In my last post, I wrote about silent prayer and prayerful reading of Scripture. Here are two other kinds of Ignatian prayer that draw on the memory and imagination.
Examen. All Jesuits and many lay people practice a kind of prayer called the Examen or Review. Twice a day, before lunch and before sleep, we are invited to reflect for about a quarter of an hour on the events of the day. This is an opportunity to notice where God might be at work in the intimate and ordinary details of our lives. Where praying Scripture especially uses my understanding, the Examen prayer especially calls upon my memory. In particular, I pay attention to which memories – including those experiences which were difficult at the time – leave me with a sense of lasting consolation.
Imaginative Contemplation. Another Ignatian way of praying is the imaginative placing of oneself within Gospel scenes, seeing, hearing, smelling, touching and tasting from the viewpoints of those involved. Although I am an imaginative person, I am not entirely comfortable with this kind of prayer. On the one hand, I very much appreciate the Christian response to the Bible across the arts. On the other, I worry that this kind of prayer risks taking subconscious projections, or even the action of another spirit, as real communications from God.
When I explained these hesitations to my Novice Master, he advised me to pray “as I can, and not as I can’t.” This seems to echo Ignatius’s own viewpoint. In a 1548 letter he explains to Francis Borgia that the Lord guides each individual into the best method of prayer for him or her, because the Lord knows each individual best. This means of course that what proved helpful for my prayer over the last weeks might not be helpful for you – or even for me at another time in life! Yet we can trust the Spirit to guide us: “we do not know how to pray as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us” (Romans 8:26).