The Spiritual Exercises are a 28 day process of reflection on the life and character of Jesus, as well as a look at his coming glory. Part of the Spiritual Exercises is to imagine yourself in the narrative of Scripture. As you read and reflect, where do you see yourself. What do you sense: taste, smell, see, hear, touch, experience? Where are you in relation to the other characters in the story? What might you see/hear differently from this passage by imaging yourself there. Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises focuses on sin, salvation, the mystery of Christ, the incarnation, and then on the life and ministry of Christ, including various pericopes (stories) of his life, death, resurrection, and ascension, and the last judgment. These topics comprise the bulk of the Spiritual Exercises.
Ignatius referred to this as contemplation. Ignatius challenges his students to use “the eyes of imagination” in order to place themselves in the land through which Jesus is traversing and ministering. Thus, contemplation forms the basis of the spiritual exercises and the means by which one learns to accept the standard of Christ.
I think of this as “redemptive imagination.” Too often we use our imaginations for trivial, sometimes even destructive, things. By using our minds to engage with Scripture, it redeems the cognitive processes that are inherent in imagining.
One of my favorite stories for redemptive imagination is found in Luke 24:13-35. It is the story of the road to Emmaus, when two of Jesus’ followers are oblivious to the presence of resurrected/glorified Jesus walking with them. Listen to the words:
13 Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; 16 but they were kept from recognizing him.
17 He asked them, “What are you discussing together as you walk along?”
They stood still, their faces downcast. 18 One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, “Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?”
19 “What things?” he asked.
“About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. 20 The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; 21 but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. 22 In addition, some of our women amazed us. They went to the tomb early this morning 23 but didn’t find his body. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive. 24 Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus.”
25 He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow to believe all that the prophets have spoken! 26 Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” 27 And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.
28 As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going farther. 29 But they urged him strongly, “Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.” So he went in to stay with them.
30 When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. 31 Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.32 They asked each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”
33 They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem. There they found the Eleven and those with them, assembled together 34 and saying, “It is true! The Lord has risen and has appeared to Simon.” 35 Then the two told what had happened on the way, and how Jesus was recognized by them when he broke the bread. (NIV)
Although Jesus is present and among them, it isn’t until the mundane moment in which they break bread with him that their eyes are opened and they recognize the presence of God. They become aware that the Kingdom of God is right there in their midst, but they had missed it.
Often in life it is the same for us. We go about our days, walk our paths, complete our chores, and go through life oblivious to the presence of God with us. Whether it is the daily grind or the disappointments of life or the troubles we are facing or even the good things that we have… our eyes are often clouded and occluded to the very presence and blessing of God in our lives.
So, today, I want us to use our time of self-examination to think back on our day. Where did I walk with God? Where did I lose my way? What things made me stop or detour? What were some of the roadblocks I encountered? Use redemptive imagination and the Emmaus story as a way of delving deeper into the story.
- Pray for realization of God’s presence
- Use Scripture, if it will help
- Journey With Jesus: read a short Scripture and imagine yourself there
- Look at your day:
- Where did God show up?
- When did I deviate from God’s path?
- What emotions did I experience today? How did they affect me?
- Compare to the days before
- Pray for God’s grace and forgiveness. Pray for a greater realization of his presence.
- Imagine yourself walking with Jesus again.
May God bless your journey with his today.
 Ignatius of Loyola, Spiritual Exercises, 91. This translation is Ignatius of Loyola – Spiritual Exercises and Selected Works, The Classics of Western Spirituality, ed. George E. Ganss (New York: Paulist Press, 1991). Hereafter Spiritual Exercises.
 Fleming points out the Ignatius calls us to two specific contemplations. The first concerns the Incarnation, in which we are called to “‘enter into the vision of God’ [as] God is looking down on our turbulent world.” He argues that this helps us understand God’s compassion for the world and begin to emulate God’s qualities. Second, we imagine ourselves within a story of the Gospels, becoming “‘onlooker-participants’ and giv[ing] full reign to our imagination.” David L. Fleming, What is Ignatian Spirituality? (Chicago: Loyola Press, 2008), Kindle. KL 382.