Using Our Imaginations to Be with Christ in Holy Week

In the past few posts (and in my upcoming Good Friday post), I have shared how Christ has shown compassion for me in my suffering.

Now I want to be with Jesus in his suffering. The best way I know how to do that is to imagine myself with him in the stories of his passion and death. Will you join me?

An Introduction to the Prayer of Imagination/Ignatian Contemplation

    • It’s an old way of praying.
      People have been praying this way for centuries unintentionally and intentionally. It was developed and used extensively by Ignatius of Loyola in the 16th century.
    • It’s possible.
      Some people think they don’t have a very good imagination. If you can worry, you have a good enough imagination!
    • It’s earthly.
      We get into the scene with our five senses.
      What we’ve experienced in life informs our imaginations. For example, we don’t need to know what a hillside in Galilee looks like. Imagining a hillside we know will do.
      Our imaginations don’t always tell us what’s true; we can imagine Jesus not being Jesus. Suppose in your prayer  you meet up with Jesus and he scowls at you and says, “What took you so long?” This is not Jesus but someone else in your life that is being projected onto him. If this happens, stop right there. Let that image go and ask the real Jesus to come and take the imposter’s place.
    • It’s heavenly.
      We get to experience Jesus face-to-face.
      God uses our imagination to shows us what we couldn’t imagine. We can be surprised by love.
      This prayer experience becomes our gospel story. Like the woman at the well, our encounter changes us, and it is a real encounter that we will treasure forever.
    • I have written about my experiences of praying the prayer of imagination. Here a post about what happened when I prayed with the story of Jesus’ and Blind Bartimaeus. (Mark 10:45-52)
  • Praying the Prayer of Imagination in Holy Week 
    • Usually, when we use our imaginations to pray with a gospel story, our focus is on our relationship with Jesus. We are often given an awareness or gift that opens us to see Jesus more clearly, love him more dearly and follow him more nearly. But in the Holy Week scriptures, Ignatius invites us to turn our attention to Jesus and let him receive gifts from us.
    • The only gift Jesus asks for is our presence. “ When we pray with the stories of the passion and death of Jesus, we might feel pity, horror, gratitude, wonder,” writes David Fleming. “But the specific grace that Ignatius would have us seek is the grace of compassion. Ignatius emphasizes how important it is to enter into Jesus’ inner experience. We are to suffer with Jesus—by our compassion. It is as if Jesus were saying, ‘Let me tell you what it was like, what I saw, what I felt. Please don’t interrupt; just stay with me and listen.’”
    • Just stay with Jesus, listen, and offer comfort– a sip of cold water, your hand on his cheek, a gentle embrace.
    • We cannot stop what is happening, nor does Jesus want us to. This is so hard. We want so badly to change the situation or run away. We are tempted to distance ourselves physically or emotionally, so we don’t feel the pain of another. We fear it will overwhelm us.
    • It takes courage to suffer with anyone who is about to die and to feel so helpless. That’s why we need grace. We can ask God to help us stay with Jesus and not fall asleep in one way or other.

Prayer Guide
In Ignatian Contemplation, we use our imaginations to put ourselves into a gospel story in order to encounter Christ in the scene.

    • You will need to actively use your imagination—things won’t just happen on their own.
    • Get involved in what is taking place. Don’t just be an observer.
    • Don’t try to come up with a lesson or insight from the story. It’s about being with Jesus be in the scene.
    • Don’t worry about being distracted; when you notice your mind wandering, gently bring yourself back to the scene.
    • Set aside 20-30 minutes for your prayer.


    1. Ask for God’s grace as you begin your prayer e.g.:
      God, you are with me always and have shown compassion to me in my suffering. I ask for the grace to be with you in yours and offer you compassion.
    1. Readings:
      • As you read the passage, let the gospel scene saturate your mind. Read the passage slowly two or three times. Notice what you see. What do you hear, smell, taste or touch? Use your five senses to help you get into the story.
      • If you remember details from another gospel allow them to play into the story, but don’t look up the different accounts.
      • There is no need to remember every detail of the story. Just focus on what seems alive to you.
    1. Praying with your Imagination
      • Gently, place yourself in the scene. What is it like to be there? Use your five senses.
      • If you begin as one person in the story (e.g. Peter), you do not need to do what he does. In fact, to show Jesus compassion, you will do what is not recorded in scripture. Let your story unfold.
      • Feel free to participate in the scene naturally as you would if you were there.
      • Notice that you may be drawn to intervene and stop what is happening. But this is not what Jesus wants. His story must play out. Your role is simply to be with Jesus so he does not suffer alone.
      • Even in suffering, you may experience Jesus extending compassion to you. This is a beautiful gift, but be careful not to allow the focus to shift to you and your story.
      • What feelings emerge as you participate in the story? How might you express your compassion to Jesus?
      • Don’t worry if it feels like not a lot is happening. Your presence with Jesus at this difficult time is a precious gift to him.
    1. Ending
      • Gently withdraw yourself from the scene and end the prayer period with a short prayer of thanks.

The Scripture Passages: (Choose one each day)

Easter Sunday

On this glorious day, we ask for the grace to experience the joy of Jesus in his resurrected body and his victory over death. In our prayer, we travel through time and space and meet him in the upper room, outside the empty tomb, on the road to Emmaus or on the beach with a spectacular catch of fish. Choose one of the resurrection stories and be with Jesus there.

Feel free to tell us how your prayers went in the comments below.

Grace and peace to you, my friends.

Credits and References:
“Christ Carrying the Cross” by Titian (1490-1575). Wikipedia Public Domain
Quote by David L. Fleming from What is Ignatian Spirituality? p.84.
Partial copy from The Entombment (Russian, Late 15th Century) Icon written and photographed by Ann Green. Used with permission.
“The Incredulity of St. Thomas” by Caravaggio, 1601-2. Wikimedia. Public Domain
This outline is adapted from notes from SoulStream’s Living from the Heart course and lectures by Father Richard Soo, SJ. Used with permission.
© Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim, 2020.
Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without permission from Esther Hizsa is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used provided there is a link to the original content and credit is given as follows: © Esther Hizsa, An Everyday Pilgrim 2013-2020.

About Esther Hizsa

Esther is a spiritual director and writer. She lives in Burnaby with her husband, Fred, and they have two grown children and two grandchildren.
This entry was posted in compassion, Easter, Holy Week, Ignatian Spirituality, Praying with the Imagination, Reflections, Resource and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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