Entering Holy Week through Imaginative Prayer

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

Wayne Forte, Anointing His Feet #2 (acrylic on canvas, 2008)

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

I keep seeing his feet. The calloused edges of Jesus’ heels, the dark brown of his skin exposed through his sandals. I imagine the way the perfumed oil must soften the leathered texture of his soles, and my own heart cracks open in the process.  It is Mary, sister to Martha and the raised Lazarus, who provides me with this glimpse of Christ as a weary-walking human being in my imaginative prayer pouring over Chapter 12 of John’s gospel, versus 1-12. I begin my Holy Week entering scripture through this Ignatian-inspired prayer practice, and it ignites my imagination and fuels my passion for the upcoming days of our Triduum.

How many ways are there to enter into this most holy and sacred time of our liturgical year? What rituals and rites do we carry out annually that open our minds and hearts and align us with this soon-to-be crucified-and-risen Christ? How do we embrace the moments of Jesus among us – his disciples – as new, as emotion-filled, as invigorating and central to our own faith journeys on this earth? How do we experience these days and find ourselves renewed, rather than simply moving through rote ceremonies and rituals?

I ask all these questions of myself, my faith community, my family and friends — as I simultaneously tune into lamb and ham recipes, consider egg-dying alternatives, and what special bright-colored ensemble I might dawn for Easter Sunday. No lie. I am a woman who loves Jesus, and also deeply appreciates a good pedicure to show off on the day we celebrate that “HE IS RISEN!” (Note: my focus on toes shifts considerably during these contemplative days.)

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Each month, as part of our “Following the Spirit” discernment series, we spend time learning about a kind of prayer to inform or guide our discernment processes.  We have an experience in that prayer form then, with the goal of drawing us closer to God and knowing his will for our lives and abiding love for each of us. Lectio Divina, Centering Prayer, the Examen, Praying with Nature, and the Divine Office are all prayer forms about which we have provided instruction.  At this last Monday night’s discernment session, I had the opportunity to lead an experience of Ignatian Prayer and Imagination.

In an excerpt from “What is Ignatian Spirituality?” Fr. David L. Fleming, SJ writes: “Following Jesus is the business of our lives. To follow him we must know him, and we get to know him through our imagination. Imaginative Ignatian prayer teaches us things about Jesus that we would not learn through scripture study or theological reflection. It allows the person of Christ to penetrate into places that the intellect does not touch. It brings Jesus into our hearts. It engages our feelings. It enflames us with ideals of generous service.”

Following some basic steps for this prayer*, our room of 23 discerners imagined themselves inside the scriptural setting of John’s gospel. We were Mary, we were Lazurus, we were Martha, we were Judas. We watched, listened, engaged, felt — we tuned into Jesus as he entered the room, and we found ourselves interacting with him as our hearts and spirits would have it. We came to know him. We came to believe, not in a theologically sound and historically accurate way, but through our God-given imaginations.

It is this Ignatius Loyola-inspired prayer experience that takes me to Christ’s feet — that thrusts me smack dab into the center of the human drama and blessed journey that is this Holy Week, and provides me a more intimate glimpse of Christ’s suffering and resurrection. I want to be Mary and tend to his limbs, anointing his feet with sacred oil,  before he turns to wash his disciple’s soles. I want to walk alongside him and know first hand those moments in the garden, what it’s like to be on my knees. I want to slow down and hear his breathing as he labors and relinquishes his life in those last moments on the cross. And certainly, I want to be outside his tomb — there when he first appears beyond human form.

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What does your own imagination desire in prayer this Holy Week? Will you join me in this heart-and-spirit-led activity?

Triduum Blessings!
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*For more on Imaginative Prayer, see “Ignatian Prayer and the Imagination” from Ignatian Spirituality.com
And: “How do we Pray with our Imagination?” from Creighton Online Ministries

Readying our Hearts for Lent: Words from St. Francis de Sales

by Melissa Borgmann-Kiemde, Visitation Companion

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For [St. Jane de Chantal and St. Francis de Sales] the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart.” Introduction to the Letters of Spiritual Direction p. 54

On Wednesday, February 22, 2012, we begin our Lenten journey. As individuals, and as a large Catholic faith community, we lean into this season, embracing Christ’s journey to the desert as our own. We empty ourselves and tune into our poverty, our longing, our desire, our suffering, and become more vulnerable as we examine our very humanity and our need for God.

Well, in theory that’s what we all do, right?

In my own pre-Mardi-Gras preparation for this Lenten journey, I turned to our Visitation co-founders, St. Francis de Sales and St. Jane de Chantal, for a little inspiration and guidance. Opening their “Letters of Spiritual Direction”, (translated by Péronne Marie Thibert, VHM, with an introduction by Wendy Wright and Joseph S. Powers, OSFS; and preface by Fr. Henri Nouwen),  I landed upon some Salesian material in the Introduction to the book that really resonated with me and struck me as particularly “lenten.”   Theme V of Francis and Jane’s letters, as the authors point out,  focuses on the heart-centered nature of their spirituality. The chapter begins with these words by St. Francis:

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

St. Francis de Sales, Co-Founder of the Visitation Sisters

“Since the heart is the source of all of our actions, as the heart is, so are they.” (Francis de Sales, Introduction to the Devout Life III, 23)

The authors go on to define “classic desert spirituality” here and the “extent to which its focus is on the exterior dimensions of spirituality (as opposed to Francis’ attention to the interior).  As indicators of the transformation of the person,  one fleeing society has exterior markers; these include entering a monastery, donning the habit, taking a new name, and being celibate.  Salesian spirituality, on the other hand is first and foremost distinguished as rooted in the interior life, the heart.* (And, I might note, something the laity might aspire to as well as the religious.)

Authors Dr. Wendy Wright and Joseph Powers, OSFS, explain:

“The desert experience begins by calling one out of the world. Salesian experience does not. For Madame de Chantal and the Monseigneur of Geneva the location of that process is first and foremost interior. It is hidden in the heart. It is only after the slow and dramatic change of person has been engraved in the center of one’s being that the issue of that metamorphosis can be seen.  To impress this idea on his readers, Francis relied upon the metaphor of the almond tree (an image shaped by the particular botanic knowledge of his day.)”

To quote Francis de Sales then:

“Men engaged in horticulture tell us that if a word is written on a sound almond seed and it is placed again its shell, carefully wrapped up and planted, whatever fruit the tree bears will have that same writtten word stamped on it. For myself…I cannot approve the methods of those who try to reform a person by beginning with external things, such as bearings, dress or hair. On the contrary, it seems to me that we should begin inside. ‘Be converted to me with your whole heart,’ God said. ‘My child, give me your heart.’  Since the heart is the source of actions, as the heart is, so are they…

For this reason…..I have wished above all else to engrave and inscribe on your heart this holy, sacred maxim, LIVE JESUS! I am sure that your life, which comes from the heart just as the almond tree comes from its seed, will after that produce all its actions — which are its fruits — inscribed and engraved with this sacred word of salvation.”

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

May you travel to the desert of your own heart this Lent.

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It is my hope that this reflection inspires your journey into Lent, tending to your interiors, to your hearts; may a desert of contemplation and sincerity be cultivated in the midst of your present surroundings. May you know and trust the Divine source of Love that exists in your heart and guides you daily.

Happy Lenten Journey! LIVE JESUS!

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*I invite you all to turn to page 54 of this text and simply read the first page of this section of the book — as my attempts to summarize will undoubtedly do injustice to our authors’ work. (Amazon will let you read this online for free by clicking here.)