Wednesday, March 18, 2009

On Prayer: Composition of Place

This next method of prayer, Composition of Place, is of great importance when praying the Spiritual Exercises. It is also known as Ignatian Contemplation or Application of the Senses.  

In Luke 18:16, Jesus says: "Let the children come to me and do not prevent them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.  Amen, I say to you, whoever does not accept the kingdom of God like a child will not enter it." 

In order to use this method of prayer that Ignatius holds in high esteem, your prayer in many ways must become like that of a child. I say that because, to pray using Composition of Place, you have to use your imagination and have faith that God is working through that mental capacity that we have. This faculty we lose as we enter adulthood, but Ignatius is asking us to reclaim it. 

Ignatius, in the Spiritual Exercises, makes four points about Contemplation of Place. He writes:
"The First Point. By the sight of my imagination I will see the persons, by meditating and contemplating in detail all the circumstances around them, and by drawing some profit from the sight.  

The Second Point.  By my hearing I will listen to what they are saying or might be saying; and then, reflecting on myself, I will draw some profit from this.  

The Third Point.  I will smell the fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness and charm of the Divinity, of the soul, of its virtues, and of everything there, appropriately for each of the persons who is being contemplated.  Then I will reflect upon myself and draw profit from this.  

The Fourth Point.  Using the sense of touch, I will, so to speak, embrace and kiss the places where the persons walk or sit. I shall always endeavor to draw some profit from this."
Using this method of prayer, we are placing ourselves in the scene. We are not just thinking about the scene.  We imagine what we see, what we smell, what we hear, what we can touch, etc. For those in philosophic studies, it is a rather strange mix of the faculty of the mind mixed with the faculty of the senses. Typically, these two powers are separated, but in this form of prayer, they are combined.  We are being invited to experience scripture on a whole new level.  

Personally, I find the rosary to be a wonderful avenue for composition of place in that the Mysteries provide important scenes to contemplate.  Scenes such as the Annunciation, the scourging of Jesus, or the Resurrected Jesus appearing before the Apostles, lend themselves well to Composition of Place.  

Let me use the scene of the woman caught in adultery as a way to guide you through suggested steps for prayer.  As always, pray as the Spirit moves--allow God to lead and direct your prayer. And, I attribute these insights to my fellow brother Jesuits in the novitiate who taught me these methods.  

1) Place yourself in the presence of God, creating an inner silence within yourself.  
2) Ask God to lead you in prayer, to open your heart and mind to His gifts.  
3) Slowly read the selected passage (in this case, John 8:1-11).  Notice the details of the passage--the place, the characters, what is being said, etc.
4) Now, set the scene. Imagine the place--what does it look like? Who is there? Observe what is going on. 
5) What do you hear? What are the people saying? How are they saying it?
6) Allow the use of the other senses now. In this scene, you probably won't use smell or taste--but maybe you will. You may want to feel a stone at the scene--feel its weight and that temptation to throw it.  
7) Enter into the scene. How do you react to the scribes and pharisees?  To the woman? To Jesus? Perhaps you can identify more with one of those characters. Perhaps you place yourself as one of the scribes or the woman.  
8) Speak to Jesus about your experience.  How you felt, what struck you, how you were challenged, etc. Or, perhaps you do not say anything at all but to allow the fruits of the scene to penetrate you.  
9) End with a prayer of thanksgiving.  

A final note: composition of place is a wonderful tool to use when praying your examen, particularly during the review phase. I find composing the scenes of the day to be a powerful way to reflect and pray on the past moments. Seeing the people in your mind, hearing what they said, imagining how you responded, etc.  Try it, you'll like it =)

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