Reading Scripture the Ignatian Way

Ignatius of Loyola was much like many of us: he aspired to be great and significant in the world, but as luck would have it, he was injured, and spent much of a year in recovery. During this period, he had few books to read, so he spent his days reading scripture and daydreaming.

He found that his daydreams of grandeur, of recovering the life he once aspired to, caused him to feel depressed. On the other hand, his daydreams of imagining himself within the stories of scripture brought him joy. In fact, as he lived within the narrative about the life of Jesus, he came to a personal relationship with the subject of scripture: the Christ as manifest in both the narrative and in his creative consciousness. He came to know God, not just know about God.

Motivated by his love for and with Jesus, he and his companions devoted their lives to not just reading and contemplation, but to active involvement in the world: that the love of Jesus is best manifest in our being men and women for and with others. They founded the “Society of Jesus”—Jesuits—based upon these principles of seeing God in all things, of practicing spiritual exercises including imaginative reading of scripture, of daily self-examination, and practicing love in the world, all for the greater glory of God.

I personally have found great benefit in reading scripture the Ignatian Way, that is, allowing scripture to open up as a creative, spiritual exercise, to live within the narrative, or as Nephi put it in the Book of Mormon, to liken scripture to ourselves.

To read the Scriptures as Ignatius suggests is not about just reading the text. Rather, it focuses on specific stories. For example, during the first phases of Ignatian spiritual exercises, it’s a good idea to explore the nature of sin—not as a stain on our soul, but as the process of learning to discern. The story of the Garden of Eden is particularly useful, exploring how Eve and Adam made choices in the Garden, and how those choices enabled them to learn through their own experience how to discern good and evil.

Another story is the birth narrative in Luke. In the video “Mr Krueger’s Christmas,” the title character played by Jimmy Stewart finds himself daydreaming as if he were physically present at the birth of Jesus. As he looks around, he sees shepherds, animals, Mary and Joseph, and of course the Jesus child. As he walks through the narrative, he connects in relationship with the baby Jesus, praying from his heart and enveloped in love.

My personal encounter with Ignatian spiritual reading of scripture was in contemplating the Atonement as expressed in John chapters 13-17: the “Last Supper.” As I entered the narrative, I heard the words of the Savior through the voice of my deceased mother express God’s intimate, personal, and unconditional love for me. In turn, if I love God, I will be motivated to love others “as God loves me,” that is, with intimate, personal, and unconditional love. The experience transformed everything I thought I knew about the Atonement. Click here to read the full article.

So how does Ignatian Imaginative Reading work for me?

Before reading scripture, I find it very helpful to prepare for the experience, by going to my own personal sacred space—a place outside of the noise of the world: could be a room in my house, could be in a library or church, could be anywhere where I can be outside of my daily interruptions and concerns.

There are many ways of imaginative reading—just use your imagination! The key, in my impression, is to find a story that resonates with me, then, reading the story four ways.

  1. I read the text as written, straight through, so that I can remind myself of the complete story line: What is the story itself saying?
  2. Next I read the text for what isn’t written: What is implied in the narrative? Who is witnessing this story? What are the factors, before and after, that affect the story line?
  3. Next I let the text go and put myself inside the narrative. Who am I in this story? Perhaps I could be one of the named actors, or simply an observer. Perhaps, in the story of Jesus’ birth, I’m one of the animals. I’m creative here—I’m putting myself in the story and letting my creative imagination run with it. I ask myself: What are my senses telling me as I become fully aware of the story? What am I feeling? What are my emotions telling me? This reading is purely contemplative—I allow the spirit to enter my heart and reveal what I need to learn from this reading.
  4. Finally, I return to the text itself. Yes, I have had an experience beyond the text in my imagination, but now, as I read the text, is there new meaning to be found? How does my new perspective open up the text to me to make me a better person—more loving towards and with others? How has God spoken love to me in this text?

As I close my reading session, I find myself physically and emotionally giving gratitude for the text. For me, I do a little ritual of closing the text and my eyes, touching the text to my forehead, and giving thanks for the experience I felt in the text.

Again, there are many ways to read scripture, and my approach, informed by Ignatian Spirituality is but one way. The key, in my impression, is to allow the text to open up for me, to speak to me, to become alive in my imagination, and then walk the journey of faith according to the inspiration I feel thereby.

I hope this helps. What are your thoughts about how you read scripture?

Welcome to Latter-day Faith

Each one of us is on a journey. We are striving for greater connection, and with that, a deeper sense of belonging, peace, and joy. We want to live more fully within the divine flow. We want to have a clearer sense of purpose. We want to discern what it is that God—the Divine source, Life, whatever you may call it—has in mind for us, trusting that in alignment with this, we will find the peace of living a life of integrity with our highest values and principles.

This is why I have started Latter-day Faith: to explore faith and its realities for this time in human history.

Latter-day Faith podcast and blog are part of the Faith Journey Foundation, a non-profit intended to help foster and be a resource for our inner, spiritual lives. Here I will refer to the dynamic and ever-flowing and expanding energy of the Cosmos (to which we fully belong) as “God.” I will also speak of the essence of God incarnated in all life, including us, as “Christ,” with Jesus of Nazareth as someone who fully embodied a positive and affirming relationship with God, each of us, and every living entity. Jesus also manifested “Kingdom” consciousness and declares that within each of us is the ability to attain it. It is from a place of centering in this kingdom that we’ll simply “know” how to be in each situation, how to understand the deeper Reality that is too often hidden from view by our own and others’ ego concerns and the way society and our governments, economies, and churches have placed themselves on unsteady ground. Every day, as I come to better grasp what Jesus was really up to, I am blown away once more seeing more clearly how his critiques of his day are wildly relevant to the worlds—thought, religious, social—in which we find ourselves.

I don’t insist that any of us understand God, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Ghost as having specific attributes such as being white bearded men, or even having physical bodies in the very specific ways that Latter-day Saint teachings suggests. These names are symbols that are surely part of Christian traditions, but on the LDF blog and in the podcast, I intend to look at these symbols and the stories that frame them in deeper ways. Each of them point toward elements vital in the movements of God, and that must be “experienced” rather than “thought about.” Hence, I will try to emphasize the transformative, restorative, and ennobling power of these symbols more than anything that might make for good “theology-talk.” Let’s get as close to experiencing what they represent as we can!

Finally, about the name Latter-day Faith:

The “Latter-day” portion of the name refers not only to the religion and culture of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, but also connotes a current, living faith we can and must realize today. Although the discussions maintain awareness of the show’s and blog’s primarily Latter-day Saint audience, the conversations, sensibilities, and guests are drawn from many religious traditions. The “faith” portion of the name represents more than what we believe. Faith is the relational aspect of trust even amid uncertainty or even doubt.  Faith is a living, loving, and abiding relationship with God and with each other (all of us other gods!).  

 Here, as you react in the comments, and also as you interact with things in the podcast, I invite your active involvement with Latter-day Faith and the community that will be building around it.  

Thanks so much for checking us out. Welcome!