What an Imaginative Prayer Experience Taught Me
I was on a retreat as an undergraduate when I first prayed with Scripture using my imagination. The experience opened up a whole new avenue of prayer for me, and made the Bible come alive in a new way that spoke to my life. If you’ve ever wondered how to listen to God when you pray, or engage with Him in a conversation,this method might prove helpful.
In this imaginative prayer method, I remember being asked to close my eyes as a Scripture passage was read. As I heard it multiple times, I placed myself in the narrative. Was I a character in the story? An observer? A passerby? What did the environment look like, smell like, feel like? What word or phrase stuck out to me?
We reflected on the passage for 20 minutes or so, and I was astounded as the story from the Bible came to life. I was now a participant, not just someone sitting in a pew, listening. What resonated with me was be different from what struck other people in the room — it reflected something personal that revealed to me the stirrings of my heart and the voice of God.
I never really understood why Scripture was called the living Word of God until I began practicing this type of imaginative prayer. This experience of interacting with Scripture was the beginning of a new relationship with God. As I embarked on this journey of prayer, Scripture came alive. I was engaging in an active conversation with God — one where I felt like I could hear God speaking to me in my own life.
The Scripture stories I had taken for granted throughout my life as a Catholic were now fresh and exciting — they were experiences that could be penetrated deeply and whose meaning would still be untapped. Each time I prayed with Scripture something new came to me, something different. I was delving more deeply into the mystery of God and learning more about myself in the process.
Sample of An Imaginative Experience with Scripture:
Scripture passage: As Jesus was walking by the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon who is called Peter, and his brother Andrew, casting a net into the sea; they were fishermen. He said to them, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him. He walked along from there and saw two other brothers, James, the son of Zebedee, and his brother John. They were in a boat, with their father Zebedee, mending their nets. He called them, and immediately they left their boat and their father and followed him. (Matthew 4:18-22)
What I imagine: I put myself in the scene: It was a hot day. The waves lapped on the shore as groups of men grunted, lifting their nets and throwing them out for a catch. I watched from the hillside as Jesus walked along the beach and encountered the fishermen. What must they have encountered in his gaze to drop everything and follow him?
I looked down from a distance. His presence pulled at me, but I wanted to remain tucked away, looking on from afar. I wrestled with wanting to be called, myself, but I knew I wanted to stay close enough to observe. Something about this man was intriguing, but my heart was not ready to act. I was indecisive and scared.
What I learned about myself: Reflecting on the calling of the disciples revealed where I was on my personal journey with Christ: intrigued but afraid. I wanted to follow him, but at a distance — observing from my safe vantage point. I did not yet have the courage to drop everything and follow him, but a desire was growing in my heart.