Christian Platonism

Rediscovering Ancient Wisdom

Active Imagination and the Mysteries of the Rosary

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Artist unkown: The Annunciation

LET’S continue the topic of experimenting with meditation on the Rosary Mysteries as tools for personal growth — spiritual, psychological and philosophical. To repeat in brief what I’ve said before, the guiding premise is that the ‘author’ of the Rosary Mysteries is the collective unconscious. They represent a cumulative attempt, crafted and refined by countless inspired individuals, to express in symbolic form stages or components of ones spiritual self-realization.  They are therefore of universal value.  One need not be a practicing Roman Catholic to benefit from them.  They concern universal and (what a follower of Jungian psychology would call) archetypal principles of the human psyche.

There is a standard formula by which Roman Catholics consider these mysteries while praying the Rosary.  However one is entirely free to experiment and improvise, and there are advantages with this. In particular, one might apply the Jungian technique of active imagination to this task — for example, by looking at artistic portrayals of these Gospel events — and creatively ‘engaging’ with them.  Almost the whole point of active imagination is spontaneity.  Nevertheless, another element of Jungian psychology can be used profitably here, namely his well-known distinction between four kinds of cognitive activity: sensing, thinking, feeling and intuiting.  (These of course are the four personality dimension of the Meyers-Briggs inventory).

Elsewhere I’ve related what was explained to me by a retreat director years ago — how these four cognitive activities can be used in connection with the traditional practice of lectio divina (holy reading) for interpreting Scripture. As understanding the complex messages of art is much like interpreting Scripture, it’s plausible to apply this approach to the former.

Accordingly, this works as follows.  Quiet your mind, and arrange time to devote to studying some work of art that portrays one of the Sorrowful, Joyful, Glorious or Luminous Rosary Mysteries.  In succession, spend some amount of time considering it exclusively by each cognitive function:

Sensing.  Examine the literal details without analyzing them.  Notice every important object and detail.  Scan the entire image so nothing is missed.  Notice shapes, colors, shadings, arrangement of figures, foreground and background, etc.

Thinking.  Now think about the objects in the painting.  Don’t force things or be overly analytical; in fact, more of a playful approach might be most appropriate.  For example, applying this process to interpret Scripture, one technique is to make puns or find alternative, varied meanings — however implausible — in the actual words.  Something similar might be done here.  The idea is not to form any definite conclusions, but rather to activate and exercise the rational faculty.

Feeling.  Here again, one should feel free to experiment. How does the art make you feel? One possibility is to cycle through the characters portrayed, and to imagine what that figure is feeling towards each of the others — or try to have the same feeling yourself.

Intuiting. Pause, take a breath, close your eyes.  Put yourself in the loving ‘shalom’ of God’s presence.  Now open your eyes and let the picture speak to you.  Imagine, if you like, it speaking directly to your heart, without specific words, giving intuitions and insights.

This is enough to say.  Of necessity this should be a completely personal method, and each person will need to discover what works best for them.  I would just encourage you to make the experiment.  Regardless of ones religious affiliation, these Mysteries and their associated art are a great cultural resource available to help your process of self-realization.

As for the picture above, I don’t know it’s source, but it is a rather unusual representation of the Annunciation.  What I like about it is that it –somewhat uniquely — focuses on Mary experiencing an ecstasy.  As such, it can be interpreted as an allegory for deep religious contemplation — as, perhaps, do the other Joyful Mysteries (and Sorrowful, Glorious and Luminous Mysteries).



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