‘It was just like I was there’: Exploring Ignatian spirituality in prison ministry

Emma Nolan reflects on how Ignatian spirituality can support prisoners in recognising God’s movement in their lives.

We had just finished a guided meditation using the Gospel story of Bartimaeus. The group were sharing their experiences of the meditation – what could I hear, see…? Did I hear, see Jesus…? One of the men, whom I will call Jerry, said, ‘It was really vivid. I could see Jesus talking to Bartimaeus. I was in the crowd. I was standing outside my hometown. It was just like I was there.’

I am a Roman Catholic Chaplain in a men’s prison in the north of England. Not long after I started this role, I began to use Ignatian spirituality as a means of supporting the men in their prayer life and developing their spirituality. I hoped that by using some of the tools – guided meditation, the Examen – it might be possible to achieve a number of outcomes with the men I was serving. For some of them, their understanding of God and their faith was stalled at childhood. I hoped to enable them to move to a more mature understanding. For many of them, their lives and backgrounds, were chaotic. I hoped that using techniques such as breathing and stilling exercises, used to enter into meditation, might support them to think before acting – a common problem for those where violence played a part in their crime. I hoped that the movement of the Spirit through the prayer we were doing might bring some of them consolation in their current circumstances and that they may find ways of recognising God’s movement in their lives. What follows is a reflection of that work.

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