We can’t walk down the streets of Nazareth today with Jesus right beside us, asking him our questions and listening to his teachings. St. Ignatius thought that using our imaginations was the next best thing. In his Spiritual Exercises, he offers a number of contemplations as ways to guide our imaginations into scenes of Jesus’ life or certain spiritual concepts. By really being there – at least in our imaginations – we can come to see Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly, and follow him more nearly.
The Contemplation of the Incarnation that we try out in this meeting helps us understand how God’s deep love for the world lead to God choosing to become flesh in Jesus. We can’t help but wonder what God’s choice to be one of us means for our own faith and discipleship.
With any contemplation, we ask the Spirit to guide our thoughts and we seek to courageously follow where the Spirit leads. Sometimes strange or uncomfortable images or thoughts arise. With any of these, we hold them up to the light of God and examine them, discerning what we’re meant to learn from them. If they are of God, they stay with us in the long term and bring us closer to God.
You may want to tell the group that this type of prayer may feel awkward or strange, and it is OK to have whatever experience they have with it. Some people may find it very meaningful. Others may not. Regardless, our sharing of this experience together is an opportunity for God to be revealed to us in prayer or through the prayers of one another.
A sample of how a person might lead this reflection is included in the meeting outline. You may want to adjust it or write one of your own using the themes here. Be sure to leave lots of time for silent reflection between each statement that you read so that people’s imaginations can really form the scene in their minds. Also, consider taking this contemplation to your own personal prayer sometime in the week before your CLC meeting. Experiencing the fruits that the Spirit gives you in this contemplation will deepen and enrich the experience of your group when you lead it.
As we reflect on our own life stories through the Spiritual Autobiographies, it is helpful to place the context of our own lives into the greater context of God’s love for us and God’s active choice to become one of us – knowing what we experience and sharing the journey with us in an incarnate way.
More information about the Contemplation can be found at ignatianspirituality.com.
Invite the group into silence. Ask for the grace to see with God’s eyes.
Ask people to share how they are feeling right now as they come into this meeting.
Lead the group through the Contemplation on the Incarnation
- (Begin with silence for a minute.)
- Picture yourself looking at the world, as if you’re in space. Look at the colors, the clouds, the outline of the continents. Look at how the light from the sun illuminates the rim of the sphere, and how the lights on the earth turn on as small beacons as the twilight creeps into the sunlight. (Allow 30 seconds silence.)
- Begin to “zoom in” on one of the continents. In your imagination, look at the people there as though you are hovering above the ground. What do the people look like? What does their housing look like? What are they doing? What are they wearing? Are there children there? Explore this scene with your imagination, and notice their faces. Can you tell how they’re feeling? (Allow one minute of silence.)
- Continue around the globe, noticing the people everywhere you look. Envision the terrain. See the ways that the environment is impacted the people in all places. (Allow time for silence.)
- Now, find yourself looking down at the city where you live. What do you see there? Try to see people in all walks of life. Children playing, people at a hospital, grieving, giving birth, people getting married, getting divorced, taking exams, getting laid off, getting hired, people incarcerated, people rich, people poor, people homeless, people depressed, people suffering from violence, people inflicting violence, people praying. Go where your imagination takes you, and be open to being moved by the experiences of those you are seeing. (Allow one minute of silence.)
- Now look at the people right near where you live. Maybe a neighbor, family member, people at a college campus, people at your job. Maybe it’s a Friday night. What are they doing? How do people interact? What are they seeking? (Allow for silence.)
- Now, look in on the room where you are right now, with the people you are sitting alongside. Hold in your heart the different struggles and joys you each have brought with you. (Allow for silence.)
- Spend a little longer with this image, or any of the images that have struck you. Imagine yourself returning to a compelling image that seems to be reaching out to you. (Allow for silence.)
- Now, as you continue to look at this scene in the world, imagine that the Holy Trinity is there with you. Maybe just over your shoulder where you can’t see them, or right in front of you. They are seeing all the things that you are seeing. What do they think? Feel? Imagine the conversation in these three persons as they decide that one of them will enter into this world and become part of it. Why do they make that decision? What moves them? (Allow for silence.)
- Now, look back down on the world, at Nazareth in another time. Zoom in on a humble home with a young woman. Watch as she is invited into the Divine plan to conceive God. Watch as the angel appears and notice how Mary responds. Watch as she considers the invitation. Does she pause or respond right away? Does she seem anxious? Hopeful? Bold? At peace? (Allow for silence.)
- Now, collect everything that you have seen in your imagination and sit with it. If there is something that seems to be speaking to you in a special way, explore it a little more deeply and listen for what God may be revealing to you. (Allow for silence.)
- Finally, in your heart, try to have a conversation directly with God about what you saw and how you felt. If you have questions, ask them of God. If you are struck by something, talk it over with God. Listen for God’s response. (Allow for silence.)
- Draw the time of guided contemplation gently to a close and conclude with a very brief prayer of gratitude.
Allow each person to share a little about their experience. If possible, try to help people share a little more deeply about how they felt God was moved to become incarnate. Or, some people may have not felt very engaged in this. Encourage everyone that it is OK to have not “felt” anything, and invite them to be honest about sharing that as well.
- What has struck you as you have been listening to others share?
- What do you make of this type of prayer and are you inclined to try it again in the future?
- Is there a theme from this meeting that you feel called to pay attention to in your life?
Sometime this week, try to look at the people around you with God’s eyes, and try to see them as God sees them. This is especially difficult – and rewarding! – to try on someone that you struggle to love!
Draw upon the graces that have been shared from this contemplation. Express gratitude for how God has worked in our time together and ask for a deepening of this prayer in our coming week.
“The Three Divine Persons, contemplating the whole of humanity in so many sinful divisions decide to give themselves completely to all men and women and liberate them from all their chains. Out of love, the Word became human and was born of Mary, the humble Virgin of Nazareth.” CLC-USA General Principles #1
The Contemplation on the Incarnation can be found in full in the Spiritual Exercises [101-135].