Imaginative Contemplation

While Lectio Divina seems naturally suited to praying with texts where words and their resonances are uppermost, other pieces of scripture engage us primarily as stories.

Stories have the capacity to draw us in. Almost without effort we find ourselves imagining the place and the people and the better the story the more we find ourselves moved by what we imagine. This natural capacity is the basis of the way of praying called imaginative, or Ignatian, contemplation.

Some people avoid this kind of prayer because they say they ‘have no imagination’ but everyone does–it is just that it seems to work differently in different people. We often think that we should see pictures in our imagination, but, just as commonly, people seem to hear their way into a story while others enter the imagination through a vague but significant sense of where things are.

Imagination is related to memory: if you can call up a memory in some way you can use your imagination in prayer. Think of someone you love or a place where you have been happy and you will find yourself spontaneously using your imagination in the way that works for you.

People also differ in how much work it takes to imagine. Some find their imagination more passive–events unfold before them without effort–while others have a more active imagination–they are more aware of the work that goes into ‘building’ an experience.

However you approach it though, imaginative prayer is a powerful way to enter into a gospel story. The details of the story and the work of your imagination shape a temporary world for you to experience in a real way.


Choose your scripture passage and become comfortable with it. Read it over a few times until you know what happens and are able to set the words aside.


Find a quiet inner place—as quiet as you have available right now. Begin to remember the story and its setting, letting it take shape, and letting yourself settle there.


Use your imagination to enter into the story in some of the ways below:

  • Watch what happens: listen to what is being said; feel the action with your body.
  • Become part of the story either by being yourself or by becoming one of the other people in the story.
  • Listen, taste, smell, feel, and watch what happens. Allow yourself to interact with the others in the event: enter into conversation with them, listen to what they have to say to you and to each other, etc.
  • Allow the event to unfold through your imagination, taking as long as you want, following the narrative wherever it seems to want to go.
  • Respond spontaneously in conversation with God, with Jesus or with one of the other persons in the story.


When you are ready, mark the end of your time of prayer with some closing gesture or words of prayer.

Afterwards you might want to make a note of anything that seemed significant.

One reply on “Imaginative Contemplation”

  1. Thanks. This kind of prayer makes me think of something I read in a story at the Tablet …

    “Afterwards you’ll be different, you know”, a friend who had done it warned me before my 30-day retreat on the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius. I believed him: who doubts the Jesuits’ centuries-old secret weapon, their portable desert peopled with angels and demons?

    … it’s a powerful prayer form.

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