Imaginative Prayer: Encountering Christ Through His Word

A main part of the mission of One Pearl is to help you encounter Christ’s love through the scriptures. I’ve found that one of the most effective ways of praying with scripture is to use your imagination. Saint Ignatius of Loyola recommended this way of praying, which I will refer to as imaginative prayer, or meditation. Being introduced to imaginative prayer during an Ignatian style silent retreat brought me into an intimate, face to face encounter with Christ. I could finally pray with little distraction and started growing closer to Christ in leaps and bounds. This way of praying changed my life so much that now I have a burning desire to share it with others!

Saint Ignatius of Loyola

Saint Ignatius of Loyola lived in the early 1500’s. The ideals of chivalry and romantic love attractedIgnatius. He was a soldier and was wounded in battle. During the time he was recovering and bedridden, Igantius read books about the Saints and Jesus’s life. Ignatius was caught up in the heroism of the Saints, much as he had been with the heroes of secular stories. However, he noticed that reading about holy things left him with much more peace and joy than the stories he used to read. He was filled with a desire to follow Christ and imitate the Saints. He noticed these movements within his heart and made a conclusion from them where God was leading him.

Development of a Spirituality

Ignatius used this gift of awareness to develop rules for discernment. Discerning God’s will and how He is speaking to us requires learning to hear His voice. This awareness is cultivated through prayer, where we learn what God’s voice sounds like and how He speaks to us. Ignatian spirituality has many different components. I’m going to focus on the Ignatian method for meditation on scripture, imaginative prayer. In order to help form others in the spiritual life, Saint Ignatius composed

the Spiritual Exercises – a sort of spiritual “bootcamp.” It is meant to be an extended 30 day silent retreat. He said the purpose was:

“To enable retreatants to overcome their disordered inclinations, to be inflamed with the love of God, and to make firm and concrete resolutions about how to follow Christ more closely.”

Ignatius laid out a progression of prayer for each day. Each week of the four week plan is centered on a certain theme. Depending on what the focus of the week is, Ignatius suggests praying in a certain way. However, they all involve the imagination. This makes sense, since before his conversion Ignatius daydreamed about being a knight and winning the heart of a beautiful woman. He loved reading stories and already had an active imagination. God used his strengths and worked through them.

Composition of Place

He realized the value of imaginative prayer during a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He realized he could imagine the places that Jesus lived, taught and died – that he could use his imagination to walk with Jesus.Saint Ignatius called this “composition of place.” Part of this is the application of the senses. This means that we should use all five of our senses when imagining a scripture passage–really put yourself in there as a participant, not just an observer and encounter Christ in a way you never have before.

Steps for Imaginative Meditation (Try to take an hour for this)
  1. Start with a prayer like the Anima Christi. Invoke the Holy Spirit. Ask for the grace that you seek. Consciously place yourself in the presence of God.
  2. Select a passage from one of the Gospels in which Jesus is interacting with others.
  3. Read the Gospel passage twice so that the story and the details of the story become familiar.
  4. Close your eyes and reconstruct the scene in your imagination. Put yourself in the scene; imagine yourself as a participant. Use all of your senses in composing the scene.
  5. Some people’s imaginations are very active so they construct a movie-like scenario with a Gospel passage. Others will enter the scene with verbal imagination, reflecting on the scene and mulling over the actions. Vividness is not a criteria for the effectiveness of this kind of prayer. Engagement is and the result is a more interior knowledge of Jesus.
  6. As you finishes this time of prayer, take a moment to speak person to person with Christ saying what comes from the heart. Make a firm resolution based on your time of prayer.
  7. End with the Our Father.

Additional Resources:

Any book by Father Timothy Gallagher, OMV

About the Author


  1. Fouad - Reply

    I learned about St. Ignatius of Loyola in a book about Saints I’ve been working on. I should really try some of his prayers!

  2. Pingback: Preparing for Christmas: Imaginative Meditation - One Pearl

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