One Way to Bring Imaginative Prayer to Life
You want to pray and you do, but maybe you find that your prayer life is a little haphazard. Or, maybe you’re good about praying in the morning or evening but find that the substance of your prayer is a little all over the place. Mixing it up a little and using some different approaches to prayer might help give your spiritual life the boost you’re looking for.
Here’s a method for using images in a new way to connect with God in prayer.
Pick an image and imagine yourself in that place — make it come to life in your mind. Then invite God to join you. Spend some time with God, maybe sharing your day or whatever is most pressing on your mind, and then, just enjoy being in God’s presence (this is contemplation! At least, that’s the hope!).
To prepare, do an image browser search. Words I’ve used for these searches include: beach, desert, barren area, mountains, winter, dawn, lighthouse — you get the picture. Consulting your favorite travel blog or Instagram account would work, too. Select pictures that jump out at you — don’t ask yourself why they do, just go with those. Pick a variety of scenes. I avoid pictures with people or animals because I’m afraid they’ll end up distracting rather than helping me enter into prayer.
Once you’ve identified maybe seven to 10 pictures (or more), print these in color and in a decent size. Cut them individually and keep them in a place where you are likely to pray with them. I have a file in my desk with pictures and pull out the file when I want to pray. You could keep a few in your bag or put them in an envelope and stick that to the cover of your laptop.
What to do to pray
When you want to pray, pull out your pictures. Yes, it helps to find a quiet place to pray, away from interruptions, especially the first few times. It also helps to sit comfortably, but not so comfortably that you’ll fall asleep.
Next, ask the Holy Spirit to guide you and be with you in this time of prayer. It doesn’t have to be complicated — you can just say, “O Holy Spirit, be with me during this prayer, open my mind and my heart to your Presence. Amen.”
Next, look through your set of pictures. As you look through them, pay attention to your feelings. When you come to one that speaks to you — when you look at it, something within you echoes in some way — stop and use that one for your prayer. Don’t second guess your choice or start wondering what it might say about you that you’re reaching for a picture of a barren desert. If you want to ponder such questions, do so later. For now, just go with that gut first choice.
Next, focus on the picture and imagine yourself there and bring it to life with your imagination. Picture finding a place to sit and imagine the sounds you would hear, the feel of the sun or the rain, the grass, how you imagine the air feels — cold, humid, dry. And sit there for a few moments, allowing yourself to become fully present in that place.
Soon, there will be thoughts and feeling rushing to claim your attention. Don’t work at stopping them, let them come. But instead of focusing on those thoughts that come, focus your attention on your breathing, focus on its rhythm, and return to what you’re seeing. Allow all these things to help you let your thoughts pass through but not stay. Stay with that for a moment.
Finally, imagine that God comes to join you — in whatever shape that flows for you. Imagine God quietly sits next to you and then just allow your prayer to unfold. Whatever happens next is up to you and God. From your end, it will be shaped by who you are — your personality and your current relationship with God. Maybe you’ll sit in awkward silence for a few minutes before going your separate ways, no words exchanged. Maybe as soon as God sits, you start talking about what’s uppermost in your mind. Maybe God speaks to you or asks you questions.
After you’ve spent some time with God, turn to say goodbye. How do you say goodbye? Do you wave? Do you step closer for a hug? And what does God do? Maybe God puts an arm around you, maybe God pulls you into an embrace. If you have an experience of contemplation, this is when it would happen. If it does, you’ll know, and the memory of the experience will stay with you for a while. If it doesn’t happen, you’ll still come away with a sense of peace and serenity. Depending on what you shared with God, you might experience greater clarity about those matters, or simply a desire to spread the joy, so to speak.
Be patient with yourself
If you’re new to this practice, if you’ve never used your imagination in prayer, it is likely that for the first few times or more, you will spend more time and energy just trying to figure out what you’re doing than you will actually praying. And your prayer might feel a little awkward. Keep at it, though. You may never enter into contemplation mode, but you should at least enter into a meditative and quiet space that nourishes your soul. And that is still prayer — that is still God at work in you.
Check the need for control at the door and swap it for humility and openness. When we are ready to pray, we want and expect God to go along with our prayer and jump in when we ask and in the ways we expect. But, as with people, God has His own plans and purposes, even in our prayer lives. If you find yourself feeling frustrated because “nothing is happening,” you may be trying too hard to make something happen and missing what is actually happening.
Ideas to mix it up
Pick one of your “prayer pictures” and set it as the wallpaper on your phone or computer screen. Whenever you pull up the wallpaper, pause for a brief moment before you move on to what you were going to do on your phone or computer and as you take a deep breath, rest for that moment in that place of prayer.
There are many ways to pray, and all of them help us connect with God. But just as face-to-face time with people in our lives is a much more powerful way to stay connected, spending some time in meditation and contemplation can help take our relationship with God to a deeper level.