When I first learned about the Ignatian style of prayer I found it came rather easy for me: Read a passage of scripture where there are characters and scenes (like in the gospels), then close your eyes and in your mind imagine the scene as if you were there. You let yourself be transported into that time and place, notice all your senses, and interact with the people. When I did the 30-day retreat of Saint Ignatius my imaginative prayer became so real that at times I began confusing my dreams with prayer and my prayer with dreams.
Around the same time I saw the movie Inception I began reading through this book of guided prayer meditations by Anthony de Mello, SJ called Sadhana. In addition to awareness exercises he has a section called “Fantasy” which contains meditations that engage your senses and imagination. One of his exercises takes you to an imagined place where you experienced happiness in the past. You picture it in perfect detail and every so often you move back and forth between that fantasy place and the present moment in the room where you’re sitting. As you go back and forth you pay attention to your feelings and how they change.
Here’s the Inception connection: Like a dream, you can allow yourself to go elsewhere, even to a place in the past and recapture the emotions and things you felt there. This is not an escape but a way to experience solitude and calm and bring it to your present moment reality. It can also help you deal with hurtful memories by going back to them and then returning to the calmer present moment. This kind of exercise offers you perspective. Perhaps you can use your imagination to travel into the future and see how you might deal with a situation you foresee.
Ignatius sees this kind of thing as prayer because it allows God to use your imagination to reveal things about you that can help you grow. And certainly if you’re imagining a gospel scene you may be interacting directly with Jesus or his disciples.
Making It Real
Since it’s prayer, which involves God, and God is as real as real can be, then imaginative prayer brings a kind of reality to our lives. I came across this prayer in the May issue of Magnificat that spoke to this reality:
You have given us the daily round of work and rest, labor and prayer in which to make real the new life of Easter.
Prayer makes real the things God gives us. Anthony de Mello says that we go through this world asleep most of the time. One way to wake up is by bringing our experiences of the world to prayer – that makes them real because we actually bring God in on the action, we pay attention to the meaning behind our experiences, process them, and in turn bring those moments to life.
In the movie Inception the team used dreams to find real information that was hidden away in the subconscious. Dream-like imaginative prayer allows us to go deeper into ourselves to a place where God can speak to us intimately and where we can gather raw feelings, emotions, and the stuff of the subconscious. There we can process it, see what God has to say, and as we reemerge back into the present moment we have in our possession something real and more tangible.
Are you going about life asleep? What things from God or experiences do you need to be made real through prayer?
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