Imaging prayer can help you to walk in the pages of the Bible. You can talk with Jesus, laugh and cry with Jesus. God isn’t bound by time. When we see ourselves speaking and walking with Jesus, we really are. It’s really happening. Meeting Jesus in this way is a very old form of Christian prayer: simple, powerful, and life-changing. This kind of prayer, imaging prayer, can help you to:
- Personally encounter Jesus.
- Experience healing and restoration.
- Break through your blocks and resistance to Christ’s work in you.
When we were children, our imaginations were on fire. The richness and depth and possibility of life were amazing, astounding. It was only later, thanks to a slow, destructive process that happened over the years, that we came to mistrust and repress our imaginations.
It doesn’t have to be that way anymore. Using your imagination, you can join Jesus in the gospel stories: Jesus risen, Jesus alive; waiting to walk and talk with you.
Learning Imaging Prayer
You can practice imaging prayer in the gospels by following four steps:
- Choose the story you want to experience.
- Get ready to enter the story.
- Enter the story and watch it come to life around you through the God-given gift of your imagination.
- Record and explore your experience.
Choosing the Story
To start, pick a story from Christ’s life that you want to experience. It may be a story that makes you wish you had been there like the wedding at Cana, or Jesus’ baptism. It may be a story that you’ve never really understood, like Jesus’ violent fury against the money changers in the Temple. It may even be a story that you’ve been avoiding, like the Crucifixion. Any gospel story that has power for you is right for imaging prayer.
It’s important to set the scene for imaging prayer. The first thing is to find a quiet place where you will not be disturbed. You may play quiet, meditative music if you like.
Take a series of deep breaths by breathing out with your mouth open, making a whoosh sound. Then close your mouth and breathe in slowly using your diaphragm holding for five counts, then slowly releasing.
To help you enter your meditation, there are several exercises you can do. Two of them are “Hands Up, Hands Down” and
“Breath In, Breath Out.”
Hands Up, Hands Down
Put your hands in your lap. Ask God for his loving presence, and then lift up your hands and turn them palms down saying something like “I release anxiety.” Now turn your palms up and say “I receive peace.” You can repeat this with these same emotions or different ones as often as you need until you are calm, or at least calmer than when you started! Name whatever negative emotions you want to release, picture these emotions flowing down from your down-turned palms and disappearing in mid-air, then picture the positive emotions flowing down from God, settling in your palms, and moving through your body.
Breath In, Breath Out
This exercise is similar to Hands Up, Hands Down, except you do it with deep breathing. Say, “I breathe out fear,” as you breathe out, and “I breathe in love” as you take a deep breath. Picture the positive emotions filling your body as does the fresh air.
If your deep breathing threatens to put you to sleep (it happens!) you may also do a series of chest breaths to energize your body and mind. To do these, take five deep breaths from the top of your chest, sucking in air and breathing it out with a deep sigh.
As you breathe, center and focus your thoughts. It may help to have a visual focus such as a candle or a picture. I use pictures of beautiful landscapes because I feel especially close to God in nature, but it can be anything that touches your heart and makes you feel closer to God.
Now it’s time to enter the story you’ve chosen. First, read the story carefully. It won’t be necessary to remember all its details since the story will change when you enter it. But approach it with a sense of caring and anticipation. Now imagine yourself in the story and imaginatively use your five senses to set the scene. Ask yourself:
- What do I see? (Jesus, a crowd, a temple)
- What do I hear? (wind, voices, silence)
- What do I touch? (clothes, stone, skin)
- What do I smell? (spices, blood, ocean)
- What do I taste? (wine, food, salt tears)
Now that you sense what’s around you as you enter the gospel story, let the story run itself. Don’t try to direct it (this gets easier with time). The story will often surprise you by changing from the way you read it because you are really there with Jesus. Jesus understands time and space, he created it and he lived in it as a man on earth. But as God he transcends time and space and he is meeting you here and now!
For example, someone may come up and talk to you (in my imagination, the disciple John often does this). You may feel compelled to approach Jesus yourself, or he may be looking for you (will he find you?) or you may just watch as the paralytic decides if he wants to be well, or as Zacchaeus climbs a tree, or as the woman with the issue of blood merely touches Jesus’ robe and she is healed. Who knows what you’ll see?
Another possibility is to imagine you at the garden after Jesus’ resurrection. You may be Mary Magdalen, or a gardener, or yourself. See the burial garden slowly take shape as the early sun rises. Look at the mist on the ground, smell the wetness of the morning air and the faint hint of burial spices mixed in the green growing things. Hear the heavy silence and feel the feeling of a great waiting, of unseen presences waiting for the rising of the sun and with it the Resurrection of God.
Record and Explore
One of the most important things you can do for your imaging prayer is to record it. If you already keep a journal, add your imaging experiences to it. If you have not kept a journal before, then this is the perfect time to start one.
Your journal can take many forms: it can be a bound, blank book, or loose-leaf pages gathered into a binder, or a spiral-bound notebook, or a computer file. Whatever tool is most comfortable for you, use that. Don’t be concerned with handwriting (unless you absolutely cannot read your own!) or spelling or sentence structure. That is not what a journal is about, and it simply doesn’t matter.
What can you write in the journal about your imaging prayers? Here are some suggestions:
- Always begin with the Imaging Report. Write down what happened in our imaging prayer. Record details that you noticed, including what all five of your senses told you.
- Always begin and end with prayer. Begin and end your journaling time with prayer, asking Christ to help you to live out the healing he means you to have, and thanking him for this way of prayer. You do not have to write the prayer down, but you may want to. Sometimes you’ll hear Jesus answer you!
- Contemplation. Ask yourself questions about your experience. What was your mood in the payer? How do you fee now? Did you resist a situation? Did something upset you? Did something surprise you?
- Dialogue. A common journaling technique if to dialogue with characters that rise out of your dreams or unconscious. You may do the same. To dialogue, put your own name at the left-hand margin and then write down the question or comment you have for the person you are dialoguing with. Then record their name in the left-0hand margin and write out their reply. Keep going until you feel you are done. Note that this is not “channeling” or “automatic writing” or any other such occult nonsense! This is you speaking to the deep places of yourself in order to uncover dreams, desires, resistance, even sin. Everything is turned over to the living Christ.
- Use art to symbolize your imaging. Write a poem or an essay, sculpt or paint, choreograph a dance or write a play.
- Find a physical object to symbolize your encounter. A seashell might symbolize you and Jesus by the seaside as he says, “Follow Me.” A small cross might symbolize an encounter with Jesus at his Crucifixion.
- List personal tasks. An imaging experience might point out steps you can take to grow in Christ. Be sure to write these down. These tasks may center on your emotional or spiritual healing, your relationships, your physical health, even your community responsibilities.
- Track progress. Practicing imaging prayer will make many changes in your life over time. So when you journal, especially as you record the personal tasks and responses that arise from your meditation, record the changes taking place in your life. You may find that you have lived into the changes without realizing it! When you see your life expand and heal and blossom, thank God. And affirm yourself.