“You should pray.” How many times have you heard or read this imperative? This Lent we would like to help you find a way of praying that just might be your way.
The four ways have official-sounding names but can easily be understood as: Ponder, Imagine, Listen, Gaze. Each week of Lent, we offer the Sunday gospel to be prayed in one or all of the ways just mentioned. You might take each individual week and read the gospel every day, then pick one method of prayer for that day or for the week. You might be tempted to read only the meditations provided and to glance at the picture or title of the music selection. We hope you’ll go deeper and take some time to ponder or gaze or listen or imagine. God is eager to spend this time with you. Pay attention to the method you are most drawn to and why.
In all of these methods, the most important part of the prayer is where and when you know yourself to be in the presence of Christ. In those moments, relax in the peace, but also listen for a call. Resting and responding are the heart of prayer.
Read the gospel passage slowly three times. The first time, notice which words or phrases attract your attention or interest. The second time, pay attention to how the passage touches your life today. The third time, ask yourself how the passage challenges you to stretch spiritually. If you wish, follow this third reflection with 20 minutes of silent meditation.
At the heart of Ignatian prayer is the conviction that God can be found in all things. The 16th-century Ignatius of Loyola invites us to read scripture as if we were present: to let ourselves see, hear, taste and smell. Mere reading is transformed into a lively, imaginative experience, and the gospel becomes more vivid as we put ourselves in the story. Welcoming imagination, instead of regarding it as distraction, Ignatius gives permission to those parts of ourselves that we often suppress in worship, bringing an immediacy to our prayer. Only when we experience the gospel in the present tense can we truly own it. Instead of suppressing our five senses, we use them as a passage into the mysteries of Christ’s life.
The gospels, after all, depict Jesus as a person who used and delighted in the senses. He told stories that abound in imagery of touch, taste, sight, hearing. He touched people when he healed them. He took his disciples’ dusty feet in his hands and washed them. People brought their children to him so that he could touch them and bless them. In this way, gospel stories are especially good material for this type of meditation. We read or hear a familiar story, then let ourselves be in that story and let the story be in us. In a sense this is a playful kind of prayer, for we give our imagination the freedom to lead us where it will. Sometimes it takes us to surprising places where we hear surprising things.
Since musical images are so frequently used in the scriptures, hymn texts and religious poetry, perhaps we can take our cue and let music inspire our prayer and lead us to places of meditation. Untrammeled by the ambiguities of words, music invites the release of the emotions—praise, joy, tears—opening the door to those great wordless experiences of the divine presence, the direct impress of God’s love on the waiting soul. Music has been called the telephone of the beyond and the highway to the heights or the depths of spiritual experience. And St. Augustine’s saying is well known: “Lord, make me an alleluia from head to foot.”
Using music as a springboard for meditation and prayer is easy. Simply listen to a composition—the more you listen to a piece of music, the greater the benefit will be—and let the music, aided by the Spirit, take you where it will. Wherever that is, you should remain.
Don’t aim for a specific result in this, or any, meditation. Meditation and prayer are not school exercises. And while many books can give you guidance as you make your way to the spiritual life, in the end, it’s what the Spirit desires for you that will really matter.
Finding the Music on YouTube
Use the link(s) provided each week to access the selection(s).Before you begin to listen, make sure your volume is on. Then click on the screen to hear the music. Almost all of the YouTube sites chosen include images as well as music. If you find the images distracting, simply minimize the page, and the music will continue.
It is often said that the spirituality of Western Christianity is about talking, while the spirituality of Eastern Christianity is about gazing. The best example of the Eastern method is the use of icons for prayer.
The technique is simple: We sit or stand before an icon or image, and we pay attention. While gazing at the image, we allow it to speak to us. The whole image or some particular aspect that has caught our eye might move us and connect to some aspect of our life and experience. We might discover something new about the nature of God. The image helps us to focus. The longer we gaze, the more we are drawn into a silent conversation.
This content was originally published in the 2013 Lent Reflections booklet "Praying Lent: A booklet of Lenten meditations from St. Columba’s Episcopal Church." Copyright © St. Columba's Episcopal Church, 2013.