Using Imagination in Prayer

In his book The Universal Christ, Richard Rohr recalls the wisdom of Elizabeth Barrett Browning: “Earth’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God; but only he who sees takes off his shoes…”

A life of contemplation opens us to the possibility to be among those who see and instinctively take off their shoes standing in awe of the majesty of our Creator that springs forth through the wonders of nature and in the eyes of those who grace us with their presence.

A life of contemplation opens us to the possibility to be among those who see and instinctively take off their shoes standing in awe of the majesty of our Creator …

In our series, An Invitation to Something New, we are exploring contemplative practices that encourage our hearts to open allowing us to experience the divine in our everyday life. Writing in The Contemplative Heart, James Finely describes a contemplative practice as “any act, habitually entered into with our whole heart, as a way of awakening, deepening, and sustaining a contemplative experience of the inherent holiness of the present moment.” He goes on to say that fidelity to such practices leads us “in the direction of a more daily, abiding awareness of the divinity of the life we are living.”

In this reflection, we will explore the contemplative practice of using our imagination in prayer.

Several years ago, I was blessed with the opportunity to pray the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises, a fulfilling journey spanning several months. By using my imagination, I entered into the scenes of the life of Jesus sparking deep emotion. I moved beyond the mere facts of Scripture. The Sacred Word descended into my soul opening the doorway for an encounter with the Holy One.

I invite you to engage in imaginative prayer as you meditate on the Gospel that will be proclaimed Holy Thursday, John 13:1-15, known as “The Washing of the Disciples’ Feet.”

Step 1

After you have identified the Scripture passage that will be the focus of your prayer, find a comfortable position. Enjoy a moment of silence as you center yourself.  Invite the Holy Spirit to guide your prayer experience.

Step 2

Slowly read the Scripture passage to become familiar with it. You may find it helpful to read it more than once.

Step 3

Set your Bible aside and begin to imagine the story in detail. You may be drawn to experience the passage as a participant in the story or as an observer. As a participant, you can assume the role of a character in the passage or as an additional character. Picture the setting in detail to include the landscape, the weather, the time of day, the other characters, the conversation, the activity, the body language, the gestures.

Step 4

Allow the Spirit to guide you as you interact in the scene. Perhaps you will be moved to engage in conversation with another character or with Jesus. What words are spoken? What emotions are evoked by these words? How have you been touched by this encounter?

Step 5

Conclude your prayer time resting in the divine embrace. Enjoy a moment of stillness savoring the silence deep within.

Holy Week is filled with stories that beg us to enter into them through our imagination: the Last Supper, the Garden of Gethsemane, the arrest of Jesus, Peter’s denial of Jesus, the sentencing of Jesus to death, the Way of the Cross, the Crucifixion.

The beautiful Easter stories also invite us into the scene: discovering the empty tomb, the Emmaus story, Jesus cooking fish on the beach, doubting Thomas.

Throughout the liturgical year, the Word is filled with stories that summon us to deeper exploration: the Annunciation, the Nativity, healing miracles, the Sermon on the Mount, the Ascension, Pentecost.

The Bible is definitely not lacking in material to engage our imaginations bringing us to deep prayer and a memorable encounter with our Bread of Life.

The practice of engaging with Scripture through the imagination enriches the experience of listening to the Word at Mass or in any setting. I often hear a passage and reflect on my previous experience of entering into that scene. Words that Jesus spoke to me resurface and warm my heart once again.

Journaling the experience may add depth for you. I know it does for me. When I open my journal and travel back in time, awe once again fills my soul as I relive a previous encounter with my Maker.

Note: New articles in this series will be posted to the website every Monday and Wednesday. Full series can be found here: An Invitation to Something New: The Contemplative Life. On Thursday’s we’ll send an email to remind you of the articles.

[Kathy Keary, a Precious Blood Companion and spiritual director, holds a master’s degree in theological studies and is a graduate of the Atchison Benedictine’s Sophia Center’s Souljourners Program, an intense study of spirituality and spiritual direction. Kathy believes that the divine is present and active in all of life and encourages others to be awakened to the God in all including the divine within. She enjoys accompanying others on their journey to wholeness discovering the person they were created to be.]

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