Imaginative prayer

Through imaginative prayer we step into a gospel story and imagine ourselves to be there in that scene. Rather than reading the Bible abstractly, we enter the story to more deeply experience and encounter Jesus in the scene. We might be a disciple in the boat with Jesus, one of the crowd at the feeding of the five thousand, or the woman at the well asked by Jesus to draw up water for him. In these and many other gospel stories, we use our God-given imagination to listen to see, hear, taste and smell the scene around us. As we do we observe what we are thinking and feeling as the events unfold around us, inviting God to speak to us through that.

Jesus constantly used the imagination of his listeners to teach and transform them. He invited his listeners to be a widow searching for her lost coin, to be the son returning home to beg for a job as a servant, or to be someone passing by an injured stranger on the road. He helped his listeners become involved in the story, and an imaginative prayer invites us to become a part of the gospel story being played out in our own lives and neighbourhoods. In doing so we remain true to the Biblical reading, but more actively experience it.

Imaginative prayer is not complicated, and the few simple steps involved are outlined below:
  • Begin prayerfully, asking God to sanctify your imagination and the Holy Spirit to guide and protect you. You might like to prepare yourself with a couple of minutes quiet before starting.
  • Choose a gospel passage in which Jesus is active and present.
  • Read through the passage several times until it becomes familiar. It may help to read it aloud. Pause for 30 seconds or so between each reading to let the story soak in and begin to imagine the scene.
  • Use all your senses to let the gospel passage unfold in your imagination…
  • What is the location like? / What time of day is it? / Who are the people there? / What can you hear… smell… touch… taste… / What emotions are evoked throughout?
  • Try to let the story unfold naturally. You may be an observer or one of the main characters talking with Jesus. That’s ok. Let the Holy Spirit guide you through without striving to make anything happen.
  • Try to avoid analysing actions or finding applications (e.g. “I should be more like Peter when he…”). The blessing comes through experiencing the story with our whole being, not just our mind.
  • Stay in the story as long as feels natural, and then end with a period of silence in Jesus’ presence.
  • End by spending a few minutes reflecting on what took place, perhaps by journaling. Give thanks to God for being with you during this time.
An alternative way of praying with our imagination is to use prayers that others have written, and a list of resources is included at the bottom of this page.
Not everyone finds this easy or natural. And some prayer times we will feel more than others. But God is at work no matter whether we feel or experience anything. In fact, perhaps the most important thing is our desire to know God more deeply, something which will always be treasured by God. (Note that imaginative prayer is also known as Ignatian prayer and praying with your imagination.)
Instructions for how to read an imaginative prayer to a group are found in this post.

Download imaginative prayers:

From Peter Christensen

Jesus and the Samaritan Woman (John 4:3-15)
Jesus invites Peter to come out on the water (Matthew 14:26-29)
The calling of Levi (Mark 2:13-15)
The potter’s house (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

These are from a Jesuit university in the USA. 

Catherine Cavanagh, WeavingsElizabeth’s Hope: A Meditation (Luke 1:80)

For more information and imaginative prayer examples see:
  • Sheila Pritchard, The Lost Art of Meditation: Deepening Your Prayer Life. Scripture Union (2003) p47-51
  • Carolyn Bohler, Opening to God: Guided Imagery Meditation on Scripture. Upper Room Books (1996)
  • Joyce Huggett, Open to God: Meditating on God’s Word. Hodder & Stoughton (1989)

One response to “Imaginative prayer

  1. Pingback: How to read an imaginative prayer to a group | Christian Retreat & Spirituality Resources·

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