Imaginative Prayer

This past weekend I went to the inaugural meeting of young adults at one of the parishes near my home. It was a lovely evening with Mass, snacks, witness talks, and a lesson about prayer and Catholic art given by Father Sports. It was a truly lovely evening. I really like learning about art, particularly because I love history. Father showed us the Call of Matthew by Caravaggio, and explained how we are to use images, like the painting, to help us pray. Father ended the talk by saying we should imagine our Lord in our lives at the grocery store or sitting with us as we watch a football game. It’s a strange way to consider praying but I have found it to be one of the most beneficial.

The main reason I like it is because of the informality. Christ is our king but he is also our brother. We should display highest reverence for our Lord and participate in the formal prayers of the Church like Mass, the Rosary, and the Divine Mercy Chaplet. But this formality can really throw some people off. Also different seasons of life require different types of prayer.

I used to pray the Rosary everyday. I loved it, I felt I was receiving such abundant graces. Lately, though, I haven’t been praying my Rosary as much. This doesn’t make me a bad Catholic, it doesn’t mean I no longer value the Rosary, and it doesn’t mean I won’t go back to a daily Rosary one day. Lately, I have been in need of less structured, imaginary prayer. I need our Lord and our Lady in the muck of everyday life right now. I need them to sit on the couch with me, carpool with me to work, and hold my hand as I walk through the day. I find myself more conscious of their presence in the muck of real life when I pray this way. At work, when I get stressed, I look out the window and imagine the Blessed Mother standing in the parking lot smiling and telling me to let God let go of whatever I’m getting stressed about. I imagine Jesus standing behind me when I’m working on difficult paperwork. And when something goes wrong, he places his hand on my shoulder and reminds me to take a breath, be patient, and relax.  I imagine my guardian angel sitting in my passenger seat, so when someone drives like a lunatic (myself included) my angel is there to protect me and remind me to slow down.

Imaginative prayer is a spectacular type of prayer because it reminds us of how present the powers of heaven are in our daily lives. Our Lord is first our friend, he wants to walk with us in life’s difficult and messy journey. We can invite him into our messy journey when we engage in imaginative prayer. Now this doesn’t mean he isn’t present already or it is harder to perceive his presence when we utilize other forms of prayer. I just think it is another spiritual weapon that can be added to one’s arsenal. When you find yourself unable to focus in structured prayer like the Rosary, try informal, relaxed, friendly, imaginative prayer.

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Last night as I was meditating, the Lord came to my heart. As I typically do, I ran my hands around his hands. I noticed his soft fingers with clean, short fingernails. No rough edges or marks on them other than a large clean hole right in the middle. There was no blood or hanging flesh, there was no bone exposed but it was red inside. He also had traces of hair on his wrists and back of the hand. For a great deal of time, I just sat playing with his hand. He brought us to a spot in a plush wood and he sat with his back against a tree. I could hear the sound of a waterfall in the distance. As he sat with one knee in the air, I pulled myself into him and placed my ear to his Sacred Heart. I began to slow my breathing to meet his steady heartbeat with my own. Mother came and sat smiling with us. Then a baby appeared in my arms. A beautiful tiny infant, only a few days old. He had a little fuzzy hair, brown eyes, and a delicate little smile. When he yawned, I smiled. I felt such great peace, contentment, and love for this little child. I spent much time rubbing his cheek and head, giving him kisses and holding him as close to my heart as my body was to the heart of Jesus. Then the Lord said, “Give me your baby.” I was taken aback by the idea of this tiny infant being my child. I did love him dearly, but I had no husband and I’ve never given birth. I looked Jesus in his brown eyes and he repeated, “Give me your baby.” I looked back to my son and found myself unable to give him up. Then Mary stepped in and said, “Give Him your baby.” I began weeping strongly at the thought of giving up my beautiful boy. He was such a tiny thing, so warm and fragile. I didn’t want him to be anywhere except my arms. The Mother repeated, “Give Him your baby.” I wasn’t ready to give him up. I cried and kissed him on his forehead. His beautiful brown eyes remained closed as he slept comfortably in my arms only twitching a few times. I wept louder and began repeating to myself, “Give Him the baby.” I know God’s plan is always good, I know he would never do anything to hurt my baby, yet I could not bring myself to hand over my only son. I weep now as I recount the anguish my heart felt as I stared down on that tiny little human, my tiny little human. After repeating to  myself, “Give Him the baby,” many times, I handed my infant son to my Lord Jesus. Immediately I was in the streets of Jerusalem on the day of my Lord’s sufferings. I watched as the same Jesus that held me at the tree in the woods, carried a cross larger than he was, beaten by soldiers, and spat on and had feces thrown at him as he walked the streets. I saw Veronica wipe the sweat and blood from his face. I followed by removing my white church veil to wipe his beautiful face and kiss him. A faint smile through such extreme pain broke his lips but only for a moment. The whips at his back returned and he continued to move. I stood at the cross when they rose him upon it. I found a stool near by to climb on in order to hold his body up so he could breathe. He was too heavy and he was too weak to even speak. He was bloodied and broken, nothing like the man in the woods. His heart was erratic and his breath inconsistent, not like it was in the woods. I again wiped his face with my veil and held his face in my hands. I could not take this pain away. I called for help but no one answered me. There were people around but they just stood and watched as I continued to try to help him breathe and keep blood from his swollen eyes. There was nothing I could do, then he died. When he was taken from the cross, I dropped to my knees and screamed. I screamed and I screamed, wailing until I had no voice. All the pain I felt came out of my belly and through my mouth. I was broken. It was then dusk and I lay curled in a ball in front of the large rock where Jesus was buried. I laid crying alone in the cold night, puling my clothing tightly around me to keep warm. My tears warmed my face. I stopped wailing, but the crying didn’t end.

That is where my meditation ended. At first, I thought Jesus was asking me to give up my dreams of being a wife and mother when we were in the woods. I have fears about the possibility of being called to religious life. All I have wanted for year is to be a wife and mother, yet I am not. I must trust God’s timing, I thought. Now I fear I must trust God’s call. For the past couple weeks I’ve been dealing with the fact that this may be the vocation I am being called to. Putting my child in God’s hands felt like a gesture of release of my dreams for myself. But when I left my meditation, I realized I was the Blessed Mother. I was Our Lady with an infant without giving birth or having relations with a man. I was Mary as I let go of my beautiful boy and placed him in the arms of God with the hope that he would be protected. I was the Mother that wanted to clean my son’s face on his way to Calvary, and hold him up so he could breathe. I was her as the body of my son was taken from the cross as I screamed without unconsolably. I was Mary as I fell asleep in the cold wrapped in a ball outside the tomb where my son had been buried. I was Mary. The first time I prayed Stations of the Cross, I was moved to tears as I united myself to the Mother of God as she sacrificed her son for the sake of sinners like me. In my mediation, I was again united to her sorrows. Yet I continue to sin, I continue to fall short of my obedience to God, I still lack trust in God, I still fear what it will mean for me to give up my dreams to accept an alternative vocation. I pray for Mary’s obedience, courage, and trust. I am thankful to have the opportunity to experience her sorrows, but I hope to also experience her virtues.