow disciples, who were present when Jesus appeared to them in the upper room. From my perspective, Thomas’ response is perfectly reasonable. When told that Jesus had shown up in his absence, Thomas found it a bit hard to swallow. This story of a dead man, their dear friend and teacher, showing up at their hiding place must have come off as the desperate delusions of scared, tired, dejected men. His response, the equivalent of “prove it!” seems perfectly reasonable to me. He may even have wanted to believe his friends, but his intellect insisted on physical evidence. He wanted to use his senses, as we do when we seek to understand reality.
But I don’t think that’s the message Jesus is imparting here. And I also don’t think it is Thomas who is Jesus’ primary audience. We live in a hyper-rational, post modern society where many assume that things not observable by physical senses and not understandable by the human mind either don’t exist or have no importance. We cannot trust in things beyond our capacity for reason. But Christians are called to go beyond the limitations of our physical senses, and to experience another reality: the reality of God’s presence and active involvement in our lives. We “know” certain truths through our experience with the divine and through our encounters with others. This isn’t in opposition to, or superior to, our intellectual understanding of the world. Rather the two inform and complete one another in making us fully human.
There is much written of mystery in Christianity. But the word is sometimes used as a cop-out. If we cannot explain something, we often refer to it simply as “a mystery”. I think mystery can more accurately be described as the reality we cannot understand with our human faculties. It can only be encountered by faith, by trusting in God’s goodness. Mystery requires, however, a certain humility and openness. The more certainty we have, the more we know we are correct, the less room there is for God’s mystery.
Perhaps, through Thomas, we’re being reminded that, to be fully human, we need to be open to accepting the reality that can be experienced beyond human reason. Doubt is not the problem. Doubt is often a very good starting place for inquiry. But we should trust that, wherever our senses and human reason take us, God will be there, and also beyond wherever “there” is. The earth and all material things have great capacity for us to use for the good. We continue to learn and understand more about the physical world around us every day. We also have the capacity for an ever-deepening understanding of our relationship to the divine and all of creation, seen and unseen. There is no need to choose one way of experiencing reality over the other.
After all, the gifts of God are so bountiful, why limit ourselves to only a portion of them?
Director of Ignatian Partners
I must admit, Lent is not my favorite liturgical season. I always find myself asking, “Okay, what am going to give up this year?” In this yearly ritual I reflect on all the typical questions, “What do I need to fast from? What needs to be purged? Let go? Purified in me? Where or in what ways can I give to someone in need?” These are all excellent, holy questions, and all things I have and continue to reflect on in my life as I try to “find God in all things.” But I recently had a conversation with a wise friend that has stayed with me – one of those authentic conversations that touches you at the depths of your being. She invited me to look at the idea of “less being enough.” That by actually stepping away from the frenetic pace that most of us live – one could find room for listening to God and thus participating in the "Project of God" differently. This conversation stayed with me because it actually challenged me to an alternative way of being - an intentional way of living with God - open to collaborate as God’s instrument in the ways God initiates and invites.
As I have sat with “less being enough” I kept wondering what would happen if I decided to apply it to my Lenten journey. To spend 40 days (more or less) living with ‘less being enough.” For example, what would happen if during Lent I would schedule less nighttime meetings and thus be more present to my local community or family? Could I spend less time on the computer answering emails, checking Facebook and Twitter accounts? What would it be like to step away from the need to do one more thing that makes me overly busy and over extended? Our United States culture praises doing more, striving harder, being the best… What would it be like to choose an alternative way of existing this Lent - “less being enough?”
By living this “less being enough,” I might actually find space to read that great new James Martin, SJ book on the life of Jesus. And to be able to pray and ponder with it, and let it percolate in my life. Or I can take on a new practice of gratitude, where I look for God’s tender mercy and compassion in and around my ordinary everyday life. And maybe, in the silence of living “less being enough,” I actually find the inner quiet to be with God in all things – awake, attentive and fully present to this one beautiful life that God has gifted me.
