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Meditation and Contemplation

Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying With Scripture
by Timothy Gallagher, OMV
New York, NY: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2008
107 pages
Reviewed by Kathryn Madden, CND

St. Ignatius was a star gazer. So, as Father Timothy Gallagher points out, Ignatius would always have us stand momentarily before the place where we are to meditate or contemplate, with our understanding raised on high, and consider how God our Lord looks upon us. Meditation and Contemplation: An Ignatian Guide to Praying With Scripture is as simple, invigorating, and opens up a clear vista of two Ignatian methods for prayer with scripture: meditation—the reflective approach, and contemplation—the imaginative approach.

Gallagher tells us that by deeply exploring both of these foundational methods in a limited number of pages, “the clarity that emerges is invaluable” (10). The author deliberately draws upon Ignatius’s own words to present the richness of Ignatius’s teachings on meditation and contemplation. With much appeal, he artfully enhances them with experiential narratives obtained from a variety of people, all who have come to love prayer with scripture. In doing so, he accomplishes what he sets out to do—that through the spiritual energy of Ignatius’s teachings on prayer, “desire for prayer, inhibited by uncertainty, is set free, and a clear path opens for prayer” (10).

Outlines at the beginning of the book provide an overview of the elements of Ignatian meditation and contemplation, helping the reader differentiate between being drawn at times to reflective meditation in which the words of a scriptural truth are allowed to “swim in my heart” (22), and at other times to imaginative contemplation in which we step into the scene of a Gospel story and “live it from within” (22). We are shown how there is a fluid, back and forth movement between the two approaches.

Gallagher goes on to provide an array of practical suggestions around beginning, ending, and structuring prayer with scripture according to personal preferences and the realities of work and family schedules. His engaging way of staying at the heart level explains the colloquy as simply speaking to God when our hearts are moved, and the reviewbeing a brief but profound means to deepen one’s awareness of the gift of prayer. He offers further counsel about body posture, pace, struggles and growth in prayer, and the benefits of spiritual direction. The concluding chapter illustrates how elements of meditation and contemplation become a flexible whole through the evidence shown by the log of one woman’s prayer with scripture over several days.

Meditation and Contemplation is a simple and deep guide for anyone desiring to pray with scripture according to the methods of St. Ignatius. Spiritual directors, retreat leaders, and teachers of prayer may well discover, as I did, that the text primes the pump of their own prayer more consciously. I highly recommend it as a clear, concise resource for presenting the freedom inherent in the structure of Ignatian prayer.

Kathryn Madden, CND, completed spiritual direction training at Creighton University in Omaha, Nebraska, USA, and at the Center for Religious Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA. She is currently on the team of the Cenacle Retreat Center in Ronkonkoma, New York, USA.

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