God created us with a sense of curiosity and creative imagination. In His word He had the writers capture stories about events in the lives of His people and in the life of Jesus. As in any written account, many of the details were left out when the stories were written down. Imaginative prayer (called by St. Ignatius Gospel Contemplation) is a form of quiet, scripture based prayer that allows God to use our imagination to fill in the details and also to speak to us in a creative way.
This form of prayer calls us to enter the story, to look around, to experience the event with all of our senses, and to see how the story might have meaning for us today.
- Start by selecting a story from scripture. This could be one of the stories of Jesus’ life, a story from the Old Testament, or a story told by one of the Apostles. Parables – stories told by Jesus as part of his teachings – are not necessarily the best choice for this type of prayer – they have the purpose of conveying wisdom directly. Good examples include the story of Blind Bartimaeus, the disciples on the road to Emmaus, Paul’s conversion story or any of the stories of Jesus life including the crucifixion.
- Take some time to settle in with God. Maybe listen to some meditative music, listen to the sound of nature around you, or just sit in holy silence.
- Pray, asking God for the grace to fully enter this time of imaginary prayer. Pray for protection from anything the evil one might one to interject. Pray for the courage to hear God’s message to you.
- When you are ready, read the story slowly from the Bible – you might want to read it outloud or even listen to it from an audio Bible app. Read the words or listen to the story a couple of times.
- Sit quiet in God’s presence for a while without thinking and allow the scene of the story to materialize in your mind.
- Watch as God allows the story to play out in front of you as if you were there.
- What do you see?
- What do you hear?
- What do you smell?
- What emotions are you experiencing?
- Allow God to involve you in the scene if he chooses to do so. You might just be an observer, but don’t be surprised if God has you assume the role of one of the characters or places you in the scene as yourself – challenging you with how you might react in the situation.
- Sit and experience the story as long as God desires. The scene may continue to play out beyond what is captured in Scripture. Keep attending to what you are seeing, hearing, and experiencing. Don’t be surprised if someone in the scene speaks to you directly. Notice your response. You may even find yourself in a conversation.
- As the scene concludes, spend some additional time with God in silence allowing yourself to experience the moment.
- Before moving from this setting consider these questions, perhaps making some notes in your journal:
- What happened to you during this experience?
- What, if anything, did God reveal to you?
- When were you comfortable? What made you uncomfortable? What might God be saying to you through these moments?
- End by thanking God for everything that happened during this time. Even if you feel nothing happened except that you read Scripture, praise God that He is working in your through this experience.