Spiritual Tool: Ignatian Contemplation

St. Ignatius of Loyola says that there are 2 ways to enter into and pray with the Word of God: Meditation and Contemplation.

(1) Meditation, for Ignatius, is Lectio Divinaa reflective approach, engaging our reason to enter into the mystery by asking questions and meditating upon certain words or phrases that stand out.

(2) Contemplation, for Ignatius, is Gospel Imagination, using your imagination to walk right into the mystery of Christ.

These 2 ways can be seen as 2 different ways to jump into the same pool. The pool is communion with God. It’s all about the pool, not about what diving board. Note that you can profitably use both methods in a time of prayer as well.

  • Imagination = connected to reality
    • VS.
  • Fantasy = disconnected from reality

We engage the spiritual senses:

  • a grace from God
  • prayer becomes very simple and receptive
  • The spiritual senses enable us to enter into communion with God through personal encounter.
  • actually holding the baby instead of looking at the baby though the glass
  • stay there for as long as God gives us this grace.

Spirituality of the senses is spirituality in the sense of Cardinal Newman’s motto: Cor ad cor loquitur (heart speaks to heart), which sums up, in perhaps the most beautiful way, what spirituality of the heart is, a spirituality focused on the Heart of Jesus. ~ Ratzinger, J. (1986). Behold The Pierced One: An Approach to a Spiritual Christology. (G. Harrison, Trans.) (p. 56). San Francisco: Ignatius Press.

Steps of Contemplation:

  1. Choose a Gospel scene in which Jesus is interacting with others.
  2. Relax into God’s presence. Ask for the Holy Spirit’s intercession. Look at God looking at me.
  3. Being aware of thoughts, feelings and desires in God’s presence, I ask of God what I wish and desire in this prayer. Go wherever grace leads you (St. Ignatius has such reverence here that he just pulls away).
  4. I review the Scripture for this prayer (read it once or twice so that the details of the story become familiar).
  5. I imaginatively enter the place of this Scripture (composition of place). Enter into the movie.
  6. Body of the prayer.
    • For each point:
      1. What do I see? –> what people are there? Where are they situated? Who am I in this scene?
      2. What do I hear? –> what conversations are happening? Is there music?
      3. What do I feel? –>
      4. What do I smell? –>
      5. What do I taste? –>
  7. I speak to God as my heart is moved (colloquy).
  8. I conclude with an Our Father. 


Tips to keep in mind:

  • Vividness is NOT a criteria for an effective contemplative prayer time. It’s all about intimacy with God.
  • Do NOT worry about the historical accuracy of what you imagine.



Q. How do I know it’s really a God-given grace & not just my imagination? 

A. From Fr. Gallagher: (1) Trust in Catholic spiritual tradition (many saints have prayed this way), (2) much of Scripture is imaginative literature, (3), Scriptural texts guide our imagination, (4) trust in the goodness of human faculties as created by God, (5) trust in the Spirit who “comes to the aid of our weakness” (Rom 8:26) when we pray.

A. From Fr. Rafferty: The risk of inserting too much of ourselves or living in fantasy is just like the risk of dropping a baby, but our care of the baby greatly diminishes that chance, so it is worth it. We remain discerning. We become aware of what is in line with God. We are engaged but also attentive.

Some quotes about imaginative prayer:

We live in a rational, left brain world with global technology at our fingertips. Yet as human beings, our soul is still fired by color and imagination. Our minds are storehouses of images and memories and through them God works in our hearts. Praying with our imaginations can create a deeper and more personal intimacy with Jesus, Mary, the disciples and others written about in scripture. We can take the familiar stories we know and let them flow through our own imagination and see where the Lord guides it…Here is an experience of prayer that lets our imaginations free themselves from anything that limits them. This is God revealing himself to us. ~ Creighton Website

Other resources:

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