Iñigo de Recalde de Loyola was the youngest of 13 (although some sources say 11 … must be hard to keep count with that many!) and born into a noble Basque family in the late 1400s. Given over to the vanities of the world and looking for military glory, he ended up being seriously wounded during a brief attempt at reckless heroism. After taking a cannonball to the leg, Iñigo experienced a profound spiritual awakening.
Among the many gifts of Saint Ignatius to the Church, including the founding of the Jesuit order, was the text of his Spiritual Exercises, the basis of Ignatian Spirituality. It was during seminary that I became quite fond of Ignatian spirituality. I struggled with the transition to seminary life during my first year. I missed my old youth ministry job. I missed my church and community. I questioned my call. I learned about anxiety (of which I am still learning). Floundering and a little lost, I was advised to work with a spiritual director.
My spiritual director was trained in Ignatian Spirituality, which can be summed up as finding God in all things. It challenges the follower of Jesus to encounter God in all things and be a witness to the joy of the Gospel. A comfort in this challenge is the knowledge, and perspective, that God meets you where you are. Ignatian contemplation is a prayerful and powerful way to encounter God, and it is very accessible for children, youth, and families to practice together.
Ignatian contemplation, also known as Composition of Place, involves ‘composing the place’ by imagining yourself in the story of scripture. Using our imagination, we place ourselves in the scene of the story, engaging our senses with wonder. Gospel stories are most appropriate, for example: the Nativity, the Calming of the Storm, Jairus’ Daughter and the Woman who touched the Cloak of Jesus, the Healing of the Paralytic, and the Feeding of the 5,000.
Let’s walk through the Feeding of the 5,000 from Luke 9:10-17.
To begin, place yourself in the presence of God, letting silence settle within. Open your heart and mind in prayer. Next, read the passage. Notice the details: the place, the characters, what is said, what is happening, etc.
Set the scene. Imagine the place: What does it look like? Who is there? What does 5,000 men look like? Are there women and children, too? Does that make 10,000 or more? What is happening? Is it chaotic? What does it look like to be in a deserted place with that many people? Can you see the surrounding villages? Can you see where people might take lodging? Did you witness a healing? Did you experience a healing? What is it like to witness a healing by Jesus?
Use and engage all your senses. What do you hear? What are people saying? How are they speaking? Is it loud? What other noises might you hear? Are there animals present? What do you smell? What do you taste? Food? What is the bread like? What is the fish like? What do you feel or touch? Physically? Emotionally? Are you hungry?
Enter the scene, the story, more deeply. Who are you in the story? A child? A parent? A bystander? A disciple? How do you react to what is happening with the bread and fish? What do you see happening? Are people sharing? How does the miracle play out? How do you respond to the abundance collected at the end?
Speak to Jesus about your experience. Share with God how you felt. Did something stand out to you? Did something challenge you? Did something speak to you? Did you have a revelation or learn something? Take note of your emotions, insights, desires, memories, and feelings. Does something in the story connect to your life now?
Let the whole story, the whole event, play out in your imagination. Do so without judgment or any sort of agenda. Let yourself be drawn to whatever seems attractive or interesting. Let God lead you through your imagination. What do you ‘hear’ God saying to you? What fruits of scripture and of the Spirit are revealed to you? Finally, end with a prayer of thanksgiving.
Ignatian contemplation connects us more deeply to God’s story. We begin to see ourselves in God’s story. I believe this habit also opens up a greater awareness of the presence of God in our own story. In other words, the practice of seeing ourselves in God’s story can help us to see the presence of God in all things. Our daily life, even the most mundane and normal, as well as the graces and challenges of life, become ripe with holiness and the presence of God. The people we encounter become marinated in the divine, and we begin to see more fully that they are made in the image and likeness of God.
Where will you find yourself in God’s story?
Where is God present in your story?
Almighty God, from whom all good things come: You called Ignatius of Loyola to the service of your Divine Majesty and to find you in all things. Inspired by his example and strengthened by his companionship, may we labor without counting the cost and seek no reward other than knowing that we do your will; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
[Collect for Ignatius of Loyola used with permission.]