Ignatian Contemplation: Let the Children Come to Me
Gospel Contemplation is a way of praying that St. Ignatius proposes quite frequently in his Spiritual Exercises. You are invited to use your imagination to enter the scene, to take part, to let the scene unfold. As Ignatius suggests, notice the people, listen to them, watch what they do [SE, 106, 107, 108]. Perhaps you may sense an invitation to be one of the individuals in the scene and engage in a conversation with one of them. You can do this on your own, or use the text below as a guide.
If this way of praying is new – simply relax and try to become engaged in the scene. Try not to worry about what you are “supposed to” be doing. If you find yourself distracted during your prayer, very gently bring yourself back to the scripture text or your imaginative contemplation.
If at any point during the guided contemplation your imagination comes to life in such a way that God invites to you stay with a particular moment, follow the invitation that you sense, rather than move on to where the written contemplation is going. In that case you might want to stop reading and continue on your own.
Today’s prayer is based on an excerpt of this Sunday’s Gospel and takes place well into the time of Jesus’ ministry. He has traveled south from Capernaum to Judea and across the Jordan. He has just finished speaking about divorce, a passage that we won’t pray with today, but is part of Sunday’s reading. In the passage on divorce, he affirms that divorce is against God’s design for couples. In doing so, he takes the Mosaic practice -- that a man could divorce a woman (and not the other way around), leaving her without the protection of a household -- and instead says that what God has joined, no one must separate, and applies it equally to men and women. His teaching shows deep concern for women, who were even more vulnerable then than they are today. The passage we’ll pray with continues the theme of Jesus’ care for those who are vulnerable.
Quiet your body and mind
- Choose a position where you can be relaxed but alert.
- Breathe deeply several times and let your body relax
- Breathe out any worries or stressful thoughts and put them in God’s hands
- Become aware of God’s presence here with you now, looking at you with love.
Ask for a grace
- Ask God for whatever you desire most in this prayer time. If you are not sure what to ask for, you might ask for the grace to to know Jesus more intimately, to love him more intensely, and to follow him more closely.
Read the scripture passage
Read the passage slowly, savoring the words and beginning to imagine the scene. Read it twice if that helps you to visualize it.
People were bringing little children to him in order that he might touch them; and the disciples spoke sternly to them. But when Jesus saw this, he was indignant and said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me; do not stop them; for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs. Truly I tell you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.’ And he took them up in his arms, laid his hands on them, and blessed them.
Jesus is out in public somewhere teaching. Where do you picture him? In a town plaza? On a hillside? By a river? Choose a place in your imagination and imagine yourself there too.
Now notice all the details that help you really feel that you are there.
What can you see? Notice the people who are around, the landscape or buildings.
Pay attention to what kind of day it is -- can you feel a breeze on your skin or the warmth of the sun?
What do you hear? Birds in the air, the chatter of the crowd, running water? What else?
Are there any scents in the air -- cooking, or the smell of the river, or fresh grasses?
Just spend a moment really feeling the place and being there.
And now bring your focus to Jesus. What does he look like to you? You don’t have to see his facial features in detail if you can’t, but his clothes, his hair, the color of his skin. How does he seem to you?
You notice parents and guardians bringing children to Jesus for a blessing. Perhaps you are one of those children, perhaps you are a parent, one of the disciples, or one of the crowd. How does Jesus greet the children? Watch for a moment.
You see that some of the children are impeded by the disciples speaking sternly to them. Jesus notices and speaks, “Let the little children come to me… whoever does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will never enter it.”
What feelings come up in you as you hear these words?
Jesus leans toward the children and gathers them to himself in an embrace. He blesses each one, laying hands on them. Does he bless you too? Receive his blessing.
As the crowd disperses, take a moment to talk with Jesus one on one, as you would with a friend. Share with him what is in your heart from this prayer experience and listen to his response.
And when you are ready, close with a favorite prayer.
Review of Prayer
St. Ignatius recommends that we review our prayer. A written review has many advantages. It enables us to look back on our prayer experience, and to notice what happened. It allows us to be fully present to our experience of prayer. We do not write while we are praying. The review of prayer enables us not to judge ourselves or look for how well we are doing. It helps us to become more sensitive to how God is speaking to us in the here and now. It is also a precious record of our journey with God, which nourishes wholeness and integration.
Some questions to assist with your review:
What happened in your prayer?
What feelings did you experience?
During the prayer period, when did you feel encouraged?
When did you feel discouraged?
Did you receive the grace you asked for?
What did you receive?