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  • Writer's picturePhil


Saint Ignatius of Loyola, whom we celebrate on 31st July, believes that if we serve our faith in both the head and the heart, we can meet Jesus there.

WHAT IS IMAGINATIVE CONTEMPLATION? Imaginative contemplation is all about getting to know Jesus. It is a method of prayer in which you imagine yourself as present in a Gospel scene, stepping into the story and encountering Jesus there. It was St Ignatius' firm belief that God can speak to you just as clearly in your imagination as through your thoughts. This way of praying will help you to see more clearly, love more dearly, and follow more nearly the person of Jesus Christ. The idea that God can speak to people through their imagination can seem a bit strange. Isn’t this just making things up in your head? On the contrary, the imagination is foremost a gift from God in the same way that a person’s intellect or memory is a gift from God. Christianity is clear that God speaks to people through the scriptures and the sacraments, through daily experiences and their emotions. If God can do all of these things, He can speak through the imagination too.

1 IMAGINE THE PLACE The first step in an Imaginative Contemplation exercise is setting the scene. So, what is the location? What does it look like? What details do you see? Getting into the details here will help. For example, here is how St Ignatius writes about beginning a contemplation on the Nativity: ‘Composition, seeing the place. Here it will be to see with the eyes of the imagination the road from Nazareth to Bethlehem, considering the length and breadth of it, whether it is a flat road or goes through valleys or over hills; and similarly to look at the place or grotto of the Nativity, to see how big or small it was, how low or high, and what was in it.’ St Ignatius, Spiritual Exercises

2 ENGAGE ALL YOUR SENSES Imaginative contemplation goes beyond just what you can see, it requires you to engage all of your senses. In doing this, you can fully immerse yourself into the story; this means exploring what you smell, hear, taste and touch. Once you have filled out your sensory experience of the place, you can move into the ‘action’ of the scene, having finished ‘composing the place’ fully.

3 LET THE SCENE PLAY OUT This is to let the story unfold and to allow yourself to be drawn into what has captured your imagination. Sometimes people are not drawn to the main action of the story but towards other things. When this happens, it is best not to judge that but to allow yourself to follow what you are naturally being drawn to. It is important to understand that, at this stage, you are not just watching the scene play out as though it is a scene from a movie and you are a viewer. Instead, see yourself as a character inside the story.

4 OPEN YOUR HEART TO JESUS Conclude with a conversation in your imagination between Jesus and yourself, as one friend speaks with another. Express what is in your mind and heart and let Jesus express His responses too.

5 REFLECT ON YOUR EXPERIENCE After the contemplation has finished, it is very important to take some time to reflect on what you noticed. Look back at your prayer and honestly ask yourself: - What did I find myself thinking and feeling? What moved me? - What struck me (especially the unusual or unexpected) and why did I react the way I did? - Did anything in the contemplation change the way I see God, myself, or others? - How did Jesus’ words or actions in the contemplation make me feel? The result of this reflection should be an insight into ourselves, our relationship with God, and our relationships with others.

THE GOSPELS Imaginative contemplation is best suited to what we read in the Gospels. These reflections are all accounts of Jesus ministering to people. Let the events of Jesus’ life described in these reflections be present to you right now. At some point, place yourself in the scene and meet Jesus there

TRY IT OUT ON THIS PASSAGE..................


When the people saw that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into boats and crossed to Capernaum to look for Jesus. When they found him on the other side, they said to him, ‘Rabbi, when did you come here?’

Jesus answered: ‘I tell you most solemnly, you are not looking for me because you have seen the signs

but because you had all the bread you wanted to eat. Do not work for food that cannot last, but work for food that endures to eternal life, the kind of food the Son of Man is offering you, for on him the Father, God himself, has set his seal.’

Then they said to him, ‘What must we do if we are to do the works that God wants?’ Jesus gave them this answer, ‘This is working for God: you must believe in the one he has sent.’ So they said, ‘What sign will you give to show us that we should believe in you? What work will you do? Our fathers had manna to eat in the desert; as scripture says: He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’ Jesus answered:

‘I tell you most solemnly,

it was not Moses who gave you bread from heaven,

it is my Father who gives you the bread from heaven,

the true bread; for the bread of God

is that which comes down from heaven

and gives life to the world.’

‘Sir,’ they said ‘give us that bread always.’ Jesus answered:

‘I am the bread of life.

He who comes to me will never be hungry;

he who believes in me will never thirst.’

I am grateful to "Jesuits in Britain"

for this splendid article

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