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Imaginative Prayer in The Spiritual Exercises

Jesus knew how important one's imagination was, for he taught in parables – The Prodigal Son, The Widow's Mite, The Rich Young Man, The Good Samaritan, The One Lost Sheep.

Ignatius does not want us just to think about Jesus during our prayer. He wants us to experience the Word Made Flesh. He wants you to encounter Jesus through all the faculties of your mind and your senses. He wants you to meet Him. In this way of prayer, you experience Jesus in a way that is for you, for right now.

In Ignatian contemplation, we use our God-given imagination to construct the scene and engage our interior senses to experience being there with Christ – to live it fully from within, as if present. Here we connect with God through our imaginations as well as through our other facilities of understanding, memories, thoughts, intellect, desires, feelings, and emotions.

The Two Ways of Imagination

There are 2 ways of using imagination in prayer that St. Ignatius describes in the Spiritual Exercises are the: ‘Composition of Place’ (SE#47) and ‘Application of Senses (SE#67-70).

Ignatian Contemplation

In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius proposes meditating and contemplating Gospel scenes. In Ignatian Contemplation, we use the active imagination upon a particular event in Jesus' life. The Gospel story serves as a guided imagery context for the imagination. While using this technique, the person at prayer does not let their mind wander or roam freely. Rather, it is important to keep oneself more or less within the Gospel Framework.

Gospel Contemplation involves images, feelings, and thoughts. St. Ignatius suggests that we use three points: See, Listen, and Consider. See the different persons (SE 106). Listen to what the persons are saying (SE 107). Consider what the persons are doing (SE 108). In considering what the persons are doing, the person at prayer is invited to enter their actions and Feel. Gospel Contemplation is a kinesthetic exercise.


1. Read to Understand and construct the scene in your mind. (See)

2. Read a second time to Imagine the scene. Hear what they say as they interact. (Listen)

3. Read a third time to pay attention to what the persons are doing in the scene. (Consider)

Application of the Senses

Among the types of prayer proposed by St. Ignatius is the "Application of the Senses." With the imagination, he counsels the pilgrim praying to apply each of the senses successively to the scenes of Christ's life. The Application of Senses is another form of Repetition where we return, in a later prayer exercise, to a point where one has experienced some movement in prayer. Such movements may include Consolation, or Desolation or spiritual appreciation.

"Smell the divinity"(SE 124)
"Taste the virtues" (SE 124)
"Touch the places" (SE 125)

1. The First Point. is to see the persons in my imagination, contemplating and meditating in detail on the circumstances surrounding them, and I will then draw some spiritual fruit from what has been seen (SE 122).

2. The Second Point. This is to hear what they are saying, or what they might say, and then by reflecting on oneself to draw some profit from what has been heard (SE 123).

3. The Third Point. This is to smell the infinite fragrance and taste the infinite sweetness of the divinity. Likewise to apply these senses to the soul and its virtues, and all according to the person we are contemplating, and to draw fruit from this (SE 124).

4. The Fourth Point. This is to apply the sense of touch, for example, by embracing and kissing the place where the persons stand or are seated, always taking care to draw some fruit in this (SE 125).

John A Veltri, S.J. explains "The use of the word 'senses' in this method is more by way of analogy. Ignatius' meaning is reflected in biblical phrases such as: "O taste and see the goodness of the Lord," and "Your law is honey to my lips." The tasting and seeing are beyond the veil of material tasting and seeing: they are deeper tasting and seeing -- with the heart, with the soul."

(Sources: Spiritual Exercise of St. Ignatius, Louis J. Puhl, S.J., Orientations Volume 2, John A. Veltri S.J,)

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