HomeIgnatian PrayerGiving Myself Permission to Make Adjustments in Ignatian Contemplation

Giving Myself Permission to Make Adjustments in Ignatian Contemplation

young woman with umbrella - photo by Bicanski on PixnioI have always considered myself terrible at Ignatian contemplation. That’s a form of prayer that invites one to place oneself in a scene from the Bible. In the Spiritual Exercises, Ignatian contemplation is encouraged as the retreatant travels through the Gospel stories during Week Two. We are invited to engage all five senses as we place ourselves in the scene. Losing self in the story, we are able to hear what the Holy Spirit desires to tell us.

In the past when I have tried this method of prayer, I found it quite difficult. I would get lost trying to stay in line with the details of the Gospel stories as they were written. I would question whenever my mind tried to add in details that weren’t there. I would get frustrated when I would be drawn out of the scene because I came across something that didn’t quite make sense. I would get so frustrated when I couldn’t smell or taste or feel within a place I had never actually been. This frustration led me to abandon this form of prayer.

When I got to the Second Week of the Spiritual Exercises this year, however, I was encouraged by my spiritual director to try Ignatian contemplation again. At first, I was resistant. “I’ve tried this many times,” I said. “I just can’t do it.”

Upon further conversation with my director, I realized I could give myself permission to make a few adjustments. So this time, I allowed myself to:

  • Write out my imaginings. I struggle with sitting still in the quiet and contemplating a scene, but somehow when I place pen to paper it is easier for me to capture the sights and sounds and feel of a story.
  • Let my heart move beyond the Gospel itself. I needed not to get tripped up by the details. After all, Ignatian contemplation is supposed to give me insight into what the Holy Spirit is trying to tell me right now in my present situation, which means the Holy Spirit may guide me beyond the details captured by the Gospel writers.
  • Ask the questions as they arose. Since prayer is essentially a conversation between God and me, it’s OK if I have questions as I practice Ignatian contemplation. It’s even OK if I pause the scene as I would my TV, so that I can ask God for clarification.
  • Let God meet me in the messiness of my attempt. There is no one right way to practice Ignatian contemplation. My attempt at this form of prayer is not being graded or analyzed. God is ready to meet me in my attempt and, I believe, appreciates the unique way I approach this form of prayer.

During this Advent season, we will hear the Gospel stories of the Annunciation and the Visitation of Mary to Elizabeth, and then at Christmas, we’ll hear of the birth of Jesus in the manger. These stories are incredible ones to start with in trying Ignatian contemplation. Feel free to give yourself permission, as I did, to make Ignatian contemplation your own. You might be surprised at the graces you will receive when you do.

Photo by Bicanski on Pixnio.

Gretchen Crowder
Gretchen Crowderhttps://gretchencrowder.com/
Gretchen Crowder has served as a campus minister and Ignatian educator for the Jesuit Dallas community for the last 15 years. She is also a freelance writer and speaker and is the host of Loved As You Are: An Ignatian Podcast. She has a B.S. in mathematics and a M.Ed. from the University of Notre Dame as well as an M.T.S. from the University of Dallas. She resides in Dallas, TX, with her husband, three boys, and an ever-growing number of pets.


  1. I thought filling in the details was encouraged as most scriptures don’t give much in detail. In filling in all the details, as in the Holy Family’s flight to Egypt. I add that they return home first to pick up Josef’s tools. I“ flesh out “ ( work of the intellect) detail, and I’m in control of what is going on. Then I do a repetition the next day. My intellect is done with it and ready to let go of control of the scene. ThenI can let the Holy Spirit influence what is happening. While I try to be aware and notice what changes , my feelings, what is really going on. etc. it becomes more like prayer and a-gesture,word etc says something personal.

  2. I’m terrible at visualizing scenes from the Bible. I’m better–but still not that good!–at silent meditation; and I’m more comfortable working with language than images when I break silence. So, Ignatian meditation has always eluded me.

    Still, I’m attracted to this form of deep visualization; or maybe I should say, deep immersion in a scene. I like the idea of how it would engage me sensually, emotionally and intellectually. If only I could forget myself and just dive in!

    when I look at certain paintings, this kind of deep immersion can happen. Ignatius privileges imagination in his writings. He mentions that Imagination also can be cleansed and developed through this form of contemplation. Maybe one day I’ll get better!

  3. Gretchen, thanks so much! I was introduced to Ignatian contemplation a little more than a year ago and for every “success “ in prayer I’ve had dozens of failures. I gave myself permission about a month ago to “off script “ and vision some of the meditations taking place in my home, our parish church and neighborhood with my friends joining in the scene. Mary could be my friend and we could talk about pregnancy. My adventure in this form of prayer continues.

  4. Thanks Gretchen.
    I really like the concept of ‘pausing the scene’ to ask for guidance. I will certainly try that.
    I often end up ‘googling’ my queries the following day….’how far did Mary & Joseph travel to Bethlehem’ – ‘how far was the journey from Nazareth to Jerusalem’ etc etc. I feel I’m getting distracted by irrelevances ?

  5. Thank you, Gretchen! This is an Ignatian practice that I’ve not been very successful with either. Your advice is sound and is leading me to try once again…knowing the Spirit will guide.


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