Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556) founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The youngest of eleven children, Ignatius left his home in the Basque region of Spain to become a page for a noblemen. His life of brawling, gambling, and womanizing was disrupted when his boss lost his position. He then joined the army and was hit in the leg by a cannonball. During a year’s recuperation in France as a prisoner, he turned to God. His Spiritual Exercises for a 30-day retreat were modelled after his own conversion experience and are considered a classic of Western spirituality. Ignatius spent much time as an administrator over the Jesuits, and had the new order emphasize preaching, education and acts of charity.
The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius is a very useful guide to the Ignatian method of spirituality. The Spiritual Exercises are often taken (‘made’) as a 40-day retreat, or, in modern times, ‘The Retreat in Daily Life’ by putting aside a day per week.
Ignatian Meditation is a part of the system Ignatius described in his Spiritual Exercises.
Ignatian meditation is counter-intuitive to many of us. Parents and grandparents should actually have the easiest time with this sort of prayer because they have watched their children “assume” roles: Harry Potter, Spiderman, Dora. Ignatian Meditation asks that you enter into the story of scripture, that you become a part of the action. It engages the imagination…a faculty that we “modern” folk seem to have abandoned. Be a child again. Let the wonder and excitement of taking on a new character, of ‘putting on’ another, captivate you. Allow this naivete open you to the movement of the Spirit, enkindling your heart.
The instructions are sometimes presented in quite a complex way, but can be summarised for beginners as:
Points for Ignatian Meditation
- Find a quiet place to pray. This may be in your room, a church, the garden, your office with its door closed.
- Establish a sense of inner peace and tranquility. Let the cares and concerns of the moment slip away. Sometimes reciting the Lord’s Prayer, Psalm 23 or a favorite prayer from memory will help to ease you into the prayer.
- As you relax into God’s presence, take a moment to greet the Lord. Ask God to give you the grace to see what God desires for you.
- Slowly read a passage from scripture – stories from one of the gospels are best. Get a sense of its geography and flow. Is there something that stands out to you?
- Read it again, perhaps using a different Bible translation. Is there something in particular that is touching your heart – either enlivening or frightening you?
- Now be a child: place yourself in the scene. Are you a main character? A spectator? Think about the following:
- What are you wearing?
- What are the sights? Smells? Textures? Sounds?
- What is going on around you?
- Who else is there? Do you recognize those around you?
- Surrender to the story. Interact with your surrounding, allow yourself to be guided by the Spirit as you speak and engage with others.
- Do not try to control the prayer. Surrender! Let the Holy Spirit guide you.
- How are you feeling? Is your “heart on fire?”
- As you bring your prayer to a close, perhaps you might take a few minutes to speak to the Lord about your experience. Be candid – tell God what/how you have felt.
- The Jesus Meditations: A Guide for Contemplation by Michael Kennedy (Crossroad) includes a CD with read meditations.
- Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Prayer with Scripture by Timothy Gallagher (Crossroad) is a useful guide to the techniques.