Praying with St. Ignatius

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 07/28/2014

St. Ignatius of Loyola, sitting at desk

July 31 is the feast day of St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits), and a man whose life was dedicated to introducing people to Jesus and encouraging their conversations with him—their prayer. So let’s approach this week’s posts with a focus on Ignatian prayer.

First I want to point out that the Society of Jesus was the first religious order to move away from the practice of praying the Divine Hours. That is, they did not come together as a community several times a day to pray together. From the beginning, their idea was to be out in the world doing all kinds of evangelistic work, and they didn’t want to be pulled from that work back to a monastery every few hours. You might think of Ignatian prayer as prayer on the move.

However, the Jesuits used a portable prayer form called the Examen. This is simply a prayerful review of the day or of the past few hours. It doesn’t take long, and you can do it anytime and anywhere (many Jesuits do it at noon and evening), but it can readjust your soul in the midst of whatever is going on. You review in order to express gratitude for where God has been present and to ask for help in matters that aren’t going so well.

St. Ignatius also stressed that we should have a personal relationship with Jesus, getting to know him through the Gospel accounts of his life and praying to him directly. In a number of the prayers in Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, the person praying is encouraged to pray with Jesus in a conversational way.

And St. Ignatius discovered through his own long conversion and spiritual formation that the Holy Spirit will work through a person’s imagination during prayer. He had learned to trust this process as he daydreamed and reflected and prayed. He also discovered a lot about discernment that, centuries later, psychologists and pastors affirm as wise and practical.

If you were to describe your own prayer spirituality—in 50 words or less—what would that description include?


For more about Ignatian spirituality, see 31 Days with St. Ignatius and the lighthearted Find Your Inner Iggy.

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Music, Dance, and Prayer in the Sufi Tradition

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 07/25/2014

Something a bit different today. This eight-minute video shows Sufi women dancing. Sufism is the mystical branch of Islam, and it weds prayer with music, chanting, and movement. I love to watch these dancers/pray-ers, because it is clear that movement, thought, emotion, and prayer are all one action, one experience. I enjoy seeing the dancers lost in their prayer.

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Six Ways to Pray with Your Body

by Vinita Hampton Wright on 07/23/2014

squatting with open hands

We constantly express ourselves through our bodies, whether or not we are aware of that. Our posture communicates openness or judgment. Our gestures indicate willingness or fear. The way we walk can tell people that we’re feeling free or angry, are happy to be on our way or are dreading the day.

So, if we’re already speaking with our bodies, we might as well be more intentional about it. A good place to start is when we pray. Here are six simple movements; you may be surprised at how they influence the way you experience prayer.

1. Kneel. We feel a certain way about ourselves and the world when we’re on our knees. It’s really difficult to be proud and pushy in that position. Humans have knelt in the presence of the Divine for probably all of our history. We also kneel in the presence of people or events that stun us with awe. We kneel because we need help and have come to ask for it.

2. Stand. Hebrew and Christian Scriptures tell us to kneel and show humility before God, but they also encourage us to stand up: to come before God, confident that God wants to help us; to stand up for those who are weaker than us, to help them speak; to stand in gratitude and awe of creation and God who gives us every good gift. This kind of standing is firm and straight-shouldered, firm-footed. It is a strong pose, a glad pose.

3. Bow down. Practicing Muslims give us an excellent example of this posture when they go through the physical forms of their daily prayers. A yoga position that is similar to this is the child’s pose; you are on your knees and then stretch out to lay your arms, torso, and head on the ground in front of you; your forehead touches the floor. This is a position of honoring another, of obedience, of making yourself vulnerable. This is a posture that says, “I offer myself to you, and I trust you.” Bowing also says, “Please, help me, give me the grace I need today.”

4. Hands folded in prayer. This movement focuses our attention on quiet, attentiveness, and humble conversation with God. Folded hands cannot also be abusive or resistant hands. Folded hands show a form of waiting, of holding everything at attention while we listen and look for God’s message to us.

5. Hands open. You can open your hands and place them on your lap, palms upward, while you sit in prayer. It’s rather astonishing how distinctive it feels to open hands and leave them open; they signal to us and to God that we are open and receptive. Open hands say, “I’m letting go,” or, “I accept whatever you give me.” Open hands relinquish our so-called control of a situation.

6. Arms outstretched. Whether your arms are stretched out to your sides as though you’re about to give someone a hug, or they are raised above your head as though you’re waving at heaven, such a posture has a strong impact on how we feel when praying. Raised, outstretched arms communicate freedom, praise, our sense of awe before God, and our desire to embrace God.

What prayer movements or postures have strengthened your sense of communication with God?

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The Body at Prayer

July 21, 2014

As a Chicago resident, I find that I have more freedom of movement during the warmer months, generally June through September. No multiple layers of sweaters and scarves. No heavy snow boots and gloves I must keep track of. Much easier to move in blue jeans and a T-shirt and sockless sandals. So, while we’re […]

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Friday Reflection: Be Still

July 18, 2014

Today’s reflection includes a few suggestions for how to be still in a fast-paced world. What do you like to do to be still?

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