The Spiritual Exercises: Week 2 part 1

Spoilers in this paragraph. The meditations of the second week (the illumination of Christ and his call to participate in the Kingdom with meditations on the life of Christ) consisted of contemplation on the incarnation and nativity.

This week I noticed a pattern to the contemplation, which I am guessing will continue throughout the Exercises. On the fifth day, and sometimes on other days, the meditations direct the mind to focus on the sights, sounds, smells, and touch sensations as if one was truly in the time and place of the biblical stories that are being meditated upon (last week being hell and this week the nativity). Contemplation with the focus on our physical senses is not how I normally think of Christian meditation, but is not inconsistent with the Psalms, which often use physical senses to describe the spiritual. How sweet are your words to my taste, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Psalm 119:103.

Dr. John Henrik Clarke imagining

Richard Foster (1988) and Adele Calhoun (2005) describe meditation as “being in [God’s] presence” in order to “hear God’s voice and obey his word” (Foster 17). We detach “from the confusion around us in order to . . . attach to God” (Foster 21), and it involves the use of our imagination (Foster 25, Calhoun 172). Some Christians fear the use of the imagination because of humanity’s fallen state. The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9). However, I believe even the imagination is to be renewed. I will do this to recapture the hearts [imagination] of the people of Israel, who have all deserted me for their idols (Ezekiel 14:5). Michael Card speaks on this in a video interview with Ed Stetzer (March 2011 The Informed Imagination interview with Michael Card). If we allow God to use our imagination to “make appropriate associations” (Calhoun 172), then I see that as a good thing.

As for the actual contemplation for the week, Ignatius puts the exercitant in an unexpected position. I have put myself in the minds of Joseph and Mary before, while trying to write dialogue for Christmas plays and services. However, Ignatius instructed to meditate as if I were a servant to Joseph and Mary during the nativity. At first I found that odd, as we have no biblical record of a servant waiting on the couple in the stable, but, as I went along with it, Mark 10:45 came to mind. For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. So I was wrong. There was a Servant present, one who calls me also to serve.

Jesus said “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.  I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.” John 13:13-15

You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love. Galatians 5:13

Calhoun, Adele Ahlberg. (2005). Spiritual disciplines handbook: Practices that transform us.  Downer’s Grove: InterVarsity Press.

Foster, Richard. (1988). Celebration of discipline: The path to spiritual growth. Revised and expanded ed. New York: HarperCollins.

This is a continuing series as I go through The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius.

©2012 Paul Tillman

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