Unleashing the Power of Imagination:
Ignatian Method of Praying with Scripture

by Rev. Paul Kane
I have always found the Word of God to be my starting place for prayer.  One of the methods for scripture-based prayer that I discovered several years ago is the Ignatian method.  Developed by St. Ignatius of Loyola, a 16th century Spanish mystic and spiritual director, the Ignatian method of praying with scripture encourages the practitioner to use his or her imagination.

Believing that God speaks most powerfully and persuasively to our hearts rather than to our intellect, the Ignatian method encourages the pray-er to focus on feelings rather than thoughts.  It is a method of praying with scripture that invites one to reflect deeply on feelings experienced as one imaginatively prays a passage from scripture.
Take, for example, the story of the Samaritan woman at the well from the Gospel of John (John 4:1-30).  Applying the Ignatian method to this passage, one could imagine one's self as the Samaritan woman. Imagining one's self as the Samaritan woman, one could prayerfully imagine what she felt as Jesus spoke to her.  As Jesus reveals his care for her by letting her know that he knows her past, the pray-er could reflect on what feelings that revelation would have invoked in her.  As Jesus breaks with the customs of his day and speaks directly to a "foreign" woman, what would she be feeling?

The pray-er could continue to focus on the passage, but change perspectives by imagining to be Jesus.  What did he feel as he spoke to this "foreign" woman?  What did he feel as he witnessed her struggling to understand what he meant by identifying himself as the source of "water gushing up to eternal life?" (John 4:14)
The pray-er could continue even further with this passage by imagining being an unseen by-stander, witnessing the encounter between Jesus and the Samaritan woman at the well.  What do you feel as you witness the exchange between the two?  What do you feel for the woman who has had this life-changing encounter?  What do you feel when you see Jesus reaching out to her in spite of the fact that religious law prohibited such action? 

Ignatius encourages us to go beyond the words written in sacred scripture.  Ignatius invites us to take "experiential liberties" and imagine the characters in a biblical passage speaking words and acting in ways beyond what the scripture says.  We are not simply reading about a character in a passage from scripture.  We are entering into the mind and heart of the character.  In doing so, scripture truly becomes God's living Word, revealing new truths to us each and every time we pray a particular passage.       

The purpose of the Ignatian method of praying with scripture is to allow God to use the power of our imagination to draw us ever deeper into God's love, made manifest in God's Word.  Through our imagination, God can reveal pathways of grace not explicitly found on the "surface" of biblical passages.  As we use our imagination, God can help us to experience the scriptures and encounter truths of the heart not accessible by way of the intellect.  

Additional Resources:

(2)  How Do We Pray with Our Imagination?  at Creighton Online Ministries

(3)  Examples of Ignatian Imaginative Contemplations
at Creighton Online Ministries

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