Lisa Buscher, rscj
Assistant Director, CLA and Hispanic Ministry
Recently, a friend asked me what is spirituality. Simply put, spirituality is a way or means to grow closer to God. Jim Martin, S.J. in his recent book The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything says that spirituality is like a bridge. It helps you get from one place to another. Spirituality has to do with your routine of prayer, reading, what you meditate upon and how you live. For example, it becomes routine for someone trained in Ignatian spirituality to reflect on how God is present in all people and in all places. This experience will lead to action in response to God’s presence. (Contemplative in Action.)
Another friend told this story. Recently, he attended a conference where he recognized a student, a generation younger, from his alma mater. The now college graduate was a featured guest at a computer graphics presentation. He described the young man as in another orbit in high school, a computer nerd. But in this moment, he observed him tattoo, piercings and all, with a spark of genius as he signed his work for fans. He beamed as he told this story. He had been surprised by joy, recognizing now God's lively presence.
Attentiveness to God's presence in ordinary experience is characteristic of Ignatian Spirituality. For example, awareness of gratitude for an honest conversation or confidence and courage for a decision well made. God is in all of this. Most of us react in gratitude and awe at the beauty of God's creation in a gentle fresh breeze or a sunrise.
Finally, spirituality becomes an ordinary part of daily life. Jesuits call this "our way of proceeding".
Each day as we move along through Advent the Christmas sights and sounds light the way. Even in troubled times, the hustle and bustle of the season renews something within and we find ourselves expecting. The radiance of the season has the potential to lift, even down trodden eyes. As traditions go, we might be expecting chestnuts roasting on an open fire, silver bells ringing, glistening lights on evergreens, or the hush of a winter wonderland. In our Christian tradition, during the early days of Advent, we hear the good news that Mary is expecting! Mary is expecting to give birth to the son of God, Jesus Christ. Our faith moves us from waiting to expecting, expecting something more.
Mary receives the ever-benevolent gaze of God. Anthony DeMello SJ writes, behold God, beholding you. In the Hindu tradition, this mutual beholding is called darshan, a single word symbolizing the depth of an intimate and mutual exchange. The artwork of Henry Ossawa Tanner’s Annunciation captures this moment between Mary and God. God showers Mary with abundant favor. Mary’s gaze returns and responds with a yes full with mystery, anticipation, trembling, hope, and above all, love. Pregnant with mutual adoration, from this womb of prayer, through holy co-laboring, a new creation formed.
As Advent moves along, we find our pregnant Mother of God travelling to see Elizabeth! Our tradition moves us from annunciation to visitation. From Elizabeth’s prayer she prophesies, and affirms Mary. Their mutual beholding, each initiated in their individual prayer with God, moves to fashioning a song of praise. With the hand of Elizabeth, Mary gives voice: “My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord!” We too hope for and expect this mutual beholding with and for each other. This is our greatest gift from God to each other, our companionship, our partnership that lights the way.
Our inmost hearts are full with unrestrained joy expecting the birth of Christ, our Savior. Let us expect to be captured in Mary and Elizabeth’s song and dance and praise. In the simplicity of Christmas moments, looking into a manger beholding the Christ child, expect to be surprised and expect to be captured in a love story of life with a faith family.
On behalf of the Jesuit Collaborative staff, we thank God for your gift of partnership and wish you and yours many blessings of the season and through the New Year as we continue to grow in our collaboration.
Amidst the activity of the season, ponder the Nativity Story. Trust the silence of the story will come to a song of praise, in God’s time, allow yourself to be surprised and awed by the gift given.
Movie clip for prayer:
The Jesuit Collaborative [TJC] recently held Ignatian Advent meditations and receptions in five cities: Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Worcester, and Boston. Below is the text of the reflection offered in Boston by Tony Compagnone, M.D., one of TJC's dedicated and generous Ignatian partners.
Advent Reflection for the Jesuit Collaborative
Thursday, December 15, 2011
Welcome everyone. I want to express my gratitude to the Jesuit Collaborative and especially to Clare Walsh and Bob Cunningham for giving me the gift of offering the reflection this evening. Preparing it has been the richest and most nourishing spiritual exercise imaginable.
