Perhaps as you have prayed with the meditations of the past two and a half weeks (the “first week” of the Spiritual Exercises), you have begun to feel a desire to go deeper in your prayer. If so, you are probably experiencing exactly what St. Ignatius thought would happen. You are starting to experience a desire for contemplation.
St. Ignatius largely recommends what he calls ‘meditations’ during the beginning of the exercises. This is a more labor intensive form of prayer that focuses upon the memory, intellect, and will. In meditation, we reflect upon certain basic truths and first principles of the Christian life and try to grow in our desire to incorporate them into our lives. But as you have probably begun to experience, Christian life is more than a program for behavior. At the center of the Christian life is the person of Jesus. During the first week, we experience the love of Jesus that searches us out and saves us through love, despite the fact that we are sinners. From here, it is the person of Jesus who leads us into contemplation.
Ignatian contemplation begins with the revelation of Holy Scripture. Starting with the concrete stories of the Bible (especially the Gospels), Ignatius asks us to enter into the narrative by using all our faculties, including the senses. The narrative takes on a deeper richness through the application of our senses of sight, hearing, touch, smell and even taste. We see the characters involved; listen to their conversation; observe and reflect upon their actions. We go so far as to insert ourselves in to the very narrative, becoming a character in the scene, interacting with the other characters and entering into “colloquy” (conversation) with them. Ignatian contemplation, far from being devoid of sound or image, is replete with the sensible material made available to us by the fact that God entered into our physical world through the person of Jesus Christ.
Last Friday’s prayer with the Incarnation was the first contemplation of the retreat. The coming weeks will introduce many more. Perhaps you might want to do a repetition of the Incarnation and allow Jesus to lead you more deeply into the heart of prayer.