Yesterday was the feast of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus, also known as the Jesuits; the religious order of our Holy Father Pope Francis. Ignatian prayer encourages using the imagination to enter into Scripture passages. In this method, a person uses all of his or her senses to contemplate a Biblical scene. What do you see, hear, touch, and smell? Can you feel yourself rocking on a fishing boat on the Sea of Galilee? Can you smell the barn animals surrounding the manger at Jesus’ birth? Or taste the choice wine poured out at the wedding in Cana? This form of imaginative pray has often helped Scripture come alive for me. But until recently, I had only imagined myself taking on a human role in the stories.
While on retreat, I was given an article titled The Ecological Examen by Joseph Carver, SJ, which suggests taking on non-human roles in the scene. Carver states, “By entering into Ignatian contemplations in non-human roles, we not only increase our sensitivity to creation but open our hearts to new depths of insights offered by the Spirit. Thus we are invited to enter into the scene as if we were part of the natural world – seeds scattered on rocky soil or the oil that anoints Christ’s feet.” This concept could not align more perfectly with Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si: On Care for our Common Home. Throughout the encyclical, Pope Francis repeatedly emphasizes our connectedness to the natural world. In the second paragraph of the letter he states, “We have forgotten that we ourselves are dust of the earth; our very bodies are made up of her elements, we breathe her air and we receive life and refreshment from her waters.”
While on my recent retreat, I decided to give this reimagined prayer a try. I took a deep breath, cleared my mind, and asked the Spirit to lead the way. I was surprised that the scene which surfaced in me was Jesus’ agony in the garden of Gethsemane. I found myself entering into the scene as the rock over which Jesus laid his body and prayed. I thought about the soft skin of Jesus’ arms resting on my cool, rough surface, and his tears bathing me as they fell from his cheeks. What I was most aware of was that I felt strong, solid and firm as I upheld a spirit which was struggling with doubt and fear.
What was God trying to say to me in this reflection?
The next day, I thought about my meditation experience and my own discernment journey since entering religious life. There have been moments when my spirit, too, has struggled with doubt and fear. Moments when my confidence in my call fades, and I wonder if I really can ‘take this cup’ of poverty, celibacy and obedience. Moments when I fear that I won’t be happy in my vocation and that I will regret closing the door to other life paths. But what I felt God say to me in my meditation is that God has placed within me a rock-solid faith that is capable of upholding my struggling spirit, even in the greatest moments of doubt. I can trust this faith to remain firm because it comes from God.
What message might God have for you in the non-human characters of the Gospel stories? In celebration of Ignatian tradition, I invite you to enter into the experience of reimagining your prayer.
Rocky terrain in Denali National Park, Alaska (Annie Klapheke)