I should say at the outset that my inspiration tonight comes directly from my experiences in prayer and fellowship while I was on the pilgrimage to Spain with the Collaborative this past October, walking in the footsteps of St. Ignatius. I am filled with thanksgiving for having been part of that journey, which continues to unfold and resonate for me even to this moment. I also want to tell you what a pleasure it is to be once again in the company of several of my Ignatian co-pilgrims, whose gifts of friendship and faith lie between the lines of this reflection.
Pilgrimage pretty well characterizes where I have been led in prayer as I revisited the Advent-Christmas stories in preparation for this evening. Perhaps because of Spain, I seem to have been struck by a heightened awareness of seeking and movement: messenger angels dispatched from heaven to set the stage for the arrival of the Savior; Mary’s travels across the hill country to visit Elizabeth; Joseph and Mary’s difficult journey to Bethlehem and to birth; the Magi following the star to the stable.
All of these journeys, it seems to me, coalesce in God’s singular journey toward humanity, that momentous arrival of the sacred at the doorstep of the human—God’s coming down from heaven to dwell in our midst. That end point—actually, the new beginning that is manifest as Jesus lying in the manger—has come to epitomize for me the goal of the pilgrimage we are all traveling together—the pilgrimage toward truth and love—toward our deepest desires—which, I think, is not a bad metaphor for life.
But as I ponder these Advent mysteries once again, it becomes increasingly clear to me that the journey is collaborative, if you’ll pardon the obvious allusion to our host tonight! By collaborative, I mean that our reaching TOWARD the truth we seek relies on God’s reaching IN to draw us closer to that truth. In the Advent narrative in particular, I sense a dynamic tension that balances both the seeker and the sought-after precariously on a razor’s edge of trust and faith.
There is a wonderful, evocative moment from the second week of the Spiritual Exercises that came to me as I was mulling over this notion of collaboration between God and humans. Some of you may recall it as part of St. Ignatius’s suggestions for contemplation on the life of Christ, in particular the Incarnation and birth of Jesus. (I’m paraphrasing here from Fr. James Skeehan’s workbook on the Exercises, “Place Me With Your Son”).
In this particular exercise, Ignatius asks us to imagine the perspective of the Father, Son, and Spirit looking with love upon our flawed and fractious world just before the angel Gabriel enters into the scene to announce to Mary the proposed plan for her to become the mother of God. With God, we are asked to observe Mary’s response and to realize that the Son has become human for us. Ignatius directs us to feel the leap of joy in the heart of God when the decision is made to save our sinful world by the coming of the Son to us.
Re-imagining the Incarnation this Advent, I find myself being more stirred by the Trinity’s profound love and anticipation in SENDING the Son to earth than I am by my own yearning for Christ’s ARRIVAL at Christmas. I feel invited to acknowledge God’s deep desire for me to participate more actively as a collaborator in God’s great scheme, a co-conspirator, if you will, to bringing about a new world order.
The Gospels give me plenty of role models. The familiar Advent stories and speeches always manage to supply inspiration through the willingness of the major players to go along with the plan—indeed to jump into the action with an abandonment of heart and spirit that is almost astonishing. Just a few examples:
- Elizabeth’s fervent greeting of Mary that reveals the foundation of her faith and trust in the Lord;
- Mary’s magnificat—possibly one of the best speeches in the New Testament, demonstrating Mary’s almost militant determination to participate in the birthing of God’s kingdom on earth;
- The intrepid Wise Men, who converge from far corners to do homage to the newborn king, reading signs in the heavens and in their hearts of the truth that the Christ Child represents;
- Joseph, stalwart and steady, who risks everything, including societal shame, to take up his role in the stewardship of Jesus and His mission. More on Joseph in a minute.
We love these Advent/Incarnation stories so well, I think, because in them we recognize what we pray for most: the alignment of our own earthly desires with those of Heaven. But by what a paradoxical design: God’s in-dwelling among us comes not with the expected warrior king and his army but with an innocent infant, incapable in body to bring about any change, but who, precisely through that innocence—one might say impotence—wields the most potentially transformative sword of all.
