Yesterday, I shared “imaginative prayer” with a group of 8th graders. It was the first time they had done this sort of prayer, and they loved it. Below you’ll find my “lesson plan” for the exercise.
In my life imaginative prayer has been transformative. It’s so engaging, so real to me, especially because I’ve been given such a lively imagination. The Bible is the greatest love story ever told. Why sit on the sidelines? Imagine it. Live it. Jump in.
(Photo from Hope Stream Radio)
How many of you have imagined scenes or characters from a book or short story while reading it? How many of you have thought of which character in a book is most like you? How many of you have wondered which characters in a story would be your friends? I certainly have! I do it with t.v. shows, I do it with movies, I do it with literature. Our imagination is a great gift.
Just as we can imagine things from books, movies, and t.v. shows, we can imagine things from the Bible. In fact, we can do so even more because the Bible is more than fiction: it is history! The things in the gospels really happened.
Today we are going to explore a special type of prayer called “imaginative prayer.” Sometimes, it is also called “Ignatian contemplation.” In this sort of prayer, we take a Bible passage, we read it slowly a few times, and we enter into the scene in our imaginations. We can be one of the people in the scene, entering into their shoes. We can be an invisible bystander. In some cases, we can even imagine ourselves as Jesus.
We are going to try this sort of prayer today. I’m going to read the passage two times, slowly. The first time, I ask that you simply pay attention to the general ideas in the passage. The second time, I ask you to begin to enter into it. Following these readings, I’ll lead us in a guided imaginative prayer. We’ll close with a mental conversation with Jesus after the scene.
For this activity to be successful, you’ll need to be relaxed and silent. It requires a certain amount of concentration, but we’ll ask the Holy Spirit to give us the patience and focus we need. It is something new. We can do it!
Preparatory Prayer: Any prayer to help the kids relax and enter into the present moment.
Passage: Jesus Walks on the Water (Matthew 14)
2X, very slowly:
22 Immediately Jesus had the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. 23 And after he had dismissed the crowds, he went up the mountain by himself to pray. When evening came, he was there alone, 24 but by this time the boat, battered by the waves, was far from the land,[d] for the wind was against them. 25 And early in the morning he came walking toward them on the sea. 26 But when the disciples saw him walking on the sea, they were terrified, saying, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear. 27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them and said, “Take heart, it is I; do not be afraid.”
28 Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” 29 He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. 30 But when he noticed the strong wind,[e] he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” 32 When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. 33 And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
Guided Imaginative Prayer:
I see myself and my friends on the seashore. Jesus asks us to get into the boat and set off to the other side of the water. What sort of day was it? Was it hot or cold, sunny or cloudy, windy or still? Which of my friends are there with me? What was the water like when Jesus asked us to enter the boat? Was it choppy or was it still? I spend a few moments considering the scene on the seashore. (PAUSE.)
We are now out on the water. I imagine what I was doing, what people were saying. What was my mood on that day? Suddenly, everyone notices that a storm is rolling in. The wind picks up. At first, it seems light, but, after a while, waves begin to toss the boat from side to side. People are getting scared. The storm only continues to worsen. Many people are shouting and afraid. I spend a few moments imagining what the storm was like. (PAUSE.)
Now, a light appears in the distance. It is faint, but it grows closer and closer to us. Someone screams, “What is that? Is it a ghost?” Another says, “I don’t know!” As the light continues to come to the boat, I come to see that it has the figure of a man, a person. It is Jesus! He is walking on the water. Everyone looks at him, confused and afraid. At the same time, there is a sense of hope and comfort knowing that our friend and Lord is near. He says to us, “Don’t be afraid. I am here.” I spend a few moments imagining what these things would be like. (PAUSE.)
Someone in the boat says to Jesus, “If it is you, Jesus, you’ll protect me as I come out of the boat onto the water to meet you.” Jesus motions for him to come. He gets up and takes a step on the water. He doesn’t sink! He takes another step. He still doesn’t sink! Everyone is amazed, even him! But, then, the wind kicks up. There is a strong gust. The person who came out to Jesus doubts, and he begins to sink. He shouts, “Lord, save me!” Jesus grabs him and pulls him up onto the boat. Jesus himself then enters the boat. Just as Jesus comes into the boat, the storm stops. The water becomes perfectly calm. I take some time to imagine this scene. (PAUSE.)
We bring the boat into the harbor on the other side of the water. Everyone gets out. I’m so amazed by what just happened that I pull Jesus aside. I say to him, “Jesus, I need to speak to you. Do you have a minute?” Jesus says, “Yes, come with me.” We walk along the dock. What do I say to Jesus? What does he say to me? I take a few moments to enter into conversation with Jesus. (LONG PAUSE.)
GLORY BE TO THE FATHER….