Ignatian prayer: Prepare yourself for the Bible scene

Note: This is part 6 of a series of proclaiming the Word of God as a lector, who reads the 1st and/or 2nd Scripture passages at Mass.  Check out the beginning entry on reading the Bible.  For an overview of Ignatian prayer, click here.

After we review the Scripture passage, the next step is composition.  This has two meanings.  Most often, it means that we enter imaginatively center the place of this Scripture.  Think of setting the scene of a play.  Where are the people?  How would they sound?  What are they wearing?  What is in the background?

This step proves helpful in Ignatian contemplation, when we use our imagination in prayer.  A common objection is the lack of a vivid imagination.  We tend to think of imagination as mostly visual.  God can work with whatever imagination we have to meet us.  We might imagine more sounds than pictures.  Good, just imagine the voices and the shuffling of feet.  We might imagine more touch and sensation than sounds and pictures.  Good, just imagine the feel of the clothing, smell of the wheat and grittiness of the ground.

A common mistake for beginners is that they automatically set themselves outside the scene like the audience.  Prayer is an encounter with God.  He is inviting us into the scene.  Walk up onto the stage.  Enter the scene.  Are you one of the characters?  A spectator in the crowd?  The apostles?  The Pharisees?  The one being cured?  Or even Jesus?

Composition still applies for a Scripture passage tending more toward Ignatian meditation, when we let the words touch our hearts and minds.  The Sermon of the Mount can evoke images of Jesus speaking to us.  The psalms indicate emotions of joy, anger and sadness.  Can you imagine scenes displaying those emotions?

Fr. Herbie Alphonso, SJ offers another meaning for composition as composing yourself.  We might have a frazzled day at work or at school.  We could enter into prayer with our minds buzzing with thoughts and worries.  In composition, we take the time to calm ourselves down.  This act extends the first step of Ignatian prayer, letting God look at us as love.  God does not want us frazzled when we’re with him.  He wants us to be with him.

Scripture suggestions:

Practice composition with each of these passages.

  1. Luke 5:1-11: Call of the disciples
  2. Matthew 5:1-11: The Beatitudes
  3. Psalm 91: God’s protection

Reflection questions:

  1. How do you imagine things with images, sounds or touch?
  2. What are the feelings when you enter into prayer?  Calm, busy, worried, angry?  What techniques have you learned to calm yourself down?

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