Last week, while I began working on my classroom for the 2018-19 school year, I had enough time to myself to finally catch up on the Blessed Is She podcast, The Gathering Place, hosted by the founder of Blessed Is She, Jenna, and her friend and co-worker, Beth. Early on in the pod, I heard Beth mention the idea of imaginative prayer and I was curious. As the pod went on, she shared more about this particular form of prayer and about Ignatian spirituality (it's origin) more and how she uses it.
Her explanation and use of imaginative prayer sounded like nothing I had ever really used before. I am a very word-oriented person; my prayer life naturally gravitates towards reading and writing about the Word of God. Imagining myself as a bystander in those stories was incredibly foreign and deserved some deeper research, especially because it sounded like a great way to stretch my faith and develop spiritually as my family enters a new season of life that allows for me to schedule more time with Christ!
In order to understand imaginative prayer, we need to take it back a bit to Ignatian spirituality and who the even is St. Ignatius? He was a soldier and eventually a priest during the 1500s. He founded the Jesuit order (well-known for its commitment to education in modern times) and wrote a series of spiritual exercises that are grounded in St. Ignatius's conviction that God is active in our world and that we can find God in all thing. The spiritual journey someone embarks on when the begin to explore Ignatian spirituality involves gratitude, compassion, and humility. St. Ignatius called on his order, the Jesuits, to be "contemplatives in action". Wow.
What could be more perfect for a Catholic about to begin her first year of teaching in a Catholic school! God is so good; providing in ways we don't even know we need sometimes!
But back to imaginative prayer...
St. Ignatius used his vivid imagination throughout his prayer life with the Lord. While he was recovery from serious injuries, he explored what kind of life he wanted for himself by daydreaming and then reflecting on how he felt after daydreaming about a particular lifestyle. His daydreams and reactions to them created space for God to help him discern that he had been called to the vocation of the priesthood. As his life and spirituality developed, Ignatius developed two ways to use imaginative prayer.
The first has the imagining individual picture the world, in all of its honesty and hardship. The individual reflects on God's decision to send Jesus, God's only Son, to earth to help return to full communion with God through the Church. Using this strategy helps us to see the world as God sees it and understand that it can improve with compassion, love, and understanding.
The second method is the one I heard about the most in the BIS pod. The praying individual literally imagines themselves in the Gospels and reflects on stories they know well. They can imagine themselves as Peter, walking out onto the water or as another disciple in the boat watching. The praying person can reflect on what it would be like to be a member of the crowd, like when we read the about the Crucifixion on Holy Thursday or Good Friday. But as we meditate on this, we create details and feelings like the hot sun or the itchy fabric. We notice the crowd's mood and other going-ons. Most importantly, we notice Jesus. The way our Savior walks, talks, and moves. Does he smile? Does he frown? I like to think that Jesus laughed with his friends, enjoying a good day fishing on the Sea of Galilea. Doing this helps us to not just know about Jesus, but to experience Jesus. Imagining Jesus makes Him our own; Our Lord and Savior. Our Son of God. Our friend.
What a powerful tool for someone who feels less connected to the Gospels or disconnected from God. Literally going in your mind to where Jesus is and experiencing it all over again, with fresh eyes and alert senses. Pick your favorite Gospel story and a set a timer for five minutes and try to walk through it, picking up on the little details and nuances you've never thought about before. Was it cold on the night Jesus was born? Does Nazareth look lush and green or barren and deserted? Is Jerusalem popping when Jesus comes to visit? And above all else, what is Jesus doing? Does He speak with His hands? Is He animated or calm? Loud or quiet?
Does He smile at you? What does His laugh sound like?
Don't stop there, check out these posts!
All About the Mass
The Woman at the Well
Humanity in the Gospels
Thank you so much for taking time to read today! Please feel free to share this with anyone you think would benefit from a new way to pray with God.
Surrounding Marian devotion are a variety of blessed items that are associated with her. The most common (and often mainstreamed) is the Rosary but there are others including Miraculous Medals and scapulars. Each have their own origin and purpose in the Church that I wanted to break down and share. Often, we give or receive these items and although we know that they are blessed and honor Mary, Theotokos, we aren't sure how or why.
A simple definition of the Rosary is prayer beads used to assist in meditative prayer. Although some of us may flinch at the comparison, the Rosary is not all that different from prayer beads used in other major religions, such as Islam and Buddhism. History notes knotted prayer ropes being used by Catholic desert monks in the 3rd and 4th centuries. But the Rosary and how to pray it is often attributed to St. Dominic, a Castilian priest and founder of the Dominican order. The Rosary is at the heart of the Dominican order and they are attributed with its spread across Europe. Although unproven, it is believed that Mary herself taught St. Dominic how to use the Rosary to intercede through her.
The Miraculous Medal is what is known as a "sacramental", blessings which prepare us to receive the grace of the sacraments and help us to grow to be more like Christ. Despite secular appropriation the Miraculous Medal is not talisman (or as an ex of mine called it, his "real seat belt"). In 1830, St. Catherine Laboure heard a voice calling to her from the chapel. Mary gave her a mission and appeared to her a few months later. This time, Mary appeared as we see her on the Medal, standing on a globe with rays of light coming from her to the earth. The vision also rotated to show St. Catherine the "back" of the medal, which showed the sacred hearts of Jesus and Mary, as well as a ring of 12 stars, and a large M surmounted on a cross. Mary told St. Catherine: "All who wear them will receive great graces."
Brown Scapular (of our Lady of Mount Carmel)
Although there are several different kinds of scapulars, one of the most common is the brown scapular that originated in the Carmelite order of nuns. The scapular began as a monastic tradition as a part of their every day attire. Non-monastic scapulars are smaller and are also known as oblates. There is a history of indulgences attached to the scapular but in modern times, wearers believe that although it does save them from Hell, it is because of the true faith and devotion to Mary that it symbolizes. Simply wearing the scapular (just like casually wearing a Miraculous Medal) does nothing. It is the consecration to Mary and her Son that leads the wearer to God's Kingdom.
Sacramentals can be difficult to understand. There is so much mysticism and oral tradition associated with them. Some cultures wear Rosaries around their necks while others make rubber ones for small children to teethe on. Neither way is wrong, as long as it is done with intentional holiness. If you do use or wear any sacramental, take some time to ask yourself if you are doing it from a posture of mindful faithfulness or out of sort of spiritual superstition. Something to consider would be how you can make faith the focus of the object rather than object itself.
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