On Sunday night, we spent our time together in prayer and worship, as an offering to God and a gift to ourselves, and I laid out a number of prayer stations based on Ignatian practices. These forms of prayer were the aspects of Ignatian spirituality I most wanted to share but least wanted to teach, as they can only be learnt and appreciated through engaging with them, so here I will once again offer them quite simply.
Sunday was a beautiful coming together of charismatic and contemplative styles, but these styles of prayer are often practiced individually and in a place of quiet calm. It may be that music and community help bring you into a place of encounter, but you may also like to try making time for silence and stillness.
Thinking About Prayer
This first bit isn’t actually an Ignatian practice, but a way into thinking about prayer. On Sunday, the first station featured some thoughts about what it is to pray, and a few of us decorated and annotated them, as you can see above. Rather than simply posting the quotes into the blog, I will share them here, so that you can decorate them for yourselves if you find that to the a helpful meditative practice. Whether you colour them or simply contemplate them, I invite you to reflect on the ideas and on your own understanding of prayer.
This is a form of confession, as a preparation for further prayer. It takes the form of a contemplation of the Ten Commandments (although I think you could also use the double love commandment) in which you ask when you have failed to keep God’s commands and seek forgiveness. In case that sounds a little too Catholic, I do believe that this kind of practice is important. It’s not about drowning ourselves in guilt but opening ourselves to grace. One way of making this process a little more active and visual is to drop a vitamin tablet into a bowl of water, and seeing the tablet melting into the water as an image of all you have confessed melting into God’s love.
This is a way of reviewing the day in attitude of prayer. There are many variations on a theme, but the essence is to consciously place yourself in God’s presence and look back over the day, asking the Spirit to guide your thoughts to those moments it is most important for you to remember, then respond to those memories with thanksgiving or apology or promise or whatever else seems most appropriate. It can help us to discover what our Ignatian guide James Martin calls our beautiful yesterdays, and if we make it a regular practice, it can develop habits of listening to the voice of God and being alert to the presence of God. Here is a five minute guided examen, which is a great way to get started.
This is a way of reading scripture in a spirit of discernment, holding the text lightly and with an openness to what God may want to say through it. Here is a general guide to using lectio divina and some guided readings of particular passages. I have always been taught the final step as contemplation, which is what you will see in the guides, but Martin talks instead of action. As a Jesuit who speaks of being a contemplative in action, it is perhaps natural that the two should go together for him, and I encourage you to think on what your contemplation may lead you to do.
This is a way of imagining yourself into a story from scripture, to learn through the senses and emotions as well as the intellect. You may remember that it was imagining himself as a great hero of the faith that inspired Ignatius on his sick bed, and so this kind of imaginative practice was really important for him. I have posted written contemplations on the blog before, and you can find them here, here and here. There’s no need to use them though. Simply read a gospel story, create the scene in your head by thinking about what you would see and hear and smell if you where there, then let the events unfold in your imagination, paying attention to how you would react, and finally take time to approach Jesus and talk with him.
If you want to find out more about Ignatian practices, this website is a great resource. And Pray as You Go and Sacred Space both offer short daily online meditations, which can be a great way to develop a rhythm of contemplative prayer.