Praying with the imagination

August 12th, 2014

Consider this: Everything that has ever been created was once imagined.

The imagination is a powerful, often overlooked, gift from God for creating loving relationships with God, our neighbors and ourselves. Whether we are listening to a sermon or preaching one, whether we are leading prayer or praying alone, too often we stop with words that only engage our rational mind and will. While words and will are important, it is the imagination that pulls the heart with its feelings and passion into the process of creation. When we allow God to bring together the heart and mind, we find a creative power much greater than will-power and much deeper than words.

In the 16th century, Saint Ignatius of Loyola, a knight turned priest and theologian, recognized in himself and others the imagination's power in having a transforming relationship with Jesus. In my ten years as a spiritual director, I, too, have seen how the imagination offers people the power to move from wanting a deeper relationship with God and wanting transformation, to actually having a deeper relationship with God and actually being transformed!

As we get to know Jesus through our imaginations, he becomes more than a historical figure or name we pray to or through. He who we believe to be real and alive, actually becomes so in our own lives and stories! People are often surprised by the Jesus they meet, for they discover him to be different (or something more) than they originally thought he would be!

Building on the work of St. Ignatius, here are two ways to meet with the living Jesus:

Imagine Yourself in Jesus' Story

  • Pick a story from one of the four Gospels. (ex. Jesus Calming the Storm in Mark 4:35-41 or Jesus in the house of Martha and Mary in Luke 10:38-42.) 
  • Before entering the story, ask God to let the Living Word “come alive” to you. As you read or listen to the passage, imagine yourself in the place where the passage is happening. What do you see, hear, smell, touch and taste? Let your imagination unfold. Who are you in the scene (are you one of the characters or do you remain yourself)? Allow the scene to go wherever it goes, even going beyond the Scripture passage itself. 
  • Respond prayerfully however you are moved. You might write down (or draw) any insights you have gained, any connections with your life, thanking God for whatever was received. 

Imagine Jesus in Your Story 

  • Imagine the place you would like to invite Jesus into. Picture yourself there or you might literally go there. Take in the surroundings with all of your senses. 
  • Now imagine inviting Jesus into this place. In your imagination, see him come in, greet him and allow him to greet you. You might notice what he looks like, where he chooses to sit, stand or kneel. Watch as he takes in the surroundings. What does he say or do? 
  • You might have a conversation with Jesus, he may have something to show you or he may simply want to be there with you. Allow the scene to unfold in your “mind's eye” for as long as needed. 

Says Richard Foster, author of "Celebration of Discipline"

“To believe that God can sanctify and utilize the imagination is simply to take seriously the Christian idea of incarnation.”

So go beyond belief and try it. Accept this free gift and allow your imagination to be part of your spiritual practice then watch as what appears in your inner world begins to change your outer world! 

Suggested resources:


comments powered by Disqus