Contemplation is a word used infrequently in daily conversation. The Oxford English Dictionary offers a wide range of definitions, from “look at thoughtfully for a long time” to “think about deeply and at length.” Yet the dictionary fails to capture what contemplation means in the spiritual sense. Moreover, the word is often confined to the realm of mysticism, an obscure field most often associated with the saints and spiritual elite and into which most of us mere mortals would not dare dabble.
Ignatian contemplation involves entering the biblical narrative and exploring its depths, using one’s mind with the help of God’s grace. For example, while dealing with episodes in the life of Christ, one does not just read and ponder an explanation of an episode of Christ from a third party, but one experiences it personally by employing the creativity of imagination, thus making it clearer to the mind and closer to the heart.
The objective to know and understand can be ensured efficiently through study and reflection, but the ultimate goal is to feel and savor. Saint Ignatius does not forsake knowledge and understanding, both of which are important in our relationship with God. Rather, he also invites us to develop familiarity with God on an equally important and complementary level—that of the heart. Non multa sed multum (“many but not much”) in Ignatian circles simply means that the quantity of knowledge or insight we have about God is not as important as the depth of closeness we attain with him.
For some, the rosary can be a prayer that is merely recited or said, but it can become what St. John Paul II aptly described as the “school of Mary” where we can “contemplate the beauty on the face of Christ and experience the depths of his love.” As with any school, the more effort that you, the student, give, the more you will learn.
In the spirit St. John Paul II outlines, the Ignatian technique of imaginative contemplation will help you experience the mysteries of the day. Start your contemplation with a composition in which you imagine the setting where the mystery is about to take place. Slowly let the story unfold, guided by the points provided and your knowledge of biblical narratives. Little by little, you will learn to employ each of the different senses of your soul: spiritual sight, hearing, touch, and even smell and taste. The vocal prayers here should not be repeated by rote. Rather, the repetition should be a kind of mantra, much like the Jesus Prayer, that creates a stable rhythm and helps you to enter deeply into silence and contemplation.
This method is both intensely Ignatian and deeply Dominican. As the lovely Dominican motto goes, Contemplari et contemplata aliis tradere, meaning, “to hand down to others the fruits of contemplation.” Prayer does not stop at entering the heart of the Gospel but continues as you naturally share it with others in whatever ways you can. Always enter into prayer, but never leave it. Instead, allow it to permeate your life and energize your own mission.
Adapted from Ignatian Rosary: A Jesuit Way to Pray a Dominican Devotion by Leo-Martin Angelo R. Ocampo, OP, copyright 2021 Liguori Publications (828560).
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