Imagination prayer is shared experience with Jesus that is based on stories of Jesus from the Gospels and that draws on our use of empathy and visualization.
If you would like to practice imagination prayer as a group, there are several approaches you may take. The first is a guided individual experience, which members share and process afterwards. In the second, members act out the story together, simultaneously role-playing—the imagined part—and processing how imagined experience and real-life communion with Jesus intersect.
For a guided exercise of imagination prayer, designate one person to select and read the passage aloud several times while other members practice steps 5–9 as individuals. When everyone has found a comfortable posture and position in the room, the leader instructs the group to take several deep breaths in and out together. Ask the Lord to be present.
Invite the group to listen to the passage, imagining the physical environment. Read the passage aloud the first time at a neutral rate, and wait one minute.
Then invite the group to imagine the other people in the scene with Jesus. This time read the passage slowly, pausing after each phrase, and then wait in silence for two minute.
For the third reading, invite the group to place themselves in the scene and imagine what their bodies feel. Read the passage, emphasizing the action words, and wait in silence for four minutes.
The fourth time, instruct the group to hear what the speakers in the passage are saying, and then read the passage emphasizing the spoken words. Wait in silence for six minutes.
Finally, tell the group to imagine themselves as one of the characters in the passage. Tell them that when you are done reading, they can freeze frame, stay with a particular picture involving themselves and Jesus, talk to him, listen to what he says, and abide in his presence. Then read the passage in a neutral tone and pause in silence for eight minutes.
Ask the group to fasten in their minds anything that stands out from their conversations or about their experiences. When members have regrouped, invite them to share how they experienced the scene, what their interaction with Jesus was like, and how the imagined encounter might intersect with their current real-world situations. Allow others in the group to ask questions that might provoke thoughtful reflection, but avoid debating whose imagined version was right or accurate.
Whole group imagination prayer requires another level of commitment, since each one must practice both role-playing and self-awareness throughout the exercise. Instead of choosing an action scene with Jesus, find a parable that he told in the gospels, such as the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37). As a group, read the passage and identify key characters and their primary actions. After these details are decided, each member should sit quietly and individually consider which character she identifies with, why she identifies with that character, and how Jesus might call her to fulfill this role in the next few moments. Invite the Lord to reveal his real-life call to individuals through the role-playing to follow.
When everyone is ready, each person modeling a particular character should group themselves together. In the Good Samaritan, for example, all the hurt people should lay down in the middle of the room. All the caregiver innkeepers should wait for a hurt person to be brought to them and then faithfully minister to that person’s real-life needs. All the sensitive Samaritans should tend to a hurt person, convey her to the caregiver, and return to check on her.
It is not important that there be equal numbers of each role-player, nor that much acting occur. Indeed, do not allow your concentration on what Jesus might be doing and saying through this exercise of imagination prayer to become distracted by trying to act the part “right” or well. What is important is that each person be present both to the action and to how Jesus is using the role-playing to speak to the real-life needs of group members. Is he inviting a “hurt person” to share a real need with a “Samaritan” or an “inn-keeper,” for example? Or is he simply providing the hurt person a ministry to be received?
When all of the members are done, regroup and share how each one experienced the scene and what her interaction with Jesus was like.