Ignatius learnt to trust his imagination from the time of his conversion in Loyola, five hundred years ago in 1521. While recovering from a major battle injury at his family home in Loyola, Ignatius sought reading material, novels, stories to excite him with dreams of knighthood and adventure. His sister-in-law who was caring for him at the time, was a rather pious woman and the only two books she had to share with him were, The Life of Christ by Ludolph of Saxony and the Lives of the Saints by Jacobus de Voragine.
These two books had a profound effect on Ignatius, they were an entry into radical conversion, as he began to discern the movements of spirits and experience God’s intimate presence through imaginatively contemplating on the material he was reading.
It was through Ludolph’s work, The Life of Christ, that Ignatius developed a number of ideas which were to influence his thinking and which he later included in the structure of the Spiritual Exercises. One of the most significant, was imaginative contemplation on scripture narratives. This was a profound shift from a purely intellectual appreciation of scripture, to an intimate exploration of the passages, in which the reader is immersed in the story within the text through a sensory and imaginative experience.
In the Ignatian tradition of imaginative contemplation, the passage of scripture is slowly read and re-read, allowing the sacred words to open up the imagination, heart, spirit, mind and body in contemplation. It is the Spirit who guides the process of the prayer, as the one contemplating experiences at a deep level, not only of the significance of the text, but how the text intersects and illuminates daily life.
For Ignatius, this form of prayer not only opened a new way of engaging with the scriptures, but it also became a pathway to action in the world. Reading and re-reading the scripture and sitting in prayer, Ignatius was awakened to fantasy and dreaming, which in turn gave birth to his imagination and images which touched his heart. The heart experience led him to recognize desires, which moved to determination, decision and action as he became a transforming presence in his world.
Our ancient Christian tradition, through Ignatius, Ludolph and others, reveals that we can trust our imagination, for God desires to communicate with all peoples in a deeply personal way.
Mary Robson, is the Director of JISA-Faber Queensland.