Some people miss out on spiritual nourishment because they don’t know how to effectively use their imagination when they read the Bible and pray.
Others are hesitant to do this because they’re afraid that visualization is not trustworthy or too emotional. Some think using visualization in prayer is not Christian, because they associate it with Eastern religions, secular psychology, hypnosis, or “New Age” philosophy.
But God has created human beings with the ability to imagine—and the Bible is full of positive images and pictures that offer us tremendous help.
Ignatian meditation teaches you how to use your imagination in Bible reading and prayer in order to engage with Jesus Christ.
In this blog, you’re going to learn what Ignatian meditation is. You’re also going to learn about its history, and how to identify the Ignatian meditation steps.
We’re also going to share 12 free PDF guided Ignatian meditations, organized around the four weeks in Ignatius’ program of Gospel readings. (These are samples from our popular booklet of 60 one-page Ignatian Meditation Guides.)
What is Ignatian Meditation?
Ignatian meditation is a method of Scripture meditation in which you use your imagination and physical senses to enter into the events of Jesus’ life and listen to God. It is based on Ignatius of Loyola’s 16th century style of prayer in The Spiritual Exercises.
My Ignatian Spiritual Director who taught me said that it is the most popular method for Scripture meditation around the world — used by untold millions of people — though it’s often practiced informally without understanding Ignatius’ teaching.
Ignatius’ method of imagining yourself in a Gospel passage is a helpful contrast to Bible study. To carefully think about and analyze Scripture in its context is an important discipline, and to prayerfully meditate on Scripture is a different and equally helpful discipline.
Ignatius guides us to read a Gospel story with our senses in order to see, hear, and touch—even to taste and smell if we can—what’s happening in the text.
The History of Ignatius
When Ignatius of Loyola was a young man, he was soldier in Spain’s battle with the French—and his leg was hit by a cannonball!
He was near death and convalescing for months. As he laid in bed, he wanted to read the popular fantasy novels of his day on romance and chivalry that he enjoyed so much, but none were available. So he was given a book on the life of Christ that featured Gospel stories.
Meditating on the stories of Jesus with his imagination brought him personal comfort, and it eventually healed him of his illness. Best of all, it brought him out of his selfish and frivolous lifestyle and into a personal relationship with Jesus as his Savior, Lord, Teacher, and Friend.
Ignatius grew in the Lord and became a priest and a monk. He went on to found the Jesuit order of monks in the Roman Catholic Church, which is also called the Society of Jesus.
He developed The Spiritual Exercises and divided them into four weeks for people to personally engage with Jesus Christ by visualizing and sensing themselves in Gospel stories.
What Are the Four Weeks?
Ignatius’ four “weeks” in The Spiritual Exercises use varying lengths of time to contemplate on God’s love in four themes: (1) our need for Christ, (2) Jesus’ birth and life, (3) the passion of Christ, and (4) Jesus’ resurrection.
In his four weeks, Ignatius not only gave us a chronological order, but also a developmental order. Many people who use Ignatian meditation or aspects of his program don’t realize that this order is central to Ignatius’ program in The Spiritual Exercises.
By following along and personally identifying with Jesus’ developing story in the Gospels, it fosters our intimacy with God, life change, and discernment of God’s calling.
Ignatian Meditation Steps
We teach 4 Ignatian Meditation steps that are simple, delightful, and powerful!
- Skim: Consider the background
Before you dive into the Scripture passage, scan it and its background. Briefly reflect on the author, book of the Bible, context, and purpose. Then take note of which of Ignatius’ four weeks the reading belongs in and why.
- Pray: Ask for the grace
In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius guides to ask for particular graces related to his selected Scripture readings. Pausing to pray for this grace guides and empowers the time of meditation.
- 1st Reading: Imagine being in the Scripture
As you read, visualize yourself in the Scripture. Don’t analyze or study the text for intellectual insights.
Instead, stay with the imagery or scene. Use your senses to see, touch, feel, and hear.
- What part of the story are you drawn to?
- Which character do you identify with?
