In March 2012 I went to St Beuno's in North Wales on an eight day Ignatian retreat. A significant part of this involves imaginative encounters with Scripture. It took me a little while to get into it but I then found a way of engagement in which I would pray, contemplate and write with each feeding off the other. Before, when I've kept a prayer diary or journal, I have prayed first and then written up what I remember of my reflections and contemplations.
At St Beuno's I discovered that I could include the writing within my praying. So, after some initial centring prayers I would read the scripture passage and then put it aside. I would start imagining myself as one of the characters in the story and try to immerse myself into their way of being. Of course, I was really assimilating them into my way of being but that's fine because it is me who is doing the contemplation. I might then have some ideas and start writing them down. As I wrote the situation would unfold before me and I would write almost as a stream of consciousness, though 'stream of experience' would be a better term. This would lead me to a point where I would stop and maybe just savour the experience of being with Jesus or perhaps reflecting on how my own weaknesses mirror those of the character I am imagining and offering prayers of contrition and petition for strength to walk more closely with Him.
Then this would spark the next stage of the writing and so on. The prayer, the contemplation (just being with Jesus and enjoying his presence), and the writing all worked together to provide the whole prayer experience. I've never prayed like this before and it is really powerful for me, which is why I intend to carry it on. Each prayer session seems to last between 45 minutes and an hour and that seems to be the right amount of time to bring each imagination to some sort of concluding pause. I would then finish with a brief form of what the Jesuits call the colloquy, which should be a set of three conversations with Mary, Jesus, and the Father about the prayer time just experienced, though I tend at present just to talk to Jesus.
So the writings are very much part of the process and not things in themselves. It's why I have little concern to polish them or revise them. They are not a first draft; they actually are the finished article, even though they are very rough in places. They are the fingerprints which say that Richard was praying here but that is all they are; they are not the prayer experience itself.
Nevertheless when I shared some of my writings with my retreat director she said that she felt that they might be of wider interest and that I should think of making them available in some way, with the internet being an obvious medium. I have now typed up some of these 'imaginations of the heart'. They were all originally hand-written as I prayed and this seems to be an integral part of the process. I cannot imagine typing them straight onto my laptop, despite the fact that I am very comfortable using computers. Their style is quite unrefined because they were written ‘in the moment’ and I have deliberately avoided making many changes or trying to polish the prose. Despite this—or perhaps because of it—some people have found them helpful and engaging.
Most of the imaginations are in several short parts. This reflects the fact that it seems to take me a number of prayer sessions (each of about an hour) to really get into a story.
The pieces are personal but not private. They often seemed to unfold before me as I was praying and inevitably they reflect my own response at a particular time to a particular part of the Bible. If I were to pray through the same passage again they might well be very different. More importantly, if you, the reader, were to pray through the passage they would definitely be very different. So these are not intended as pieces of Bible study or attempts to say what 'really' happened. They are just reflections of what happened to me when I opened myself to the Word and the Presence of God at a particular time and in a particular place.. Please read them if they are helpful or enjoyable. Please ignore them if they are not. But I do urge you to try imaginative engagement with Scripture for yourself. It may enrich your life in unexpected ways.
Because I intend to carry on this style of prayer for the foreseeable future, I will be praying more of these imaginations and I will post them here as I get round to typing them up. If you would like to be notified when a new one has been posted, please e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will add you to a notification list.