He was 26 when it happened. He did love war. When everyone else saw the odds and wanted to surrender it was Ignatius who talked the commander into resisting. Cannon balls flew during the battle and one of them passed through Ignatius’ legs. One leg shattered and the other was badly injured.
Near death and many surgeries followed.
When Ignatius began to recover he found himself laying in bed for hours on end – bored. He asked for books to read. Specifically, Ignatius wanted to read stories of chivalry: the ones when a knight enters the service of a noble lady and performs extraordinary feats of bravery to win her favor.
The only books in the house, however, were religious. One on the life of Christ and the other about the lives of Saints. In desperate boredom Ignatius began to read these books. He read slowly and would stop to imagine the stories about Jesus and men like St. Francis and St. Dominic.
When he tired of the religious imaginings Ignatius would return to imagining himself as a knight leading dramatic military victories in the service of a certain high-born lady.
Ignatius spent hours a day in his imaginations. After some time he began to notice how these imaginations were affecting him. The imaginations of Jesus and His followers were leading Ignatius towards God and joy. The imaginations of chivalry were leading him away – towards emptiness and sadness.
What is imagination? The act of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses.
What is imagination used for?
Among its many uses our brain’s function of imagination is used for:
- Problem solving
- Integrating experience
What is happening in our brain when we imagine?
- Neuroscience has discovered that what we see with our eyes and what we imagine seeing flow in different directions in the brain. What our eyes see flows up from the brain’s occipital lobe to the parietal lobe, what we imagine seeing flows down from the parietal to the occipital lobe. (University of Wisconsin-Madison)
- Brain imaging research shows that imagining a threat lights up similar regions of the brain as experiencing a threat. This means imagination can be a helpful tool in overcoming phobias or post traumatic stress. (UC Boulder)
Our brains are skilled at imagination and we use this skill throughout our day.
Is there a way to harness the power of imagination to deepen our connection with God and increase our ability to thrive?
Ignatius explored this question from his sick-bed. Asaph, the writer of Psalm 77 explored this question in his “day of trouble”. In exhausted despair Asaph chose the skill of imagination to stir-up his faith and hope in God. With a dramatic flare Asaph recreated, in his imagination, one of the greatest miracles in Hebrew history, the crossing of the Red Sea.
Today I invite you to join St. Ignatius of Loyola, Asaph, and countless others in using Scripture and imagination to deepen our connection with God.
Soul Sculpting Project: Sacred Imagination
- Choose a story in Scripture and read it. Make the story familiar.
- Invite God to join your time of imagination.
- Imagine the passage Use sensory detail. What smells, sounds, sights, tastes are present in the story? Give yourself a role in the story, if you like.
- Close your imagination by talking with God
. . Love the Lord your God with all your mind . . . (Mark 12:30)
Ignatius recovered from injury and decided to become a saint, rather than a knight. Or perhaps we could say he became a knight for Jesus. St. Ignatius used his discoveries about the values of imagination in the curriculum he developed for his followers, the Jesuits. This curriculum, The Spiritual Exercises is used today by Christians around the world.
Resources for Sacred Imagination
Here is a guided imagination using the events found in John 21.
Heads-up: This recording goes directly into an ad for Sound Cloud- so I recommend stopping the recording a few seconds after I finish talking so you can have the suggested prayer time without the bold interruption.
Story ideas from the life of Jesus:
- Mark 5: 24-34 Jesus Heals a Woman
- Mark: 2:1-12 Jesus and a Paralytic
- Luke 5:1-11 Jesus and Some Fishermen
- Mark 10:46-52 Jesus and Bartimaeus
- Luke 5:1-11 Jesus and Some Fishermen
- 2:13-14 Jesus and a Tax Collector
- John 20: 1, 11-18 The Third Day (Full written text below)
- John 20: 24-29 The Eight Day with Thomas
- John 21:1-12 (Audio Guided Imagination above)
The Text for the Third Day from John 20:1, 11-18 (NIV)
1. Early on the first day of the week, while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene went to the tomb and saw that the stone had been removed from the entrance.
11 Now Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot.
13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?”
“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realize that it was Jesus.
15 He asked her, “Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?”
Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.”
16 Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
She turned toward him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means “Teacher”).
17 Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’”
18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.