Quiet on the set: Ignatius’s cinematic meditation

[The second of four occasional articles of variations on Lectio Divina meditation, based on the book Prayer and Temperament by Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey.]

Ironically, one of the most entertaining forms of Christian meditation is most appealing to the most practical and rules-oriented kind of people, according to Chester P. Michael and Marie C. Norrisey in their book, Prayer and Temperament.

“Ignatian Meditation” is essentially the meditation style developed by Ignatius in his Spiritual Exercises. It has lots of steps, and so it appeals to someone who likes rules, Michael and Norrisey believe. In the middle of following the rules, however, one learns to let one’s imagination run wild.

Meditating Ignatian style is like producing and directing a movie. The producer assembles the set, the actors, and the overall aim of the production. The director gets the most out of each scene. And all of this goes on in the comfort of your own head! Perhaps the “i” in Apple’s new “iMovie” should stand for Ignatius.

The irony of mixing strict rules and vivid imagination is just as much in the temperament as in the meditation. Practical types seem to glum onto this style of meditation once they get over any iconoclastic misgivings they may have about it.

Prayer and Temperament uses the four temperaments popularized by David Kiersey in his book Please Understand Me: the artisan, the guardian, the idealist, and the rationalist. (For the purposes of Slow Reads articles on meditation, I have renamed the guardian temperament the “practical” temperament, and I have renamed the artisan temperament the “free-spirited” temperament.) These four temperaments are extractions from Katharine C. Briggs and Isabelle Briggs Myers’ personality theory, and they fit well with historical personality archetypes.

Michael and Norrisey give each temperament something like a patron saint whose spirituality seems to match the temperament’s spirituality. The hard-nosed Ignatius is matched with the practical temperament. Kiersey’s practical people like to follow the rules, and they like predictability and order. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercisesprovide plenty of steps and order that temperaments more taken with spontaneity may chafe at.

Yet Ignatius’ exercises rely heavily on a vivid imagination, which Kiersey’s practical temperament barely keeps suppressed, as Michael and Norrisey point out. A practitioner would use his sensible imagination to picture himself in a biblical setting. Perhaps he would witness or be a part of the exodus from Egypt or the road Jesus took to his crucifixion. Perhaps he would become one of the disciples on the Emmaus road whom Jesus surprised after his resurrection.

Here’s a summary of the steps in Ignatius’ meditation:

Use all five senses in an imaginary journey back to the events of Bible, particularly the life of Jesus. One way: imagine ourselves in place of someone in a biblical scene using imaginatively all five senses. Method emphasizes (A) structure and order, (B) sensible imagination, and (C) practical fruit, as seen in Ignatius’ points in meditation:

1. Choice of topic
2. Preparatory prayer
3. Composition of place
4. Petition for special grace needed
5. See and reflect
6. Listen and reflect
7. Consider and reflect
8. Draw some practical fruit
9. Colloquy with the Father and Jesus
10. Closing with the Lord’s Prayer

Here’s a sample Ignatian Meditation, which I’ve summarized from Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises (second week). The steps in the meditation are linked to the numbered points above.

1. Choice of topic: the incarnation. 2. Preparatory prayer. 3. Composition of place: See the great extent of the world with its many different races; then see the particular house of Mary and its rooms in the town of Nazareth in the province of Galilee. 4. Petition for special grace needed: “I ask for what I want: here I ask for interior knowledge of the Lord who became human for me so that I may better love and follow Him.” 5. See and reflect: “This is to see the various kinds of persons: first, those on the face of the earth, in all their diversity of dress and appearance, some white and some black, some in peace and others at war, some weeping and others laughing, some healthy, others sick, some being born and others dying, etc.: second, I see and consider the three divine Persons, as though They are on the royal throne of their Divine Majesty, how they look down on the whole round world and on all its peoples living in such great blindness, and dying and going down into hell; third, I see Mary and the Angel who greets her.” 6. Listen and reflect: “This is to hear what the people on the face of the earth talk about, i.e. how they talk with each other, how they swear and blaspheme, etc. In the same way what the Divine Persons are saying, viz., ‘Let us bring about the redemption of the human race etc.’ Then what the Angel and Mary are talking about.” 7. Consider and reflect: “Now I look at what the people on the face of the earth are doing, e.g. wounding, killing, and going to hell, etc., and in the same way, what the divine Persons are doing, that is, accomplishing the sacred Incarnation, etc., and similarly, what the Angel and Mary are doing, the Angel fulfilling his role of legate and Mary humbling herself and giving thanks to the Divine Majesty.” 8.Draw some practical fruit. 9. Colloquy with the Father and Jesus: “I think about what I ought to be saying to the three Divine Persons, or to the eternal Word incarnate…. and I make a request, according to my inner feelings, so that I may better follow and imitate Our Lord, thus newly incarnate.” 10. Closing with the Lord’s Prayer.

Other Suggestions: 1. While taking a walk, use this method for Jesus’ walk to Calvary, for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, for Paul and company on the road to Damascus. 2. Don’t worry if you get the steps out of order. Ignatius didn’t mind – he was results-oriented and wanted to see hearts change more than form followed. 3. Sing a hymn or biblical song with many images, and think about the images.

Who was Ignatius?

(1491-1556) Founded the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). The youngest of eleven children, Ignatius left his
Basque home to become a page for a noblemen. His life of brawling, gambling, and womanizing was disrupted
when his boss lost his position. He joined the army and was hit in the leg by a cannonball. During a year’s
recuperation in France as a prisoner, he turned to God. His Spiritual Exercises for a 30-day retreat were
modeled after his own conversion experience and are considered a classic of Western spirituality. Ignatius spent
much time as an administrator over the Jesuits, and had the new order emphasize preaching, education and acts of

Further Reading:

Saint Ignatius of Loyola: Personal Writings (London: Penguin Books, 1996)

Prayer and Temperament: Different Prayer Forms for Different Personality Types (Charlottesville, VA: The Open Door, Inc., 1991)