As a pediatrician, I’m often moved with emotion when I examine an infant, particularly a brand newborn. As I look into the baby’s eyes (when he or she will let me!), lay my hands on the tender, pristine body, observe the endearing movements and vocalizations, I experience a profound sense of awe in an infant’s power to attract and disarm. Even more, as I watch the parents and loved ones gathered around the examination crib, I perceive the gaze of unconditional love and hope that goes directly to the “treasure” within the child--that kernel of pure blessedness and goodness and unlimited potential at the core of its being.
That gaze, I think, reflects God’s loving gaze upon us, upon our OWN individual treasure. And irrespective of whatever sinfulness or worldly trappings with which we are inclined to bury it, I believe that God sees only the treasure and is waiting patiently for us to reveal it.
Is it any wonder, then, that at Advent, all the believing world is brought once again to its knees? That in this story we find refuge from the madness of materialism and gift-giving and experience the life-renewing gift that has been given to US: the gift of a loving family and an infant so helpless and poor that it must lie in a crib from which animals feed, there to become OUR daily bread, our LIVING bread, our living WORD. Listen to this quote that I chanced upon during the pilgrimage in Spain, which my fellow pilgrims may recall. It crystallizes for me this concept of gift; perhaps it will feed your prayer as well this Advent and Christmas:
“In the midst of many gifts, a gift.
In the midst of strident stimuli, a call.
In the midst of great hunger, bread.”
I want to return for a moment to Joseph, who I believe is the unsung hero of the Incarnation-Nativity-Christmas story. For me, Joseph is the most accessibly human character of the narrative. He came to me surprisingly and powerfully during the Spain trip in October and has stayed with me as I prepared tonight’s reflection.
Let me tell you about a truly graced hour or so that I spent with Joseph in the Basilica of Montserrat, one of the Ignatian pilgrimage destinations. In a small side chapel of the basilica, there is a magnificent, life-sized painting of the Flight into Egypt. You’ll recognize it as the image on the Christmas card from the Collaborative this year. Praying with the painting led me to experience, with penetrating clarity, Joseph’s key role in the events of the Nativity and following and to appreciate not only his special giftedness as a parent but also his own deep yearning for the kingdom of God.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Joseph has four dreams—one of which we heard in the reading tonight (Mt 1:18-24)—four calls from God that reassure him and help him to discern the means to safeguard the Christ Child. It is significantly through Joseph’s trust in God and witness to the truth of his dreams, I think, that God secures the advent of the new world order called Emmanuel.
Look at the painting and indulge me for a moment as I share some thoughts I jotted down in my pilgrim’s journal on that graced Sunday in Montserrat. Though the subject matter is often referred to as The Fight into Egypt, I see nothing of anxiety or flight or retreat here. Instead, I see a strong, serene, and resourceful Joseph leading his family on an alternate path toward home. Theirs is a forward-looking, purposeful, unhurried pilgrimage, a journey of faith and love toward truth and their hearts’ desires. The rocky ground creates no obstacle; the dying light, no gloom. Though what lies ahead is unclear, they achieve growing strength as family, and they walk confidently forward in the full knowledge that the Lord is with them, both in Heaven and now on earth.
Uniquely this Advent, Joseph has helped me to recognize my own potential for collaborating in God’s plan. The humanness of his initial fears and self-doubt, and the strength with which he overcomes them, inspire me to look beyond my own disappointments, self-consciousness, and sense of inadequacy—my negative personal agenda, if you will—and discern instead my most heartfelt dreams, my higher calling. For me, Joseph exemplifies the alternative parenthood that we are ALL invited to share, the call to foster the Christ Child through caring for others in our families, our work lives, our faith communities. In the midst of so many gifts, Joseph has become my most precious one this Advent season.
To conclude, I’d like to invite you to close your eyes for a few moments and place yourselves in the presence of the Father, Son, and Spirit, along with Mary and Joseph, who are looking down upon US this Advent evening. Perhaps you’re walking alongside them in the desert, following in THEIR footsteps. Experience their joy as they call forth the treasure that lies at the core of your being. Feel the leap in YOUR heart as you express gratitude for being called and answer “yes” to their invitation to join them in their mission of salvation. Share with them your heartfelt responses to one or all of these questions:
Where and what is YOUR particular treasure or giftedness? How can YOU contribute building the kingdom of God?
