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A friend and I recently volunteered to be part of a research project at UKZN studying the psychological effects of prayer and meditation. The specific focus for this study was the Ignatian meditation method and we were all given Ruth chapter two on which to mediate. We were then invited back to share our experiences and say how, if at all, the scripture had changed us or our perceptions of a specific issue, in this instance gender (you just need to read Ruth to see why that would be appropriate).

I have long been a fan of contemplative prayer and silence, taking the time to retreat and reflect, but this is the first time I have ‘contemplated’ a piece of scripture in this way …  I loved it!

The idea behind Ignatian prayer is to become a part of the story, to imagine yourself in the scene, listening, feeling, smelling all the sights and sounds and colours. As you read and reflect you allow the story to unfold as if you were a character or a part of the story.

There were four women in my group (the men were interviewed separately) and it was interesting to see how uniquely we approached the task, one was a ‘director’ of the story, one felt herself to be a part of the group of women watching and speaking about Ruth, one was Ruth, one was Naomi. We all had different experiences, but the one common experience was the way in which the scripture ‘spoke to us’.

I was reminded yet again that scripture, if read with an open mind and heart, can change us, it can reveal things about our lives, our specific situations. My initial reading of Ruth 2 elicited feelings of irritation, resistance to the ‘fairy tale’ idea of a man on a white horse rescuing the damsel in distress, but as I surrendered my preconceived ideas, as I allowed the Spirit to show me a different understanding I was released, I was ‘untangled’ and I was given a completely different interpretation of an age old story.

The exercise was so beneficial, that the 5 of us (the 4 volunteers and the facilitator) have decided to continue meeting and to complete the rest of the book, no longer as a study, but for personal growth.

If you want to try it out, here are the steps …

  • Find a quiet place to be on your own
  • Quieten your mind with either a centering prayer or mediation, listen to music if you prefer
  • Invite the Spirit to guide you, give yourself permission to enter Gods presence
  • Read the passage of scripture (we are continuing with Ruth, but you can choose any piece of scripture or writing)
  • Let the rhythm of the story reveal itself, what’s happening?
  • Read it again – does something stand out? Does something move you, frighten you, excite you?
  • Use your imagination, enter the story, where are you?
    • What do you see?
    • What do you smell?
    • Who are the characters with you?
    • Surrender, allow yourself to be guided by the Spirit as you interact with the characters and your surroundings
    • How do you feel?
    • Trust. Trust the Spirit and God to guide your thoughts and feelings – take as long as you need
    • As you close, take some time to connect with God again and speak about your experience.
    • Remember there is no one who can hear you or judge you, this is just between you and God, so be honest. Be you. Be vulnerable. Its ok, you’re safe.

This was not easy for me to engage in straight away, I am analytical, I am a ‘head person’ and this is about being childlike and imaginative, but it was such a powerful experience. It was gentle and loving … If you are dealing with some deep, emotional issues it may take some time for you to feel safe and to surrender – we are all on different paths and at different stages of the journey. The Spirit may want to reveal some things which are hurtful, difficult to face. That’s ok. Being honest with ourselves can be hard. A little embarrassing (I know!) But, trust the process, trust God and be open to the revealing, healing and unifying power of the Spirit.

Be well and enjoy the ride…

Phil xxx

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