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Seven Ways to Use the Imagination in Prayer

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Editor’s note: We’ve been having fun celebrating the 10th anniversary of IgnatianSpirituality.com. The fun continues throughout July with our 10th-annual 31 Days with St. Ignatius celebration. Bookmark the calendar here. And we’re still “Counting the Gifts of Ignatian Spirituality” by bringing you special content on our website and special offers from our sponsor, Loyola Press. Learn more here.

We are imaginative creatures, and St. Ignatius Loyola recognized that God communicates God’s self to us through our imaginations. Our imaginations join together our reasoning and our feelings. They also allow us to create new possibilities, with God’s guidance. Using our imagination in prayer can help us to grow in relationship with God, self, and others.

    1. Pray with Scripture imaginatively. Imagine the sights and sounds of a biblical story, either as an observer or as a participant in the scene. Begin with imagining a particular sound or sight, or how something in the environment might feel to the touch, and then let the scene unfold. Let God speak to you through the unique way that you experience this scene. Pay special attention to moments of consolation.
    2. Take inspiration from an object that sparks your imagination. Last Lent, my parish had a few carefully chosen items placed in front of the altar that were Lenten in character: cacti to represent the desert and a beautiful but broken pot. At Easter, there were blossoming flowers and a small fountain with flowing water. Allow thoughts and feelings connected to such objects to spark God’s spirit moving in you.
    3. Have a conversation with Jesus or Mary (as in a colloquy). We not only speak but also listen for replies. I like to imagine Jesus sitting or walking on the beach with me, or in a boat as we row across a lake. Does the conversation lead to any insights or help me to arrive at greater peace, love, or forgiveness? If so, then I know that God is speaking through this kind of prayer.
    4. Imagine another person’s point of view. Ignatius suggested that we always try to put a good interpretation onto another’s actions and assume that person’s best intentions. My own view is not the only one; another person may be experiencing the situation differently than the way that I assume.
    5. Give thanks. Bring to mind a series of pictures of people, relationships, communities, pets, or others for whom you are grateful. Give thanks as you imagine each person, place, or thing. Savor the gifts as you imagine each one.
    6. Remember the saints in heaven. Both formally recognized saints and loved ones who have passed before us are supporting us and still in relation to us, whether we feel it or not. We can remember their love for us by imagining moments of past love, as shown through deeds, and so retaining their presence in our hearts.
    7. Let go of old images of God and allow new ones to emerge. Scripture contains many images of God: God as a loving father (Psalm 68:5), friend (John 15:14–15), spouse (Song of Songs), a mother eagle protecting her young (Deuteronomy 32:11–12), a rock or fortress (Psalm 62:6), and so many more. Throughout our lives, old images of God may fade or break, but new ones are there too. God is beyond any single image. When we allow a new side of God to emerge in new images, we expand our understanding of this great Mystery.

    Today in 31 Days with St. Ignatius, learn about The Prayer of Consideration with an article by Becky Eldredge.

    Counting the Gifts of Ignatian Spirituality: 10th Anniversary of IgnatianSpirituality.com

Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy
Marina Berzins McCoy is a professor at Boston College, where she teaches philosophy and in the BC PULSE service-learning program. She is the author of The Ignatian Guide to Forgiveness and Wounded Heroes: Vulnerability as a Virtue in Ancient Greek Philosophy. She and her husband are the parents to two young adults and live in the Boston area.


  1. Marina McCoy’s Seven Ways to use the imagination in prayer, Expanded my thoughts about imagining and awakened the desire to continue this very fruitful way of praying that I first learned from Anthony deMello at St. Louis University over 40 years ago. What I realized as I read through the seven suggestions, was that I have confined my prayerful imagining to scripture and though good and fruitful, it also is limiting. Sometimes, years ago, in our small faith- sharing group we would pray this way using one of deMello’s exercises from Sadhana which were not always scripture passages, and yet profoundly fruitful for us. So I thank you Marina for your stimulus to spread my wings at 80 years and soar into new adventures with God. It is just what I was searching for to renew my spirit during the confines of this Pandemic.

  2. TY for sharing the 7 ways. Now I can help a friend and others who have difficulty in using imagination in prayer.


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Loretta Pehanich
Marina Berzins McCoy
Tim Muldoon