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.

 

 

Contemplative Profiles: St. Ignatius of Loyola

Ignatius of Loyola was a former soldier who was known for extraordinary bravery and discipline. After a serious injury left him alone for a long and painful time of recovery, Ignatius read about the life of Jesus and the stories of the saints. He found a new calling for his life and dedicated up to seven hours of his day to prayer.

While praying in solitude, he developed his Spiritual Exercises which formed the foundation of the Jesuits, a spiritual order he founded later in his life along with a group of friends.

The legacy of Ignatius is difficult to untangle. Was he a Catholic mystic on the brink of heresy? Was he a zealous counter-reformer who opposed the Reformation? Where does his legacy of spiritual direction and spiritual practices fit into how we remember him?

Even the Jesuits, whom Ignatius founded, remain divided over his legacy. However, as more Catholics and Protestants discover his work, there’s no doubt that many have benefitted from his emphasis on meditation and awareness throughout the day, such as his use of the Examen. One writer sums up his influence in this way:

“The Spiritual Exercises focus not only on our intellect, but also on our feelings and emotions. It is through all of our senses that we can come to know and experience God in our daily lives.”

Whatever Ignatius would have thought about a Protestant writer leaning so heavily on his spiritual practices today, Christians from every background and denomination can enter into prayer with greater awareness and freedom because of the practices he passed on to us.

Learn more about Ignatian spirituality here.

 

Paraphrase of the First Foundation of the Spiritual Exercises

The Goal of our life is to live with God forever.
God, who loves us, gave us life.
Our own response of love allows God’s life
to flow into us without limit.

All the things in this world are gifts from God,
Presented to us so that we can know God more easily
and make a return of love more readily.
As a result, we appreciate and use all these gifts of God
Insofar as they help us to develop as loving persons.
But if any of these gifts become the center of our lives,
They displace God
And so hinder our growth toward our goal.

In everyday life, then, we must hold ourselves in balance
Before all of these created gifts insofar as we have a choice
And are not bound by some obligation.
We should not fix our desires on health or sickness,
Wealth or poverty, success or failure, a long life or a short one.
For everything has the potential of calling forth in us
A deeper response to our life in God.

Our only desire and our one choice should be this:
I want and I choose what better leads
To God’s deepening his life in me.

Source: Ignatian Solidarity Network

 

Reflection

Ask God to deepen his life in you today.