Ignatius and Me: Ignatian Contemplation

July 22, 2019

Welcome to the fourth week of the Ignatius and Me series! In honor of the feast of St Ignatius, which is coming up on July 31st, I’ve asked some friends to write about what Ignatian spirituality means to them in their daily lives. Each week will look at a different principle or prayer of Ignatian Spirituality, introduced with an excerpt from my book, Busy Lives and Restless Souls and then followed by a friend’s personal interpretation.

From Busy Lives & Restless Souls:

How to Pray Using Ignatian Contemplation
Here are basic steps to this powerful form of prayer.

  1. Select a Scripture.
    Pick a passage from one of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke,
    or John.
  2. Read.
    Read the passage several times slowly so that you almost know the
    story well enough to share it with another person.
  3. Imagine the scene.
    Close your eyes and imagine the scene. For instance, if you are praying with the scene of Jesus’s birth in the manager, imagine what this scene looks like. Who is in the scene? What are they doing? Where are they located? What do you notice about the environment? What do you smell? What do you hear? Let the Holy Spirit guide this unfolding event in your mind.
  4. Put yourself in the scene.
    As the scene begins to take shape, put yourself in it. Notice where you end up. Again, with Jesus’s birth in the manager, notice: Am I standing by Mary or Joseph? Am I peering into the manager to sneak a peek at baby Jesus? Am I off at a distance as an observer? Am I standing by the animals?
  5. Notice what happens.
    Let the story unfold in your mind. Stay with the Scripture story in
    prayer.
  6. Respond and rest.
    Share with God what you noticed and experienced. Then rest in God
    and let God speak to you.
  7. Reflect.
    Reflect on what you experienced during this prayer. What did you
    learn about Jesus? About God? About another character in the story? About yourself?

Engaging with the Humanity of Jesus

This week, my friend Pat Collins shares how she uses Ignatian Contemplation (Imaginative Prayer) in her life.

After a 50-year lapse in actively practicing any religion I had a longing for “something” in my spiritual life.  I began a search to find the nebulous “something,” and along the way St. Ignatius and his teachings found me. The internet was definitely my friend on this quest of discovery.  As I plunged into the ocean of information about God, Jesus, spirituality, Catholicism, I found that the sites I kept coming back to,  the ones that spoke to my soul were Ignatian based – Loyola PressDot Magis BlogSacred Space, and 3-Minute Retreats.  These sources provided not only information, but inspiration and messages of hope and healing for this “fallen-away” Catholic. They resonated with me and fed my awakening as I ventured back into a church that I had come to believe was a foreign land to me.  Here I was, dipping my toes back into the waters of Catholicism and little did I know that St Ignatius was accompanying me in so many ways. 

The seeds of my discoveries were planted and began to grow.  By the grace of the Holy Spirit and so many little details coming together, I was able to attend a preached Ignatian Retreat 1,000 miles from my home. I am grateful and blessed to receive spiritual direction from an Ignatian trained director, and through that process I recently completed The Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius.  I knew of the Jesuits, but very little about St. Ignatius, and yet here he was popping up all over my life helping me gain a refreshed and renewed look at the faith of my birth and a way to move forward to find that “something” –  helping me find God in all things.  

What does all of this have to do with Ignatian Contemplation and Imaginative Prayer?  For me, everything! My familiarity with prayer and the Bible was memorizing prayers and hearing scriptures at Mass as a passive participant.  I prayed to the divine Jesus who was someone apart from me. I didn’t think much at all about the human Jesus, who was someone just like me. This experiential form of prayer offers a compelling invitation for me to no longer be passive in my relationship with Jesus, but to fully engage with Him and His life on earth in all the mess and the glory. 

One of my most profound experiences of the Exercises was embracing Jesus’ humanity.  In the prayer materials from the second week we are reminded that:  “He comes into our flesh as it is.  Going through it all He transforms me and all humankind.  (John 1: 1-18)  and “He chose to live among us.  He chose littleness.  He chose to embrace all darkness in us, even the final darkness of death.” (Philippians 2: 6-11)  It was here that my thinking and knowing about Jesus shifted dramatically.  Through Contemplative and Imaginative Prayer I walked into His human life.  The story of Jesus’ life was not just a story anymore.  His life and experiences came alive – HE came alive! 

When contemplating the Holy Family’s Flight into Egypt I imagined joining them on their exodus I was flooded with thoughts about what it was really like.  Jesus was a small child and not fully cognitively aware of what was happening, but he was surely affected by the emotions and turmoil his parents were going through.  They were fleeing their country because their child’s life was being threatened.  How terrifying! Psychologically we would say that this is a perfect set up for trauma.  I felt the fear that Mary and Joseph must have felt and the urgency of escaping the threat.  I imagined the dependency that Jesus had on his parents to keep him safe.  I imagined the confusion and loneliness of living in exile in a foreign land and uncertainty about when they could return home.  It was difficult to imagine how physically taxing all of this must have been.  And this is just one example from Jesus’ early life.   

In diving deeper into Jesus’ life through continued Contemplative and Imaginative Prayer, I feel a consoling kinship with him as I more fully realize that he knows me and my human condition.  He knows what it’s like to walk this journey, from aching feet to great physical accomplishments.  He knows the ups and downs of being in relationship with others. He knows the raw emotions of joy and suffering.   I never knew such an intimate encounter with the Lord was possible until engaging in this form of prayer.  It provides a bridge for me to know and love the truly divine and truly human Jesus. 

In writing for this blog, I am invited by God (and Becky!) to articulate something that is very spiritual.   It’s hard to describe this powerful form of prayer and how it transports me to a time and place I know very little about, but also takes me right to Jesus and gives me the experience of getting to know him intimately and love him more deeply.  It truly is a transformative experience. 

My prayer life still includes the familiar prayers I learned so long ago.  They often provide comfort and soothing.   Contemplative and Imaginative Prayer provides its own experience of familiarity – enhanced familiarity with Jesus and his time on this earth. It’s a powerful tool that can take me to places of deep suffering with him as well as intense joy.  I’m in awe of the fact that he chose all of this, to live as a human to get to know us more intimately.  I ask myself what choices am I willing to make so I can get closer to Him, to know and love him more intimately, keeping him at the center of my life?  I am honored to accompany him in Contemplative and Imaginative Prayer, to walk his journey with him as I strive to be aware of his constant presence with me on my journey.  I express my deep gratitude to Jesus in paraphrasing Ignatius’ Take Lord, Receive Prayer (which is actually the focus of next week’s post in this series): All I have is from you, Lord. I return it back to you. Your love and grace are enough.

Go Deeper?

Cultivating Space for God Together:

  • I’ll be in Atlanta on August 17 for the Atlanta Catechist Conference
  • Join me for a Silent Women’s Retreat August 22-25th near Baton Rouge, LA
  • Are you already looking to the Fall? Save the date for the upcoming Online Busy Person’s Retreat, the retreat that comes to you with one-on-one online spiritual direction, September 23-26. Registration will open at the end of this month.
  • Sign up for my Prayer Team and pledge to pray for the weekly prayer requests posted on my Facebook & Instagram, and for the attendees of upcoming events. Email info@beckyeldredge.com.

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