What are YOUR dreams? How do they align with God’s dreams for YOU?
Acknowledging Jesus as Word and Bread for the world, how and where are YOU word and bread for others?
As we enter into prayerful silence for a few moments, my prayer for YOU is that the Advent and Christmas stories may revitalize your commitment to everything that this new beginning means: hope, faith, and the invincible power of Divine love--and that as you begin the next phase of your life’s pilgrimage, your prayer may lead you to discern the deepest desires of YOUR hearts and the grace of knowing that God has led you there.
We are tempted not so much to ignore the evil in the world as to feel overwhelmed by it, frozen by a sense of futility.
Holy Thursday opens countless opportunities for prayer but among them are ordinary acts having a profound, long lasting effect. Friends gathered, a meal shared, forgiveness offered, bread broken, wine raised, memory evoked, service rendered.
Most often it is the small, everyday acts of kindness and compassion that define us and break the cycle of futility.
Holy Thursday makes clear that we are not here to lord over one another; we are here to wash another 's feet. It is as if Jesus is saying to us "Do not be afraid to stoop down and offer the most humble service imaginable to one another."
Foot washing is one of those small, everyday expressions of humble service that reveal us to be followers of Jesus.
Look around your world of family, neighborhood, work ... what might foot washing look like today? "Why, "in 2012," is this night different from all others?"
A July 17th obituary in The New York Times sparked a fresh appreciation for Ignatius’ genius and gift to us from roughly 500 years ago. The recently deceased Stephen R. Covey, author of the best seller The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, was the subject. His self-described ecumenical book was aimed to help readers clarify their own essential values and proceed with an action plan for life based upon the cultivation of seven key habits.
One habit of Covey’s which leapt out as resonant with Ignatius’ teaching is Begin with the End in Mind. He asks readers to envision their own funerals and how they wish to be remembered in order to arrive at a clear understanding of their lives as a whole. This habit demands focused attention to discover one’s own principles and concerted effort to keep the vision of this paradigm in the forefront of one’s awareness. “How different our lives are when we really know what is deeply important to us. And keeping that picture in mind, we manage ourselves each day to be and to do what really matters most,” he writes.
In the very first sentence of the “Principle and Foundation,” Ignatius begins with the end in mind: “Human beings are created to praise, reverence and serve God.” For him, it is not some principle that becomes the core of life, but a dynamic, personal relationship with the Triune God. This is what is to be kept at the center of one’s consciousness. I have an icon that depicts Ignatius holding open a book with another version of his end: “We are created to share in God’s life and love for eternity,” it reads. I am stunned by the utter simplicity of these profound words. They make me pause and wonder what would happen if I were to begin each day with focused attention to that end in mind. Would God become larger, more glorious and more present in my daily life? Would I become more attuned to God’s constant generosity? Would I be more open to change, to letting go and to receiving from God? Would I see more vividly God’s love embracing the people I encounter each day? In short, would I be more inclined to let God be God?
Beginning with the end in mind is disarmingly simple and profoundly wise. Why is it affecting me as something new and charged with hope? Perhaps the answer lies in its invitation to live the end and not just to know about it. Here again, I am brought back to Covey’s obituary. He was “baffled by the success of this book because he was simply telling people what he thought they already knew.” A few volumes, conferences and companies later, he noted that “what is common sense isn’t always common practice.”
Hurricane Sandy has devastated communities up and down the East Coast, upending our lives in ways that were unimaginable just a few days ago.
Such devastation can leave us dazed and overwhelmed, raising questions that are difficult to articulate much less answer.
Why did this happen? What does it all mean? How do we cope with such destruction? Where is God in this?
In the midst of great loss and uncertainty, we search for solid ground, a way out, something to hang on to, some answers.
Perhaps we might begin by asking God for the grace to see and understand what God wants us to see and understand, by thanking God for being alive, for those who survived, for the generosity and heroic efforts of friends, neighbors and first responders, for the sun coming out again.
