In the last post, I argued for the validity of using our imagination in prayer. But accepting its validity is only a first step. Experiencing its transformative power provides its own self-validation. So for the next few posts, I want to offer various types of imaginative prayer with the hope that you will try these for yourself. The one I want to describe here is entering a gospel scene. Here the goal is to meet Jesus by taking a story from one of the gospels and imagining yourself in it. Sound intriguing? Read on…
This type of praying has been used for centuries by the church, but it was popularized in the 1500s by Ignatius of Loyola. It became a foundational part of the Spiritual Exercises he created, a formational tool that takes someone on a journey through the story of Jesus. Since then, countless men and women have practiced entering a gospel scene and have experienced the wonder of meeting Jesus in their imaginations. Here is a step-by-step guide to praying this way.
How To Enter A Gospel Scene
- Start by selecting a story from the gospel accounts. Choose one in which Jesus is present. Ask the Lord to meet you here as you pray.
- Read through the story slowly twice, noting characters and details.
- Then put down the Bible and imagine the scene. This step is called composition of place. Try to use all your senses if possible. Notice first what you see, then what you hear, and finally what you smell, touch, and even taste. Don’t worry if you are unsure about setting the scene correctly. Just do what you can.
- Choose how you will enter the scene—as yourself active in the scene, as one of the characters in the scene, or as an observer. Go with what feels right or what comes to you first.
- Now play the story out as you remember it from the gospel account. Notice Jesus and what He does. Pay attention to what you are feeling. Note any surprises in your responses.
- When you have finished the story in your imagination, spend time talking to Jesus about your experience. Talk about what came up, how it connects to your life, and what you desire.
- If you have time, journal about what happened to you. Sometimes things will clarify further as you write.
My Experience With Entering A Gospel Scene
This form of prayer has been so powerful for me. Jesus went from being an abstract truth to a visceral reality. I met the living Christ in my imagination in such a way that it stained me forever. I have so many stories of how this happened as I journeyed through the Spiritual Exercises. I’ll tell one here.
The account of the Last Supper begins with Jesus sending two of his disciples into Jerusalem to find an appropriate place to have that meal. When I entered the scene, I was one of those disciples. As I imagined it, Jesus woke the two of us up early one morning. He had just finished washing His face and was drying it off with a towel as He spoke. It seemed so normal for anyone to do upon rising in the morning. But for whatever reason, Jesus became a real man to me at that moment. He then put both His hands on our shoulders, one hand on each of us, and spoke to us, directly but kindly. I was so intrigued with His complete lack of guile and candid affection. I loved Him back and wanted to do what He asked.
But this description does little justice to what transpired inside of me. All I can say is that I met the living Christ and have never been quite the same.
Tips to Move Forward
But your experience will be different from mine. Jesus encounters each of us differently. How do you start? Well, you just start! But here are a few practical tips to get going:
- Start with stories from Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John that are more familiar to you.
- You don’t need to do this daily. Try entering a gospel scene once/twice weekly for a month and then reevaluate.
- Some of us have an easier time imagining than others. If this is hard for you, don’t think you are a failure. Just do what you can, knowing that your imagination muscle will grow as you use it.
- Talk to a friend about what you are experiencing. Or seek out a spiritual director to share your experiences and get feedback. You can check out what I do here.
- If you need more structure, check out the Pray As You Go app here. It is a daily, guided meditation on Scripture done by the Jesuits in England. Although entering a gospel scene is not done each time, it is a frequent way that prayer is structured.
Whatever you do, be assured that He will meet you. That’s always our sure hope as men.