In this method of prayer, we move from thinking about Jesus, to experiencing him. God gave us five different senses, yet when we pray we typically don’t use any of them. Imaginative prayer, developed by Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500s, is a method of prayer where we place ourselves in the midst of a scene from the Bible, and try to get as close as we can to actually being there.
Instead of reading about the woman at the well (John 4), we imagine that we are the woman at the well. It is hot outside, and we had to walk a long way to the well. It is very dusty, and we are pretty thirsty by the time we get there. As we get closer to the well, we see a figure standing near it, a man we haven’t seen before and know nothing about, but it seems like he is a Jewish man.
Try to involve as many senses as you can. What do you see? What background noises do you hear? Are there any smells (the sea, bread and wine, crowds of people, etc.)? What do you feel, is the ground rocky against your feet, are your legs tired from walking? Do you taste anything?
Jesus told many stories and parables, and He was also involved in many memorable scenes. These stories are perfect places to try out Imaginative Prayer. Many bible scenes have a lot of different characters, and you can get a different perspective by imagining yourself as each of the different people mentioned.
The goal is to experience Jesus, on a deeper level that just a rational understanding of what happened.
If we imagine we are the woman at the well, we not only read about the compassion of Jesus, we get to experience the wonder of the situation for ourselves. We ourselves are now the person telling everyone, “Come and see a man who told me everything I ever did!”
After really placing yourself into the story, thank God for what he has done for you. If you are the Prodigal Son, thank him for taking you back into his house and caring for you when you shunned him and deserved nothing. If you are the man laying in the ditch after being robbed, thank God for his mercy and protection in sending the Samaritan to tend your injuries and take care of you.
You're both on a rough low stone wall, on a hillside in the country surrounded by olive trees. The wind blows softly as Jesus turns and looks at you. What do you do? What do you say? Is just being next to him better than speaking?
Here are some excellent scenes and parables to get you started practicing Imaginative Prayer:
Over the next few weeks, pick some of your favorite bible stories and passages and try to place yourself in the using Imaginative Prayer. Note which stories you liked and which character you were in each. Make sure to try to imagine yourself in the same story but as different people, it can be a totally different experience.
Lectio Divina, Latin for Divine Reading, is a technique formalized in the 12th century that combines reading, prayer, and meditation into one simple process. All too often we separate these things; we read our bible some, then we pray some, but we don’t necessarily view them as a unified process. Lectio Divina is more about listening to the word of God rather than just reading it.