Prayer has always been an imagination form but it has not been until later in my adult life did I recognize and accept that this was a normal way and an acceptable way to pray. I just felt like I didn’t fit in with others who kept pushing deeper forms of prayer. My Spiritual Director about a year ago. Told me not to change that perhaps I was ahead of those who hadn’t discovered it yet. To learn that St. Ignatius promotes this style just makes me enjoy my prayers on the go and the way God graces me with imaginative techniques leaves me with peace throughout the day. I kept thinking I was not doing what we were suppose to do. yet I kept finding myself responding to God in the free moments that I could give Him.
I have been making the Stations each Friday this Lent. I faithfully walk with the congregation from station to station, read and listen to the reflections and sing the antiphons. But I have been unable to â€œget intoâ€ them. I have been unsuccessful in engaging the Ignatian practice of â€œimaginative prayerâ€, putting myself in the scene of each of the stations. I have been unable to feel Jesusâ€™ pain and suffering or even have much sympathy for him. My Stations have been â€œdryâ€. Until this week.
On Wednesday our community watched the movie Romero, the story of Archbishop Oscar Romero of San Salvador. It is a deeply moving story of the conversion of Romero from an establishment cleric to a man of the people who ultimately gives his life standing with his poor against the power of the authoritarian regime, the wealthy and powerful. The movie touched me at the core of my being. I was â€œthereâ€, with the Archbishop and the peasants of El Salvador.
When we arrived at the tenth station and the narrator read, â€œJesus is stripped of his garmentsâ€, I immediately recalled the scene in the movie where a Salvadoran Guardia Nationale corporal orders his men to strip Romero of his clothing. The Archbishop had been searched, so the only reason for stripping in the village square was to humiliate him before his gathered people. They first tear the buttons from his cassock and pull it back off his shoulders; then they tear his T shirt and pull it off. He stands there stoic, not giving into to his tormentors.
And I saw Jesus there, in that village square in El Salvador, standing stripped of his garments in the person of Oscar Romero. The tenth station came alive for me. I could then feel Jesusâ€™ pain and humiliation and suffering as I never had before. Then the stations we had already passed came back to me in vivid detail.
The narrator had read â€œThey took him outside the city, outside his religion, outside his communityâ€¦â€ and I saw the off-duty soldiers take Lucia â€œoutside the cityâ€, out to the garbage dump, after they had raped her and cut out her tongue, and executed her.
I see the scene immediately before the Stations begin, when Jesus is tortured by the Roman soldiers, in the praetorium. But it is Fr. Alfonza Asuna, the Jesuit superior, tortured in the jail, tortured eventually to death, by the agents of the aristocracy, the Salvadoran soldiers. I hear his screams and I see the look on Romeroâ€™s face in a nearby cell, crying out in agony â€œStop! Stop in the name of God! We are human beingsâ€.
The eight station, Jesus meets the women of Jerusalem. I see Romero meeting with the villagers and learning of the disappearance of the boy Paco. Many other villagers have pictures of their sons and daughters who have been taken by the soldiers and never seen again. I hear the agony of Pacoâ€™s father telling of his futile search for the boy.
Jesus body is taken down from the cross, the thirteenth station. Outside the jail, after Romero has told the colonel he will not leave without Fr. Asuna, the priestâ€™s lifeless, tortured body lays on a stretcher for the Archbishop to take with him. Romero gasps in shock and horror and loss and cries for his new-found colleague. A sense of defeat.
The experience is all the more meaningful because half the parishioners making these Stations are Latino, most of whom are without documentation and are tortured every day with fear of discovery and jail and deportation. In fact, the woman leading the Spanish-language portion of the rite is from El Salvador and, as a teenager, lived through some of the Romero time. He was her familyâ€™s friend.
One by one, station by station, I remember a scene from Romero. Now I can feel these stations. I can feel fear and horror and regret and loss. Yes, I feel anger and want revenge, too. And I understand that these stations continue every day on every continent. Jesus is tortured in the cells of American military prisons. Jesus dies in the resistance ghettos of Syria and in the rural villages of the Sudan. Jesus is tortured by the drug dealers in every urban center. In the starving poor around the corner from posh resorts, Jesus is tortured and murdered by the greed and lust of the powerful.
Leaving with a new sense of Holy Week, I will return next Friday anticipating something more than just going through the motions of the Stations. I will be able to think of those people whose personal Holy Week is now.
What a beautiful and powerful experience you had! Thank you so much for sharing it; it will certainly influence my own Stations of the Cross. I would also recommend the Jesuit site – Pray As You Go – http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/. There is a wonderful audio set of 10 Stations that is very uplifting and thought provoking. May you continue to have a blessed Lent!
Imaginative prayer is something I just became aware of through The Ignatian Prayer Adventure which I am “trekking” at the moment. Although I am still new to it I have found it very exhilarating and appealing to my persona since I am a very creative person. I have had a long career in journalism and PR so writing comes easy to me. And in recent years I have been applying it also to my spirituality as well, but admittedly still in a journalistic form. Through imaginative prayer I am learning how to apply the gift God has endowed me with in a new way…. now He has opened new horizons for me as it has started taking me to places I never dreamed of going. Or should I say that I am now learning how to let the Holy Spirit use His eyes and ears and see things from a new angle? Thank you God for always surprising me.
Jim, thank you for this insight. I’m relatively new at using my imagination in my prayer life as I’m just in the middle of the 19th Annotation but I find that there are days when that is exactly how I want to pray. I have spoken of being in love with Jesus for a long time but until I became more familiar with Ignatian Spirituality, I felt quite alone in this way of expressing my faith. I am so grateful that Saint Ignatius listened to God and has given us the Spiritual Exercises to help us to walk more closely with our Lord and to be in a deeper relationship with God in our everyday lives.
So many times I haven’t had the words to express what is in my heart and mind but I have found the answer on one of the Loyola blogs. Thank you for all that you do to help so many walk with our Lord in a more meaningful way.