Spiritual Practices

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Praying with Scripture sometimes falls out into three distinguishable manners. People who pray find these three ways overlapping and fading into one another. Some are helped, however, by knowing that they like to pray in one of the three manners, or at least like to start their praying in this or that manner. Here is a sketch of these three manners of praying with Scripture.
 
 
The first way: Contemplation
 
Sometimes when a visitor to Velankanni tells you about his experiences there, the crowds, the noise, the smell, the ocean, you can almost smell the ocean, the waves, the fish… hear and be in that crowd… and practically feel as excited as he. You were absorbed in his story, seeing and hearing and smelling what he sensed, and feeling excitement and delight as he felt them. Your pilgrim friend has helped you contemplate. We do precisely this every time we read a story or a novel; we let ourselves be placed into the event – we are there.
 
This is contemplation. We are perfectly right to contemplate this way, because all things are present in God, who is not limited by time. So when we go into God and remember events in Jesus’ life, we and those events are both present in God. The manner of contemplating involves little effort, if we allow our fantasy freedom.
• We imagine ourselves walking with Jesus down a road, feeling the heat of the dust and hearing the buzz of a desert afternoon.
• We enter into the excitement of the Samaritan woman, to whom Jesus said first, “I am He.”
• We lie cold on the stone with Lazarus and then feel the power of Jesus’ voice resonating through our bones.
• We talk with Peter, let Jesus wash our feet, beg Him not to leave us.
• And in the end, we apply to our own selves and our own lives what we have felt and experienced.
 
What does it do to us? Does this change a person?  It does. The person becomes more and more Christ-like, the values of Christ becoming his.  Do this and experience what happens.
This method is popularly known as Ignatian contemplation. Because it was he who helped ordinary persons to ‘contemplate’. Till then ‘contemplation’ was considered to be a privilege of a select few. 
 
 
The second way: Meditation 
 
Suppose you face a serious decision whether to report something you saw to the  superior. You go to a friend for help. You describe to him what you saw, in detail, and then you interpret its significance. He might ask you some questions, wondering whether he has events straight. And then he will think about what you should do. Both you and he are meditating. For meditating on an event means to recall what happened, vividly and in detail, and then to try to figure out what the event means and what you might need to do about it.
 
When we meditate the Scriptures, we enter into an event in Jesus’ life, or in some other Biblical person’s life, and recall it vividly and in detail, though without “getting lost” in the story. Judas approaches Jesus and kisses Him. We feel astounded that a friend could do that, but we may remember that Judas was very interested in politics. We look into Judas’s personality– “he was a thief” –and feel amazement that his desire for money could end up leading him to this. Did Jesus choose badly? Or did Judas, well chosen, cold-bloodedly betray His Lord? Then we sense how many of the rest of us have given Jesus that kiss. So, moving back and forth from events to reflections, we apply what we have meditated on to our own lives.
 
 
The third way: Consideration 
 
The writers of past ages searched the pages of Scripture for sentences and events that spoke to their own lives. They were finding the “spiritual meaning” of Scripture.
 
We consider the Scriptures when we work out in some detail how they apply to our life world and ourselves. We can consider, for example, that a lily does not choose where to grow and neither do we. A lily does not decide what kind of soil it will be planted in; we do not decide what culture we will grow up in, speaking what language and believing in what God. A lily does not choose its colour; neither do we – physically and in personality. And so on: as God creates the lily and makes it more splendid than a king in his robes of state, so God creates me and makes me splendid.
 
This last manner is a very active kind of praying. The earlier manners require that we be more at ease, and let Scripture pray in us, as it were. But the last word is this: The Word of God is a living word, and will speak to us if we will only listen.
 
Adapted from: Joseph A. Tetlow, S.J.
Choosing Christ in the World
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