The engine of Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises is the imagination. He urges those who pray to apply all five of their senses—sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch—to the gospel story in order more fully and personally encounter Christ. To pray in this way is also to imitate Christ, who became human and experienced the physical world the way we do—through our senses. The Incarnation means that God communicates to us not just in ideas but in flesh and blood and story. The earthly life of Jesus invites us to "taste and see that the Lord is good” (Psalm 34:9).
Our imagination is especially tied to our desires and what we love. This is why advertising works. We are drawn toward what inspires our imagination through our senses. Picture yourself working outside on a blistering hot day. Not a single cloud gives you a moment of shade. Someone hands you an ice-cold glass of water, covered in condensation. Place it to your forehead. Hear the ice clink against the glass. Take a long sip, feeling it cool your lips and throat. Now try to say that you don’t want that glass of water. The imagination makes things real to us, which makes it the right tool for the job at hand—to cultivate loving desire for God in Christ.
Most of our reflections for Lent will be about immersing ourselves in the life of Jesus. For Ignatius, this patient imaginative exercise engages our understanding and helps us to come to new and deeper insights. It gets the gospel into our bones. If your attention wanders, don’t worry; just gently redirect it back to the story. You may even want to use an audio Bible to aid your imagination and focus. Today, we introduce this practice using Jesus’ birth story, which Mark omits.
- Read Luke 2.
- Ask to experience God’s grace in a new and tangible way.
- Enter the place where Joseph and Mary sit with their baby. (It may have been a stable, a cave, or just another room of a house. Use whichever best focuses your imagination.) Look around and imagine the details of the space. Observe the faces of the new parents. Hear the coos and cries of the infant, the words shared by his Mary and Joseph. Smell the raw aroma of the animals around you.
- Reflect on the mystery that God himself becomes a vulnerable, dependent infant in this humble place. Reflect on Mary and Joseph—their obedience, their poverty, their tenderness.
- Every exercise will include what Ignatius calls a “colloquy”—having a conversation with God just as you would with someone right next to you, a trusted friend from whom you don't hide anything. Today, imagine Jesus as he is in this story, a helpless baby. Freely tell him what it means that he chose to take this humble form. Talk with Mary and Joseph about the amazing thing that they are a part of—what they are sacrificing and what they are being given.
About the Author
Nick Chambers is the Director of Spiritual Formation at Calvary UMC