Sunday, June 01, 2014

Ignatian contemplation among the poor

I don’t know when I first heard about Ignatian contemplation, the imaginative reading of the scriptures.

As Jesuit Father James Martin explains in his book, Jesus: A Pilgrimage:
Ignatian contemplation encourages you to place yourself imaginatively in a scene from the Bible. For example, if you’re praying about Jesus and his disciples caught in a boat during a storm on the Sea of Galilee, you would try to imagine yourself on board with the disciples, and ask yourself several questions as a way of trying to place yourself in the scene.

I do remember, though, one of the first times it really touched me. Before going on a two month sabbatical to El Salvador, to do some research for a book I’m still writing, I had an eight day retreat with a Lakota Franciscan sister on the Pine Ridge reservation.

She explained the method and gave me a list of passages to work with. I chose the Gospel passage of the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth.

I read the scripture and, without planning, I felt myself as John within the womb of Elizabeth. I sensed something – the presence of Jesus – and jumped for joy.

Ever since that time I find myself reading the scriptures in a different way, a way also influenced by my experience with the poor.

Here I find that many people read the scriptures to get a message, often a moral message. That’s all very good but I think that the scriptures are also a way for us to encounter Jesus.

That’s what I really like about Ignatian contemplation.

A few months ago a few commentators noted that Pope Francis used a form of this in his Sunday homily in a parish in Rome.

So I thought I’d try it with catechists.

We first did breathing exercises to calm ourselves and to create a space of silence. Then I read the parable of the Prodigal Son and asked them to place themselves in the parable.

The silence was tangible and the atmosphere was one of deep prayer.

After a time I asked them to share what they had experienced with the people around them. Then a few shared with the whole group. One person noted how she felt the warm embrace of the father.

I think we are on to something.

So Padre German decided to try to renew the base communities, many of which had become top heavy meetings where one person talked and others listened or where the themes were very intellectual. He proposed that only once a month would the communities use materials. The second week they’d celebrate birthdays or anniversaries. The last week they’d discuss a situation in the village and propose some ways to respond. The third week would be “reading the bible in a different way” – Ignatian contemplation.

We tried it in a meeting of village base community leaders, I also have been using it in my training sessions with catechists. I have even written a form of this into the training for catechumens. I hope we can work this into much of our pastoral ministry.

It sometimes works, sometimes not. A few times I have read the passage and stopped with questions after a few verses. Other times I have read the whole passage, after urging them to place themselves into the situation.

I think this will be a good way to help the people revive their imaginations and see scripture not as a book to be read for its messages, but as a way into the heart of God.

Drawing - first communion class - El Zapote de Santa Rosa


Charles said...

Having prayed through lectio divina for many years, I explain it this way. Initially, the scriptures appear to be books containing information and regulations. Treating them this way is fine, and will lead to some measure of regeneration.

But it is not until the scriptures become like a musical instrument to one that full regeneration can take place. That is, the precise form of the scripture does not matter. Many times, we simply don't know exactly what this word or that means; translations differ; etc. What matters is what you hear when the Spirit blows through them. When this happens, completely unexpected interpretations occur to one... and suddenly the meaning of other passages becomes clear.

Take the parable of the two sons in Matthew 21. Did the son who refused to work but did or the son who agreed to work but didn't "did what his father wanted."?

The conventional interpretation, as with chief priests and elders, is that the one who did the work did what his father wanted.

And then, suddenly, I understood: neither son did what his father wanted. The first did what was right, but grudgingly. The second lied and did not do what was right. Surely, the father did not want either!

With that interpretation, Jesus' subsequent rebuke to the chief priests and elders suddenly makes sense. He's not rebuking them for giving the right answer, but for failing to see this point.

Is my insight the right answer? No, because there is no single right answer. Another reading will bring another insight. It is the process of gaining insight that is the right answer.

Mary Adrienne said...

Hi, I'm very new to Ignatian spirituality and imaginative prayer and I love reading of others' experiences and learning from them.

A few months back I spent some time with this same story, putting myself in the way of saints in heaven, my mother and father who have both passed, and God our Father. This is what I wrote then:

"I began to think about the saints like Mother Theresa and Theresa of Liseaux (the little flower) who seemed always to be good, always righteous and faithful.

It occurred to me to think about how they might react up in heaven to learning the good news that a new sinner had just turned on his wayward path, first to consider and then to accept God, repenting of his or her sinful ways. What might God the Father feel, as He was tending to the many ills and pains of the poor and the oppressed, when He heard a beloved daughter or son call out to Him for His forgiveness and protection.
How might my mother and father, now in Heaven, react to news that my eyes had been opened and I had finally realized God was there loving me all the while.
I can imagine all of them, along with a full complement of the heavenly host, having such an overwhelming sense of joy. They might even ring bells or sound trumpets at each new convert.

I can imagine my parents calling upon God and Jesus and all the angels and archangels and all their new martyr buddies to join them for a great banquet where everyone would rejoice that I would be joining them one day.

Unlike here on earth where inheritances and estates are a zero-sum game — where if you get more, I get less — heaven is fully available to everyone. So, unlike the devoted son in Luke, everyone wins.

Our heavenly joy is multiplied whens a newcomer joins the ranks, as we understand it will hasten the time when we are all able to see our God face to face."

As Charles says, no single answer is the 'right' answer, just additional insight and deeper understanding.

Thank you for this post and for allowing me to add my two cents.

Mary Adrienne
@ Walking With My Brother