Ignatian imagination is an illuminative way of opening the scriptures so that Jesus enters our everyday lives in fresh and challenging ways. This rich approach calls the reader to place themself in a passage as one of the characters or an observer—imagining the smells, sights, sounds, moods, responses, and feelings of oneself and those around them.
I recently wondered of the applicability of such imagination to political realities and social contradictions. In particular, I pondered how Ignatian imagination could be utilized in understanding the war in Gaza.
Let’s imagine that it’s the year 3620, two thousand years after the arrival of the Mayflower at Plymouth Rock. We could, of course, count from 1619 and the arrival of the first 20 enslaved Africans in British America, but that would be a different image. It is 3620, two millennia after European colonists came to occupy a particular Western land that was not their own.
In such a year, imagine the most powerful nation on the planet—soon to be backed by a global body of nations—declaring, without your consent, that the land you occupy as the United States belongs to someone else. Thirty years later, after the most powerful nation forcibly represses your responding revolt, the others begin to arrive and settle on your land.
Over time, through violence, forcible removal, and attacks by militias (and later the military), most of your population, having lived for 2,000 years on that land, is forced into refugee camps and restricted areas, under siege or separated with fences and roadblocks.
What, then, would the response be? Given the current nationwide proliferation of guns, including semi-automatic weapons, and “Don’t Tread on Me” flags, I can only imagine.
This imagined future is the lived history of Palestine. In 1917, England—then the dominant power on earth—adopted the Balfour Declaration, establishing Palestine as the “national home for the Jewish people.” This was done without consideration or consultation of the Palestinians. When this declaration was approved, 94% of the residents of Palestine were Muslims, Arabs, and others who, through their ancestors, had lived on the land for 2,000 years.
Nevertheless, the declaration was repeated and expanded by the 1922 League of Nations Mandate for Palestine. Concurrently, the Zionist movement began gaining support, even as it essentially endorsed and demanded the forcible takeover of land that belonged to someone else. The events of 1948 and the creation of the State of Israel are called by Palestinians “the Nakba” (meaning “the Catastrophe”).
We live now with the consequences of illegal occupation, war, and settler colonialism. The October 7 Hamas attack on Israel, which killed some 1,200 people, and Israel’s response, which to date has killed over 10,000 Palestinians, comprise but the latest chapter in this saga.
I am most distressed at the reaction of Catholics, other Christian churches, and people of faith in America. There has been either silence or blind support for the U.S. to back the Israeli military machine and its incessant bombing and assaults in Gaza.
Why is there so little regard for the Palestinian people? Jesus was born in that land, a child under the shadow of the brutal Roman Empire. He called not for armed revolt but for love, forgiveness, mercy, and acts of justice. We his followers seem to have other gods; the gods of vengeance, U.S. military might, and disregard for the darker peoples of the world. There is a stark contrast between how we view victims in Ukraine and how we look at those from Iraq, Afghanistan, Haiti, Venezuela, or Palestine.
Pope Francis has called for a ceasefire in Gaza, the return of the hostages still held by Hamas, and the opening of humanitarian corridors. He pleaded, “Let the arms cease. Stop, brothers and sisters: war is always a defeat—always, always!”
Even more importantly, the pope has called for the recognition of the state of Palestine. Yet in our Masses, prayers of the faithful, and social commentaries, I hear virtual silence on this point. This “war” is ongoing retaliation for the October 7 attacks. A military might is dominating a besieged strip of land populated mostly by women and children. Tragically, Israel’s war-making capacity is buttressed by nearly $4 billion annually in U.S. military aid.
Indeed, our national political response is summed up in a recent congressional bill, H.R. 894, which baldly states that “anti-Zionism is antisemitism.” This passed 311-14 and is evidence of our hysteric capitulation to falsehood and White domination.
Incredibly, we assert that opposition to Zionism, an ideology that justifies the violent takeover of another’s ancient home, is tantamount to hate. We have disfigured history such that legitimate criticism of Israeli aggression means that you harbor animosity toward all Jewish people, wish for the extermination of Israel, and at worst, are indifferent to the horrors of the Holocaust. What a remarkable turn of events! In my mind, Zionism is no different than “America first,” which could be heard more accurately as “White America First.”
This year, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem, Rev. Munther Ishaq, has modified his church’s Nativity scene such that Jesus is born not in a manger but in a pile of rubble, calling to mind the current condition of much of Gaza. He urges that we not celebrate Christmas until there is peace and justice in Gaza. Ishaq reminds us that “Christmas is the solidarity of God with those who are oppressed.”
We in America often tout our material benefits, our “freedoms,” and our global strength as proof of God’s blessing. In some quarters, it is even seen as evidence that we are God’s chosen people. We often proclaim that we are favored by God, just as Israel is described in the Old Testament. Yet, any sound reading of the Hebrew Scriptures clearly asserts that the saga of God’s chosen is their continual waywardness from God’s path and God’s constant call to return, repentance, and renewal.
There is never a moment in the Hebrew scriptures when, as a nation, God’s chosen were altogether humble, obedient, and merciful. These sacred writings are brutally honest about the people’s failure to live as God desired. That is a message and lesson for us all. The shortcomings and stumbling of God’s people in the past are mirrors of our own in the present. We are the people of God only to the extent we live the difficult message of solidarity with the oppressed, justice for the excluded, and love for all humanity and all creation.
Utilizing the gift of Ignatian imagination, we can see ourselves as Palestinians, whose ancient homes have been torn away, who are victims of siege, harassment, and displacement. In that context, what would Jesus have us do? What does the child born under Roman occupation call us to do and say?
We should let our imagination take us places we may not want to go—but where God already is.
Daryl Grigsby is the author of “In Their Footsteps: Inspirational Reflections on Black History For Every Day of the Year.” He is on the board of directors for Color Me Human and has a Master’s in Pastoral Studies from Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry.