Friday Book Pick: Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying with Scripture By Fr. Timothy M. Gallagher, OMV
Have you ever wondered why God created us with an “imagination feature” built into our minds? If I stop to think about the ways I use my imagination, I quickly realize that it is almost constantly in use. When you’re texting your friend, don’t you picture him as you text? When you read, doesn’t your imagination automatically illustrate the text before your mind’s eye? Mine does. When we feel we don’t have enough information about something, our imaginations easily fill in the blanks, creating detailed potential scenarios.
The mind’s imagination feature can be overrun with potential catastrophes, creating worry and anxiety. Similarly, the imagination can be overrun by tantalizing images, causing temptation or worse. The imagination can also be put at the service of our creativity as a first step to a painting or a poem, or put at the service of a future project, like a garden plot or a blog post. But the imagination can also be employed to assist our faith. After all, we believe in things seen and unseen, visible and invisible, and it is the imagination that can help us ponder these things.
It was St. Ignatius of Loyola who promoted and popularized a way of praying with the imagination. For Ignatius, the two necessary tools for prayer were the Divine Scriptures and the human imagination. Ignatius developed a way to make the Scriptures come to life, to become personal, and to have daily application. He learned how to place himself in the scene using his inner senses and to let the Scripture come to life in him.
In Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to praying with Scripture, Father Timothy Gallagher walks the reader through St. Ignatius’ outline of how to pray with the Scripture. This is a book that will teach you step-by-step how to do it, even if you have never prayed this way before.
So many of us want to have a better prayer life—a deeper commitment, with more regularity. Sometimes just starting is the biggest obstacle. Fr. Gallagher does not overlook the often neglected steps of preparing for prayer and the beginning minutes of prayer. He gives us a glimpse into Ignatius’ own personal methods of how to begin prayer well. “When we begin prayer we want to be aware that the Lord is with us. We want to be available to God.” For St. Ignatius, prayer would often begin in the standing position with his “understanding raised on high, considering how God looks upon him.” Consider this for a moment. Prayer begins not with the abundance of concerns that have been mounting in my heart, not with my prayer list of names, not even with the formal prayers I routinely pray, but rather, by remembering that God is with me, and He is looking upon me with love. The first step in St. Ignatius’ outline for prayer is, “I consider how the Lord looks upon me.” And we know that the look of God is a gaze of love.
Sometimes the vocabulary surrounding prayer can be a little intimidating. We think we should have a better grasp of these concepts (such as meditation and contemplation), and we wonder if we really know what they mean. Part of the problem, I think, is that saints and spiritual writers sometimes use the same words to mean different things. For St. Ignatius, meditation is a “loving reflection on a revealed truth.” It is a reflective process by which we enter into that word as spoken personally to us today. Fr. Gallagher walks us through the three basic steps of meditation: calling to mind, pondering, and embracing the Word. These steps often unfold naturally for a praying person, but St. Ignatius noticed them and taught them, and Fr. Gallagher does the same.
An example of meditation would be calling to mind the Scripture where Jesus says, “Come follow me,” to Matthew, and calling these words to mind, I ponder them—sit with them, swim in them, soak them in; and finally, I embrace these words which Jesus spoke to Matthew as spoken now, to me. Perhaps I spend a quarter of an hour, perhaps more, meditating on those words. That is meditation.
According to St. Ignatius’ vocabulary, contemplation is entering into the Scriptural scene with my inner senses. In the process of contemplation we “imaginatively see the persons in the Gospel event, we hear the words they speak, and we observe the actions they accomplish in the event.” If you are familiar with the teachings of St. John of the Cross on prayer, you may know that, in his vocabulary, he uses the word contemplation to mean the infused prayer that God alone can give. Once you know this distinction, it’s helpful in navigating spiritual books. It is good to ask yourself, “What does he mean when using that particular word?”
Father walks the reader chapter-by-chapter through Ignatius’ prayer steps, explaining them and illustrating them with many real examples from the prayer of real people. This extremely engaging style serves to make the reader a student of prayer, eager to try the steps out for himself.
Many other very worthwhile questions are addressed in this valuable, slender book. Fr. Gallagher teaches us: how to compose the scene, how to have a colloquy, how to end the prayer, and how to review the prayer, all according to our inspired saint, Ignatius of Loyola.
In the last chapter, The Fruits of Prayer, Fr. Timothy demonstrates how this type of prayer leads to a personal encounter with Jesus, new hope, healing, greater discernment, and deeper peace, to name a few of the graces one who prays this way can expect.
Father draws this practical guide on prayer to a conclusion by quoting a man who has been faithfully practicing praying with the Scriptures according to the Ignatian style. He says, “I began praying with Scripture seven years ago. I had a deep desire to grow in the love of God. These seven years have transformed me. They have been a pure gift of grace. Praying with Scripture is meeting this awesome, wonderful, good God, Who wants all to know that He is searching for them.”
Imagine what could happen if you began to meet Jesus daily in His Word.
Mother Clare, CFR