In 1548, Ignatius of Loyola published one of the most popular devotional books in Christian history – the Spiritual Exercises. This book is a compilation of meditations, prayers, and other practices. It is intended for use of a spiritual director, who is to guide individuals through the exercises.
I haven’t yet had the opportunity to do the Exercises with a spiritual director. Reading through them, however, I was struck by a couple things. One is Ignatius’s use of imaginative prayer, a form of contemplation that places us at the scene of a biblical story, inviting us to interact and converse with the characters. This is a very different type of contemplation than centering prayer, in which the mind is quiet and still, emptied of everything except a prayer word.
I was also intrigued by the “colloquy,” which is a conversation with God. Ignatius says that a colloquy is made “in the way one friend speaks to another . . . now begging a favor, now accusing oneself of some misdeed, now telling one’s concerns and asking counsel about them.” It usually occurs at the end of the exercise.
In the first Spiritual Exercise, which focuses on original sin, Ignatius suggests that we meditate on the cross of Christ. Then he suggests this colloquy, or conversation, with Christ:
Imagine Christ our Lord suspended on the cross before you, and converse with him in a colloquy: How is it that he, although he is the Creator, has come to make himself a human being? How is it that he has passed from eternal life to death here in time, and to die in this way for my sins?
This colloquy could be an interesting exercise for Holy Week. I realize that I am taking it out of context, but I wonder if it could function as a form of visio divina, in which we prayerfully meditate on a scene of the Crucifixion. Ignatius probably means for us imagine this scene in our mind’s eye, but I’m pairing it here with a painting of the Crucifixion (1627) by Francisco de Zurbarán, a Spanish artist who lived a bit later than Ignatius.
In this painting, Zurbarán puts the Crucifixion before our eyes with no distractions. There are no other figures in the painting and no background. We become the figures standing before the cross.
As you look at this painting, think of what you might say to Jesus this Holy Week. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius suggests three ways we can talk to God. First, as quoted above, he says that we begin by marveling at Christ’s work on the cross: How is it that he, although he is the Creator, has come to make himself a human being? How is it that he has passed from eternal life to death here in time, and to die in this way for my sins?
Ignatius also suggests that we examine ourselves. He says:
In a similar way, reflect on yourself and ask: What have I done for Christ? What am I doing for Christ? What ought I to do for Christ?
Finally, Ignatius suggests simply talking to God. As you gaze on Christ, “speak out whatever comes to your mind.”
Marveling, examining, conversing: three rich ways to prayerfully engage with God this Holy Week.
So . . . what is on your heart? What would you say to Jesus? You can be sure that he is listening to you.