Talking to God with Ignatius of Loyola

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.

Zurbarán, Crucifixion

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.

 

 

A PRAYER FOR HOLY WEEK

A prayer for Holy Week by Origen (c. 185–254), early Christian theologian and philosopher:

 

Jesus, my feet are dirty. Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold, but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, “If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you.” Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship.

 

 

A PRAYER FOR HOLY WEEK

A prayer for Holy Week from Henri Nouwen:

Dear Lord, your disciple Peter wanted to know who would betray you. You pointed to Judas but a little later also to him. Judas betrayed, Peter denied you. Judas hanged himself, Peter became the apostle whom you made the first among equals. Lord, give me faith, faith in your endless mercy, your boundless forgiveness, your unfathomable goodness. Let me not be tempted to think that my sins are too great to be forgiven, too abominable to be touched by your mercy. Let me never run away from you but return to you again and again, asking you to be my Lord, my Shepherd, my Stronghold, and my Refuge. Take me under your wing, O Lord, and let me know that you do not reject me as long as I keep asking you to forgive me. Perhaps my doubt in your forgiveness is a greater sin than the sins I consider too great to be forgiven. Perhaps I make myself too important, too great when I think that I cannot be embraced by you anymore. Lord, look at me, accept my prayer as you accepted Peter’s prayer, and let me not run away from you in the night as Judas did.

Bless me, Lord, in this Holy Week, and give me the grace to know your loving presence more intimately. Amen.

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BOOK OF THE MONTH: WONDROUS ENCOUNTERS BY RICHARD ROHR

Week 5: The Way Up is the Way Down

Rohr Lent coverIn our final week of Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr, we’re contemplating the beautiful early Christian hymn found in Philippians 2. This is a good passage to ponder at the beginning of Holy Week because it lets us see the mind of Christ—the mind that chose to embrace death for our sake.

In many ways, the mind of Christ is not like our mind at all. Rohr writes:

God . . . has chosen to descend—in almost total counterpoint with our humanity that is always trying to climb, achieve, perform, and prove itself. He invites us to reverse the process too.

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The hymn says that Jesus leaves the ascent to God, in God’s way, and in God’s time. What freedom! And it happens, better than any could have expected. “And because of this, God lifted him up, and gave him the name above all other names.” We call it resurrection or ascension. . . Who would have presumed that the way up could be the way down? It is, as Paul says, “the Secret Mystery.”

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God draws us into Christ’s ascent, Christ’s mind, and this gives us freedom:

Trust the down, and God will take care of the up. This leaves humanity in solidarity with the life cycle, but also with one another, with no need to create success stories for itself . . . Humanity in Jesus is free to be human and soulful instead of any false climbing into “Spirit.” This was supposed to change everything, and it still will.

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Scripture Reading:

Your mind must be the same as Christ’s. Though he was in the form of God, he did not deem equality with God as something to be clung to. Instead he emptied himself, and became like a slave, and was born in the likeness of humanity . . . obediently accepting even death. — Philippians 2:5-7

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May the way up be the way down for you this Holy Week.

Read Wondrous Encounters here.

CONTEMPLATIVE PROFILE: TALKING TO JESUS WITH IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA

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. In one of the Exercises, we find a way to prayerfully meditate on the cross of Christ. It seems especially appropriate for Holy Week.

In the first Exercise of his book, Ignatius introduces the idea of a colloquy, which, he says, 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.”

Ignatius 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?

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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?

Ignatius says that as you gaze on Christ, you should “speak out whatever comes to your mind.”

End the colloquy by saying the Lord’s Prayer.

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Ignatius of Loyola (1491 – 1556) was a Spanish priest, theologian, spiritual director, and founder of the Jesuit order. Read more.

Read the Spiritual Exercises here.

WEEKLY PRAYER

A prayer for Holy Week by Origen (c. 185–254):

Jesus, my feet are dirty. Come even as a slave to me, pour water into your bowl, come and wash my feet. In asking such a thing I know I am overbold, but I dread what was threatened when you said to me, “If I do not wash your feet I have no fellowship with you.” Wash my feet then, because I long for your companionship.

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