Composition of Place is a contemplative prayer practice born from the Jesuit tradition. Described by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century, the method is surprisingly simple. We take a passage of Scripture and, inviting the Holy Spirit to lead us, we read it two or three times slowly and place ourselves in the biblical scene. Surrendering your imagination to the Spirit, what do you see? Hear? Smell? Touch? Taste?
What do the people around you look like? What are they wearing?
If you are outside—maybe in the winding streets of Jerusalem or in the cleft of the rock or in the valley of the dry bones—is it hot? Do you feel the grit on your teeth from blowing dust or sand? Is the sunlight bright, or is it so dark you can hardly see?
If you are inside a home, is there fragrant bread baking over a crackling fire? Is your stomach growling? Are you swirling sweet wine in your mouth? Are your companions many or few? Are you lounging on mats, chatting and laughing with ease, or are you huddled tensely together?
How are you reacting to the people in the scene? How does it feel to be there? Are you anxious? Overwhelmed? Relaxed? Tired? Excited?
Yesterday, we entered this most mysterious season of Advent—a season of darkness, of longing, of waiting, of silence, of anticipation. Oh, how we might want to fall into and be carried along by the merry tide of Christmas cheer, skipping the darkness and dashing forward into the light. But, as faithful people, as pilgrims in this holy space of liturgically-mentored time, we can’t do that.
Don’t turn away just yet.
Much like Lent, the dawning of the new liturgical year is ripe for exploring a new spiritual practice. Perhaps you can take a few minutes in the morning to light a candle, savoring the dark stillness of a home and a world not yet stirring. Choose a passage of Scripture rich in scenic detail and ask the Holy Spirit to guide you as you compose the place. *
Come Holy Spirit. Fill the hearts of the faithful and kindle in us the fire of your love. Pour forth your Spirit, and we shall be created, and you will renew the face of the earth. O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit, did instruct the hearts of the faithful, grant that by the same Holy Spirit, we may be truly wise and ever enjoy those consolations, through Jesus Christ Our Lord, Amen.
*Passages of Scripture you might try: The Birth of Jesus (Luke 2:1-21), The Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-8), Jesus Feeds 5000 (Matthew 14:13-21), The Woman Caught in Adultery (John 8:1-11), The Valley of Dry Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14), Isaiah’s Commissioning (Isaiah 6: 1-13), Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-10), Elijah’s Vision (1 Kings 19:1-18)