- Or are you a bystander in the story?
- 2nd Reading: Listen to God
As you re-read the Scripture, talk with the Lord about how you feel and how the text relates to your life today. Pause quietly to listen to what God might be saying to you.
Guided Ignatian Meditations
To make it easy for you to practice Ignatian meditation and experience its benefits, we gathered and organized Ignatius’ 60+ Scripture readings into the four weeks in his program in Ignatian Meditation Guides.
Each sheet walks you through the four Ignatian meditation steps above.
We help you prepare to benefit from The Spiritual Exercises, and then show you how to pray through the Gospel stories related to Jesus’ birth, life, ministry, death, and resurrection.
Below are 12 free samples of the one page PDFs that are in the booklet:
Week 1: Confessing Our Need For Christ
Preparing to begin The Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius.*
- Mark 10:35-52: “What do you want from Jesus?” Cultivating a desire for Jesus enables us to experience God’s loving presence.
- Acts 16:6-15: “Paul Discerns the Spirit’s Leading.” Paul shows us how to follow the Spirit of Jesus step-by-step.
- John 8:1-11: “Jesus does not Condemn You!” No matter what our shortcomings or sins, God extends his mercy and grace to us through Christ.
Week 2: Following Jesus in God’s Kingdom
Jesus’ Infancy and Hidden Life. These are great as Advent Meditations.
- Luke 2:1-7: “The Birth of Christ” Joining Mary and Joseph’s hard journey to Bethlehem, we find surprising hospitality as Jesus is born amongst the animals.
- Matthew 3:13-17: “The Heavens Open at Jesus’ Baptism.” Standing with Jesus in baptism we enter into the Trinitarian society of the Kingdom of the Heavens.
- Mark 1:14-20: “Jesus Calls his Disciples.” By the lakeside, Jesus calls us with the fisherman: “Come! Follow me.”
Week 3: With Jesus at the Cross
The Passion of Christ. These are great as Lent meditations. (See also Unforsaken: With Jesus on the Stations of the Cross, a booklet of Gospel meditations and prayers with pictures by Bill Gaultiere.)
- John 13:1-17: “Jesus Washes his Disciples’ Feet.” Jesus shows us that true teachers and leaders are loving servants.
- Matthew 26:20-30: “The Lord’s Supper” Jesus ministers his body and blood to the Twelve, including Judas, and to each of us.
- Mark 15:33-39: “Jesus is Crucified and Forsaken.” Mark shows Jesus on the cross, suffering alone and crying out to a God who seems to have abandoned him.
Week 4: With the Risen Christ
The Joy of a Risen Life!
- Mark 16:1-11: “He is Risen! Jesus Appears to Mary.” The first Evangelist of Jesus’ resurrection is a woman he delivered of seven demons.
- John 21:15-25: “Jesus Restores Peter.” The Lord reconciles Peter with three chances to say “I love you!”
- Matthew 28:16-20: “Jesus’ Great Commission.” We’re called to apprentice people to Jesus, baptize them in his Trinitarian reality, and teach them how to implement his teachings in daily life.
More Ignatian Meditation Guides
The complete booklet of Ignatian Meditation Guides features:
- 60 one-page meditations that are easy to print and share
- Index of all the guided Ignatian meditations (pick the one you need)
- Identified spiritual formation themes
- The Scripture in The Message version
- The four Ignatian meditation steps for each reading
These Ignatian Meditation Guides are great for personal devotions, small groups, church staff or elder meetings, spiritual direction, and retreats. On Soul Shepherding’s website you can order a physical or digital copy of Ignatian Meditation Guides.
You can also order our Prayer Guides bundle which includes the Ignatian Meditation Guides, along with our Lectio Divina Guides, and Breach Prayer Guides.
* For the first week Ignatius doesn’t assign Gospel passages because he uses preparatory meditations and prayers of “examen” to foster awareness of our need for God’s mercy and love through Christ. Accordingly, I’ve selected Scriptures that fit the themes in the opening of The Spiritual Exercises.