It never ceases to amaze me the abundant number of ways God speaks to us. I still remember the surprise of learning that not only can we listen for God through our imaginations, but that this prayer had a name: Ignatian contemplation or imaginative prayer.
My first exposure to imaginative prayer came during high school religion classes. Several times a year, one of my religion teachers would guide us through an imaginative prayer experience. She’d invite us to imagine meeting Jesus on the beach or at the dinner table. The prayer experience I remember most was the time she invited us to close our eyes and imagine following a ball of red string as it unwound. The teacher guided us on a journey following the string up and down stairs, through forests, houses, and meadows, until we were ultimately led to an intimate encounter with Jesus.
It was in my early 20s, though, when a spiritual director put a name to this prayer method and taught me how to use imaginative prayer with Scripture. This prayer tool today continues to support and deepen my relationship with Jesus through contemplating the Gospels and other narratives of Scripture, using my imagination.
What Is Imaginative Prayer?
I often describe this type of prayer as a movie reel running through our minds. The script and the scene come from the words of Scripture. After reading the passage a few times so that we know the gist of the story, we close our eyes and let the scene of Scripture play out in our imaginations. As the scene unfolds in our minds, we notice what is happening.
- Who are the characters?
- What are they doing? Saying?
- What does the scenery look like? Sound like? Smell like?
We then place ourselves in the scene in our imaginations, and we contemplate the scene’s unfolding. We notice not only what is happening, but how we are feeling as we experience the story and encounters. God speaks to us not only through what we see in our imaginative prayer, but also through what we hear and feel.
It took me several tries with imaginative prayer before it felt comfortable to me. Thankfully, I had wise guides, who not only taught me the technique, but modeled it and guided me through the experience. I invite you to give this type of prayer a try and listen for how God surprises you by speaking to you through your imagination.
Steps of Imaginative Prayer
(Adapted from Busy Lives & Restless Souls)
- Select a Scripture. Pick a passage from one of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
- Read. Read the passage several times slowly, so that you almost know the story well enough to share with another person.
- Imagine the scene. Close your eyes, and imagine the scene. Who is there? What are they doing? Where are they? What do you notice about the environment? What smells are there? What sounds? Let the Holy Spirit guide this unfolding in your mind.
- Put yourself in the scene. As the scene begins to take shape in your mind, put yourself in the scene. Notice where you are.
- Notice what happens. Let the story unfold in your mind. Stay with it until you feel nudged to move to reflection.
- Respond and rest. Share with God what you noticed and experienced. Then rest in God, and let God speak to you.
- Reflect. Reflect on what you experienced in prayer. What did you learn about Jesus? About another character in the Scripture? About yourself?