Ignatius of Loyola wrote the Spiritual Exercises at the time of the Reformation. In a season of significant corruption in the church, Ignatius wanted to share his life-changing encounter with Jesus by praying through scripture with imaginative prayer. This prayer journey was originally designed as a 30-day retreat experience but is now more commonly prayed in daily life over 9 months. These “Ignatian” Exercises became a central spiritual practice for the Jesuits, but in recent years have taken on new life in protestant circles, becoming an interior pilgrimage rivaling the Camino.
The retreat begins with a number of weeks of preparatory prayers focused on knowing our belovedness and then looks at our brokenness and sin in the light of God’s love. Then the remainder of the journey is praying through the gospel stories of Jesus’ birth, life, passion, death, and resurrection. On this journey, we are invited to see Jesus through the lens of his humanity, as a real person, and Jesus becomes less of an idea but a person that we deeply connect with, who we want to know, love, and serve.
As we pray the Exercises, we begin each prayer time with the invitation to notice God looking upon us with a gaze of love. We are invited to receive that loving gaze, absorbing as much of that love as we are able. This is so important!
For Ignatius the love of God is central. Everything rests upon it. Ignatius knew it would be destructive to consider our sin if we are not thoroughly grounded in God’s personal, unconditional, relational love for us. We are invited to consider and experience why the Trinity sent Jesus into the world. “For God so loved the world…” As we pray through Jesus’ life and ministry we pray with Jesus seeing people, loving them, having compassion on them, healing, restoring, and freeing them. Why does Jesus do this? Love! How does Jesus do this? Love at the heart of everything!
Then, as we pray through Jesus’ passion, we see the love that motivated him, the love that allowed him to suffer and die for us. And in the resurrection, we experience his joy as he comes alive and goes to speak peace to and restore his friends. We experience Jesus inviting us to join him in this kind of love. Ignatiaus’ final consideration is entitled The Contemplation of Divine Love. In it, we are invited to experience the enormity and many-faceted reality of God’s love, to be overwhelmed by love, and to become “incandescent with gratitude.” Faced with this amount of overwhelming love, we are forever changed, forever invited into a love relationship with the Trinity.
As we pray through the life of Jesus, we pray with our imagination. Ignatius taught that our imagination was a great gift of God, given to us in order to pray in an intimately connected way. Jesus desires to share himself deeply with us, so he invites us to enter into his life in prayer as he inspires our imagination. So we enter the story and let the passage come alive to us. We see, hear, taste, smell, and feel what is happening in the scene.
We are invited to journey with Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem, be at his birth, and hold Jesus as a baby. We get to be with the shepherds as the angels come to them, travel with the Magi, and bring our gifts to Jesus. We flee with Jesus and his family into Egypt and experience their time as refugees. When we pray through his public ministry, we are invited to let the story come alive to us, be close to Jesus, and experience him. We want to see him, to know him, to see what moves him, to see what moves in him. We pay close attention to Jesus’ desires, what fills him with joy, the things that disturb him, the freedom and healing he wants to extend to the broken.
We enter into all these things because, as his friend, we want to care about what he cares about and experience things from his point of view. And we discover that our experience changes us, pulls us in, has helped us fall deeper in love, deeper into friendship with him. But we are not satisfied. It makes us desire so much more, so much more of him.
Because we have become personally connected with Jesus, when we pray his passion we are not neutral observers. No! This is our friend who we know and love who is suffering. We are deeply moved. And then, in the resurrection, we rejoice with him in a personal way. Our friend that we love is alive. He is restored to us. We are filled with joy!
What will you experience and where will God lead you as you pray with holy imagination?
By Dale Gish www.deeplybeloved.com