When directing someone through his or her desires to know, love, and follow Jesus, Ignatius of Loyola would teach them to contemplate the scenes in the Gospels with great focus and freedom. We will learn to do this, in a way adapted for our busy everyday lives, during this week and the weeks to come.
If we just read a Gospel story, we might imagine it with very vivid imagination, but that is not much different than someone telling us very vividly about a story in his or her life. That would be very special, but there is an even deeper approach, which is possible because the Scriptures are the word of God. These stories are an alive and active revelation. When we read them, something keeps happening in our hearts. The revelation continues beyond the text of the story.
Ignatius encourages us to enter the story. He wants us not only to hear the story and get the facts of what happened. He wants me to experience the story and let its meaning and revelation to me happen in my heart. This takes great focus and freedom, and it takes me beyond the details of the particular text, and it lets the story come alive and address me as I become a participant in the scene. Let’s take two examples.
A Prayer Period to Contemplate a Gospel Scene
Then I would read the text of the story and put the text down. I will begin by slowly picturing the scene as completely as I can. Where is it? Notice all the things in and around the scene. Who’s there? What is everyone wearing? How hot or cold is it there? What smells come to me? I then enter the scene even more, by becoming a character in the scene. I might just let myself be a member of the crowd, or I might become one of the principal characters in the story. When I get there, then I let the story happen and go wherever it goes. Inside the scene, the words and actions are not merely a videotaped replay of the text. Inside the scene, I can back up and fill in how the scene began, I can let what is revealed to me be played out in the words and gestures of the participants, and I can speak or simply experience my own reactions. The details of the text cease to be important as the experience of the story moves my heart. Finally, I would end with a prayer, speaking to Our Lord, heart to heart, friend to friend, in whatever way comes to me, expressing my gratitude for the graces I had just received.
Contemplating Such a Scene in Everyday Life
It might be that there are tensions in my marriage and it is a struggle for me to believe God’s faithfulness to us is stronger than our stubbornness. In this example, when I’m with my spouse, I can literally walk around in the scenes involving Zechariah and Mary — at some times really experiencing that I can’t speak until I can say, “God is faithful,” or at other times, “I am your servant, Lord.” Or hearing Elizabeth say, “The Lord has blessed you because you believed he would keep his promises.”
Perhaps all I anticipate is another routine, busy day, full of stresses that I handle in the ordinary way I do — which I discovered weeks ago in this retreat are sometimes part of the pattern of my sinfulness and the mystery of God’s love for me. This week could be very rich if I walk around, in my own life’s scenes, as Elizabeth. Imagine these questions, in the background, as I walk around: “It’s been like this too long, to imagine any change”; “Who am I to think I will ever be more fruitful than I am?”; “In the middle of this stuff can I possibly imagine giving birth to a voice crying in the desert, ‘Prepare the way of the Lord’?” Perhaps the entry into a scene in my everyday life is simply memorizing a line from the Gospel story and letting it enter my heart as I say it at various in-between times, dozens of times each day. Imagine if, this week, we kept saying Mary’s words, “With all my heart, I praise the Lord” or “God cares for me, his humble servant.”Finally, it would be wonderful if you would consider sharing some of these contemplations, the methods you used, or the graces you received. You may do this by visiting the A Place to Share link on the Guide page of the online retreat.