Encounters in Imaginative Prayer

Annunciation paintingThis post is based on Week Four of An Ignatian Prayer Adventure.

When preparing to enter into imaginative prayer, I always pray that the Holy Spirit leads me and even surprises me. While I can think I know what the Gospel story is about, I pray that I may hand over my imagination so that I may experience myself in the scene, to be one of the people in Mary’s or Jesus’ presence. Allow me to share with you some of the encounters and feelings I experienced over this week.

With the Annunciation, I pictured Mary outside sweeping and getting through her morning chores. It was a hot, dry day. As she worked, it was just another ordinary day. However, when a stranger, an angel, appeared to her and shared the news of her impending pregnancy, it was Mary’s sudden movement of her hands on her hips, along with the words of disbelief that caught my attention: “But I’m a virgin!?” In this scene, I was Mary’s neighbor looking out from my second-story window, down to the yard where Mary had been working. Not only did I witness the exchange between Mary and the angel, but I ran down to be with her as we digested this news together. We looked at each other as I held her in front of me, my hands on her arms. “This is unbelievable. Incredible!” And yet, the peace in Mary’s voice and her manner of speaking and knowing within that this was what was happening to her, touched me, as did her courage. And then we were off, organizing all of the things that now needed to happen, including telling Joseph and her parents Anne and Joachim!

Another heart-warming encounter was the birth of Jesus. While imagining this scene in the barn, candlelight softly lighting the scene, the dank smell of moist hay and animals, I found my heart melding with Mary’s. Before anyone else entered, there was a beautiful, sacred moment of family. I imagined it was me holding baby Jesus in my arms and gazing with love at his little face, caressing his soft skin, and just allowing the love to pour out. Mind you, in the eight days that followed (while waiting to take Jesus to the Temple), my imagination went to all of the practical things, like needing to feed Jesus, getting ourselves cleaned up, and staying hydrated. Joseph did his best to help and to adjust to being a new dad, under circumstances that called him to a deep trust. And let’s face it, in my imagination, Jesus cried a lot at times, as babies do. And through it all was a deep outpouring of love for this baby, for Jesus.

In imagining the flight to Egypt, I felt the tug of fear and panic. I was a friend helping the Holy Family flee in the middle of the night, packing their donkey, ensuring they had supplies for the journey, hugging Mary and Joseph, and kissing Jesus farewell. “May God keep you safe,” I whispered as they headed off. And I watched until I saw them no longer.

For those delving into imaginative contemplation for the first time, it can seem a little daunting. (It did for me!) However, I found that when I relaxed into the story and invited the Holy Spirit in, I soon looked forward to seeing how the story would unfold and what role I’d play within it. Pray to be surprised! You just never know what will be revealed and how the Holy Spirit will speak to your heart.


  1. Beautiful story , i imagine myself helping, Joseph and Mary watching and taking care of Jesus. I felt the sadness when they departed to Egypt seeing them leaving is not easy. God bless!

  2. Having recently been on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, imagining the actual places where the scripture readings took place has made me feel so much closer to God. The scenes are much more intimate for me now.

    • Oh Karen, I would so love to visit the Holy Land! I think being in the places where Jesus walked, along with Mary and Joseph and the disciples, would definitely add a deeper level to the imaginings. Having said that, it’s also wonderful to see where your imagination, with the Holy Spirit, leads.

  3. What wonderful experiences we can have in our imagination. I also helped Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus and in my imagination, I was giving them an opportunity to get some well-deserved rest. Thanks for reminding me of this!

    • I first had contact with the spiritual exercises during a 30-day silent retreat (a few years ago now). I was SO AMAZED at what my imagination (with the Holy Spirit) revealed. It didn’t take long for me to really start looking forward to imaginative prayers.

  4. Great article and Denis Patrick Curran I like your post….where can I find Francis J Files work? I tried googling him but to no avail.

  5. Very well written and helpful guide to meditation. In the flight into Egypt I also think of Joseph’s manliness in protecting Mary and Jesus from the dangers possible along the route e.g. robbers etc. Francis J Files so wrote extensively about Joseph’s strong fatherly manner and many other qualities that we seldom hear about.

    • Thank you, Denis. I’m glad you enjoyed the reflection and found it helpful. Joseph is such a wonderful, strong role model, though often quite understated. We have much to learn from this holy man.


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