Ignatian Contemplation: Meet God in our imagination

Note: This is part 8 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.

In the body of the prayer, St. Ignatius of Loyola offers two options: contemplation or meditation.  This entry will deal with Ignatian Contemplation.

I want to repeat what I had mentioned in the step of composition.  A common objection to this type of prayer 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.

If you have prepared yourself for the Bible scene in Step 3, the entry into Ignatian contemplation should be a smooth transition.  St. Ignatius of Loyola says that during this type of prayer, he recommends that we see the persons, hear the words and observe the actions. 

A common mistake for beginners is that they automatically set themselves outside the scene like the audience.  They think that because Scripture determines the scene, the prayer is also predetermined and requires no involvement — like watching a video.

But prayer is an encounter with God.  He is inviting us into the biblical story.  Instead of  a video for the biblical scene, think of improv.  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?

Improv starts in a certain way but each actor’s contributions change the scene.  Similarly, in prayer, you and God are the players.  You contribute by setting and entering the biblical scene in your imagination.  Now let God surprise you with his contribution.  Jesus could start talking to you.

If you become distracted, turn back to Jesus in your imagination.

The objection “I’m making all this up” rests on the assumption that only the person is there in prayer.  It requires faith, hope and love that God will show up.  If we can find God in nature, we can surely find God in our imaginations.  He knows how human imagination works and he will use it to come to us.  Jesus coming in the flesh shows that God surmounts all barriers to reach us.

Don’t be afraid of your imaginations.  Let God meet you there.

Scripture suggestions:

  1. Mark 1:40-45: And a leper came to him beseeching him, and kneeling said to him, “If you will, you can make me clean.”
  2. John 2:1-12: Jesus and his mother attend a wedding feast in Cana.
  3. Luke 23:26-49: Simon of Cyrene helps Jesus and Jesus meets the women of Jerusalmen.

Reflection questions:

  1. What type of imagination do you have?  Is it visual, auditory or tactile/feeling?
  2. Where were you in the prayer?  How did you move closer to Jesus?
  3. How were you allowing Jesus to meet you and talk to you during this imaginative prayer?

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