We might ask God:
- to give us the grace of wisdom and understanding to know that God is with us in the devastation and of courage to pick up and move forward with our lives
- to help us pay attention to our experience: the confusion and chaos of our lives interrupted, the desolation, the physical and emotional suffering, the loss of lives, of homes that have been in families for generations, of places and things we have treasured
- to console us and others who have lost so much, and to strengthen those who are picking up the pieces, helping save lives and bring back lands, leading and contributing to the recovery efforts
- to restore in us a sense of hope to look forward with longing to the future, toward a brighter tomorrow. And to pray with Isaiah:
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? – Isaiah 43:19.
Back in college, I ran cross-country. Getting to the starting line was always the hardest part for me, i.e., the physical workouts, the mental preparation, the psychological obstacles, etc. Once the gun went off, the race was pretty straightforward, you ran hard, some days were good, others not so much. I’ve found that getting to the starting line is the hardest part of a lot of things.
It was hard for me getting to the starting line of the Spiritual Exercises. Joe LaBran, SJ and his brother Jesuits at Holy Cross College introduced me to Ignatian Spirituality. I still remember Joe yelling across the parking lot, “Hey Cunningham, when are you coming on the Exercises?” He was inviting me to come and learn how to pray in an Ignatian way. I went both my junior and senior years. It was the highlight of my Holy Cross experience.
At the time of my 25th college reunion, I received an invitation to a 3-day alumni retreat focusing on a major theme of the Exercises, seeing all creation through the eyes of the Risen Christ. I had been invited to many retreats over the years, e.g., Cursillo, but nothing Ignatian. Once again, it was hard getting to the starting line. I had a big, pressure-packed job, and I didn’t think I could tear myself away for 72 hours. With my wife’s strong encouragement, I did. It was a wonderful experience.
About nine months ago, I got to the starting line of the 19th Annotation retreat. Ignatius annotated the Exercises. His 19th annotation allows for great flexibility so that busy people can make the full Exercises in the course of everyday life over a period of time, praying daily and meeting with a spiritual director on a regular basis. You can also do a part (18th Annotation), anything from a day or evening of prayer to a multi-day retreat. The Exercises is a program of meditation, prayer, and contemplative practice that helps people grow closer to God, raise their awareness, gain the freedom to realize their deepest desires, and be who they are meant to be.
Prayer hasn’t always come easy for me. Like running, it requires practice and discipline. Unlike running, it is a journey inward, not outward. It can be difficult keeping to a routine of daily prayer. In the past nine months, some days have been good, others not so good. Ignatian Spirituality has been called a “school of prayer”. It offers a variety of tools to help a person grow closer to God, e.g., imaginative prayer, lectio divina, colloquy, and contemplation. As I’ve gotten older, variety has helped me with my physical exercise. The same is true of my spiritual exercise.
In the end, it is not about crossing a finish line. It is about loving and being faithful to God, family and friends, and our brothers and sisters in need. At Joe LaBran’s funeral, Fr. O’Halloran exhorted those of us assembled not to put the gift that Joe had given us on a shelf to collect dust, but rather to share it with others. So now, it’s my turn to yell out and ask someone, “Hey, when are you coming on the Exercises?” Maybe that someone is you. At the least, I would be happy to help you find the starting line.
My family and I recently returned from a trip to Ireland where my daughter Grace, a junior at Holy Cross College, is spending her junior year abroad. Along the way, we visited the town in County Galway where my family is from. My grandfather and his sister emigrated from there to America in 1911, and the pub established by my great, great grandfather in the 1800s still stands in the town center. One of my cousins still owns the pub.
Here I am standing outside the church in town. Members of my family are buried in the graveyard down the road.
This was my first trip to Ireland, but not really because I visit there most mornings as I pray with the Irish Jesuits on their prayer site: Sacred Space. It is such a blessing to visit one’s ancestral homeland and get a new and different perspective on where you come from and who you are. It is also a great blessing to have friends in the Lord who can accompany you in your prayer.
If you have never visited Ireland or wherever your family comes from, I highly recommend it. In the meantime, you might check out Sacred Space. It could help you find your way home.
Click here: http://www.sacredspace.ie/