The Jesuit Institute is sharing some of its resources about Ignatian Spirituality, and on different ways to pray.
Before you begin to pray in the Ignatian Tradition it is always recommended you take a few moments to enter into the prayer. This may be as simple as sitting quietly with your eyes closed listening to the sounds around you as a way into stillness.
Scripture – Ignatian Spirituality is profoundly scriptural. Two of the key ways of prayer used in this spirituality are Lectio Divina and Gospel Contemplation. The focus when we come to scripture is not primarily that of greater understanding of the text. It is not Bible study. Rather it is allowing the Holy Spirit to speak to me here today in my own context through sacred scripture. To draw me into a deeper more personal relationship with Jesus Christ by contemplating and mediating on His life as presented in the Gospel narratives.
Act of the presence of God – In the Spiritual Exercises Ignatius suggests that before I enter into prayer I spend a few moments aware of how God is looking at me now. Implicit in this is that God is always regarding me. I need to set aside time to be aware of God looking at me.
Reflection on our own experience – God is actively communicating with me all the time – a major style of prayer used in Ignatian Spirituality is the daily Examen, the prayer of reflecting on how I was open to God, or how I turned from the Lord in the course of the day. We have designed material using religious and non-religious language to help you use this tool.
Nature / Creation – Everything that is, has been created by God, as I contemplate creation, gazing at the ocean, marvelling at the dawn chorus or being profoundly aware of the scent of coffee I have the opportunity to be aware of the Creator through the creation.
Recently I was reading one of the meditations of Anthony De Mello. He has a lovely story of a way we might talk to Jesus. He describes a man who was dying, and who had placed by his bedside a chair. When Tony asked him what the chair was for, he said that he imagined Jesus sitting there being with him, watching him and talking to him. Some days later the man’s daughter called to say he had died. She said he had died while alone, but the family had been struck by two things when they found him, he had looked very peaceful, and he was lying with his head resting on the chair beside the bed.
This story really appeals to my own sense of how much God desires that we just spend time with him. Sometimes the people who come to see me and talk about their prayer lives are concerned about if they are praying the right way or doing it properly, as though prayer were an exercise to be marked. My own experience is that we are relational beings. We are created to love and be loved. It is in our ability to relate that we most reflect God, and God’s desire is that we relate to him.
Below is an exercise you might like to try, of imagining yourself being with Jesus. At first you may want to spend only 5 to 10 mins doing this, but if you feel like it you could sit for up to an hour just being with Jesus. Read each of the questions slowly, allow yourself time to ponder them. If one question seems more helpful than the others, then stay with that question. (It may help the exercise to put an empty chair next to you and imagine Jesus sitting in it.)
At the end of the exercise, notice how you are feeling and contrast that with how you were feeling when you began. You may find it helpful to journal a few points about how you found this time of prayer.
Lectio Divina is an ancient form of prayer– it was crystallised during the Middle Ages in the monasteries. At that time there were very few Bibles and few people even among the monks were able to read. So one monk would take the chosen reading for the day and read it aloud to a gathering of the others. He would read the same reading over and over again and those listening would listen– waiting for the particular word or phrase that it seemed God was saying to them that day. Classically Lectio has four movements:
When an individual heard his ‘word’ or phrase, he would get up and leave and go to his cell. There he would think about– would savour the word or phrase reflecting on its significance for himself. Then he would talk to God, and listen as the Lord responded in his heart about what was stirred up by the text.
Finally he would spend some time in silent adoration.
We believe that scripture is as alive for us today as it was when it was written. In praying Lectio Divina we are listening for the particular thing that God is trying to say to us through the scripture now! It is not a head exercise about what is the meaning of the whole text but rather the illumination through a line of something that applies now to me and my life.
Then I sit and mull over what God may be saying– I may enter into a dialogue with the Lord. One way of thinking about this dialogue is to understand it as speaking heart to heart with God.
Finally I sit and contemplate God looking at me as I gaze back at God.
There are a variety of different ways of praying Lectio Divina.
In the Ignatian Tradition we start from the stance that this is what God is directly saying to me at the moment and allow the Lord to speak to our heart, as we enter into a dialogue with God.
In Centring Prayer we may use the word as a mantra, helping us to stay in the silence.
Some people find it helpful to write or draw as they mull over their word or phrase.
This is not an uncommon experience. Many people find that they have savoured what God was saying in a particular part of the passage and yet their prayer time is not yet over. If this happens just go back to the text and choose another word or phrase– something else that draws your attention and again reflect on that. In this way one may pray with most of the suggested passage; or one may spend the entire time on just one word. For each of us this will be different. Remember there is no right or wrong way to go about doing this!
I begin by reading through the Gospel story once or twice so that I am familiar with it.
Then I will spend some time becoming quiet.
Then I imagine myself as fully as possible using all of my senses into the story.
I trust that God created my imagination and will use my imaginative ability to speak to my heart.
I imagine what I can hear, see, touch, taste and smell; I really get into the story, becoming part of it, perhaps as a bystander, perhaps as one of the characters.
Some people get very anxious when they pray this way because they don’t keep exactly to the story. For instance, they might start off being the Samaritan woman at the well, and end up having Jesus as a petrol attendant in their local garage. This is not a problem. We use stories as a springboard to our encounter with Jesus. But always remember that the risen Christ is with us here and now and will prompt our imaginations towards what he wants to say to us.
There are a variety of ways of praying Gospel Contemplations.
The classic way is to sit in silent contemplation, imagining the whole story.
Some people find it much easier to write the story of what happened. Others write a letter from the perspective of one or other of the characters.
Pope John Paul II suggests in his apostolic letter Rosarium Virginis Mariae, contemplating or imagining oneself into the scene while saying a decade of the rosary.
As we come to the end of our contemplation, there is a space for conversation with God. This is a space where we talk over with the Lord how we have felt in the contemplation – we reflect on it with him and listen to him.
One can think of this as a time of heart to heart conversation with the Lord.
Remember, as in all prayer, there is no right or wrong way to pray Gospel contemplations. We must explore and experiment for ourselves to see how God wants to work with us.
In certain contemplations we may be drawn to speaking with Mary, or with another of the saints. It is always important to be sensitive to whatever the Holy Spirit is prompting us to do at this stage of the prayer.
The Daily Examen is an excellent practice of Ignatian prayer. It will help you find the presence of God in your everyday life.
Adopted from Spiritual exercises and introduced by St Ignatius Loyola as the best reflections to detect God’s presence.
The Daily Examen is an excellent practice of Ignatian prayer.