The Ignatian Year XXV: The Contemplatio

Fundamental to Ignatian Spirtiuality is the idea of finding God in all things.  Ignatius brings that home to us by ending his Spirtual Exercises with a contemplation titled the Contemplation for Learning to Love like God, often referred to simply as the Contemplatio.   It is an exercise that invites us to get in touch in a deep way with the reality of God’s love and all of the ways God gifts us with his love.  The exercise is intended by Ignatius to bring the retreatant from the formal structure and discipline of the Spiritual Exercises to the constant finding of God in all the things of daily living – large and small, long and brief, words and actions – everything.

The grace Ignatius encourages us to ask for us when we pray the Contemplatio is (in Tetlow’s framing of it) to gain “an intimate understanding of myself and my life as gift, and all my world as gift, so that I will be incandescent with gratitude, and then go beyond that to love the Giver of all this who loves me vastly in deed and sharing.

We have a tendency to think about God’s work in the world in terms of sin and redemption.   But that is only a partial truth and the danger is that thinking in terms of a sin-redemption framework makes us prone to an important error.  That is: if we think of creation in terms of sin and redemption, we tend to think and act as if we initiate the relationship between God and ourselves.  But to say that sin comes first is both blasphemous and spiritually dangerous.

What the Exercises as a whole do – and what this Contemplatio does – is to challenge the sin and redemption model by bringing us into the larger paradigm of continuing creation and salvation.  This is something that functions in each of the Weeks of the Exercises, but finds its culmination in the Contemplatio.

The Contemplatio has four points.  To give a very brief summary:

The first of the four points is God giving all of God’s gifts to me.  Using Fleming’s reading, I recognize that “God creates me out of love and desires nothing more than a return of love on my part.  So much does God love me that even though I turn away and make little response, this Giver of all good gifts continues to be my Savior and Redeemer.”

I take a panoramic view here – a universal, cosmic view, looking at creation, redemption, all of the unique gifts that have been given to me.  I contemplate with great affection God’s gifts to me.

The second is God’s indwelling in all of creation.  God not only gives gifts to me, but literally gifts me with the fullness of divine life in Jesus.  God loves me so much I become a dwelling-place or temple of God.  And not only me, but God dwells in all creatures; Ignatius says: “in creatures, in the elements, iving them being, in the plants vegetating,” and so forth.

I ponder God’s gift of God’s very self to me and God’s gift of self to all of creation.  God in all creatures, in all of creation.  There is nothing in creation that is not permeated with God’s presence – every particle of everything is drenched in the resurrection.  I know here that the Trinity flows through all the world.

Third I ponder God’s labors for me.  I ponder that at this moment God is laboring so that I can take something from this and bring it to the world.  Here Ignatius uses both masculine and feminine images of God demonstrating how God is constantly working in the world to share life and love, how God is laboring always to bring forth life.

Finally I ponder God’s unceasing giving an gifting.  I ponder here God as both giver and gift.  God pours Godself into every gift he gives.  Here we seek to understand that all God-like qualities in us and in the world have their source in God.  All good, truth, beauty in me is God’s goodness, truth beauty.  Just as a ray of light is a part of the sun, so too is my love a share – an extension – of God’s love…my truth a share of God’s truth.

We contemplate these four points and our gratitude brings forth in us the response reflected in Ignatius’ Suscipe – Take Lord and Receive – our commitment to freely offer back for God’s disposition all that God has given me.  The Suscipe says all of me is yours.  I empower God to use me.  All is yours now.  You have given it to me and I return it to you for the life of the world. 

The Contemplatio is a great prayer exercise and I encourage you to try it if you have not prayed with it.

Note that this is a the twenty-fifth (and final) in a series of posts in celebration of the Ignatian Year, which began on May 20 of this year.