What’s the first thing you think of when you hear “Ignatian prayer”? Most familiar with Saint Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises might think about imaginative prayer, perhaps meditation, or colloquy. But in those same Exercises, Ignatius offers a section on “Three Methods of Prayer”. It might as well be titled “Slow Prayer” because they take common prayers and slow them down. The three methods are generally similar to one another so let’s begin with the simplest, the second, which involves praying the Our Father.
If you’re like me you tend to rattle off the Lord’s Prayer at church. Perhaps you pick up on the meaning of a word or phrase every now and then but it pretty much passes you by most times. Ignatius recommends that you pray the prayer slowly, one word at a time, and that you spend as much time on each word as fruit will come. (“Our … Father … who … art …”) In fact, one may spend a whole hour on just one word. The next day, continue praying this way. You may also do it with another familiar prayer like the Hail Mary.
The third method expands this a bit to include the breath. Praying with the body is an ancient practice which Ignatius does not dismiss. He suggests taking a familiar prayer, like the Our Father, and praying one word as you breathe in and the next word as you breathe out and so on. You briefly focus on the meaning of the word while maintaining the rhythm of the breath.
Now, let’s touch on the first method of prayer which Ignatius divides into four parts.
- First, he says to take this slow prayer route by meditating on each of the ten commandments, considering how one has kept it or faltered.
- Similarly, he says you can do the same but with the Seven Deadly Sins.
- Next, the three “powers of the soul”: the intellect, the will, and the heart.
- Finally, Ignatius says to meditate one by one on each of your five senses. How are you using these gifts for God or otherwise?
The first method, as just described, has an examen feel to it, but instead of reflecting on your day, you reflect on different areas like the commandments, sin, or the senses. Movements like slow eating or slow travel catch on because they allow us to appreciate something so common to our lives. Slow prayer has this benefit too. Prayer isn’t always about the words but sometimes it is. Sometimes the words, prayed and relished slowly, reveal fruit that was hidden when we mindlessly rattled off our prayers.
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Music by Kevin MacLeod