Do you use your imagination when you pray? For some, engaging the imagination in prayer is an especially good way to calm the spirit and remove distractions. When you really use your imagination, it takes a lot of brain power and focus, leaving less for those stray thoughts and distractions that pull some of us away from finding our center in prayer. It can also be remarkably restful and restorative.
Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, used spiritual exercises to deepen his his prayer. One such exercise involved using the imagination in prayer to “enter” more fully into scripture. The stories of Jesus life found in the gospels are best for trying out this exercise. Choose a story from the Gospels, like the story of Jesus healing the paralyzed man in Matthew 9:1-7.
Sit quietly and read the gospel story at least twice through, slowly. Close your eyes and open your imagination. What is the setting? Put yourself into the story. Who are you? Where are you standing? What do you see. What do you hear? What do you smell? What does the man look like? What does Jesus look like? Does anyone speak to you? What do they say? What do you say? How do you feel when you see the man rise up and walk? When he walks away, what do you do?
Does the story mean more to you now that you have experienced it through your imagination? You might want to write down your impressions while they are fresh in your mind. Do you have new insights into this story now that you have experienced it “first hand?”
Ignatius believed that all parts of life must be integrated with prayer, and that experiencing prayer through the imagination might help us to live the life of holiness God intended. I hope this exercise in the imagination brings you focus, reflection, and new insights into the life God wants you to lead.