Ignatian Contemplation: How to Read the Bible with Your Imagination October 4th, 2016 Christina Miller
Ignatian Contemplation: How to Read the Bible with Your Imagination
Ignatian Contemplation: How to Read the Bible with Your Imagination October 4th, 2016 Christina Miller
Bible Engager’s Blog

I heard that Jesus would be here today. His name was spreading like locusts through the seaport villages of Galilee. It was accompanied by words like healer, teacher, prophet, some even said Messiah. For the first time in years I felt hope stirring inside me.

For twelve years I have suffered severe bleeding, like a tight fist gripping inside my body. Doctors can't cure me. Neighbors despise me. It is the source of my agony and shame. Yet when I heard his name something changed; I knew, "If I just touch his clothes, I will get well."

I first caught sight of Jesus's feet. A thin film of dust outlined the straps of his sandals. The hem of his cloak scratched against his ankles. His hands hung lightly, brushing against people as he passed. If only I could get close enough! I mustered my courage and pushed through the mass of bodies in front of me. I felt the rough, torn edge of his garment. Immediately, the first inside me loosened. The quiet stirring of hope rushed into my blood stream.

"Who touched my cloak?" I heard his voice say full of compassion, his eyes seeking me out. I fell to my knees, as his words washed over me like a covering, "My daughter, your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your trouble" (See Mark 5:21-34).

Bringing the Gospels to Life

Centuries ago, Saint Ignatius created a spiritual exercise that helps people envision themselves in the Gospel stories. After having a powerful conversion experience, he wanted others to encounter God and be spiritually transformed. In his book, The Spiritual Exercises of Saint Ignatius, he walks people through this process. One of the steps is called Gospel Contemplation.

Gospel Contemplation invites us to insert ourselves into the reading. This allows us to taste, see, smell, hear and feel what is going on in each scene. We may envision ourselves as an onlooker, character, or even Jesus. As we engage our imagination we are able to spend time in Jesus's presence. This allows us to know Jesus more intimately, be led down our own path of discovery, and be transformed.

Ignatius created this exercise as part of a retreat spanning a series of days. It has been adapted in more recent years, so people can practice it anywhere—on apps or condensed to shorter periods of time. Whatever the method, it follows six main principles. Give it a try!

1. Pick a Gospel passage where Jesus is interacting with someone.

2. Focus your heart and mind. God is present and your desire is to encounter God through your reading.

3. Read the passage twice, becoming familiar with the story and its details.

4. Sit quietly and close your eyes. Picture the scene. Where is it taking place? Who is there? What is Jesus doing? What are the sights, sounds, smells? Are you observing the scene as an outsider, are you one of the characters, or are you Jesus? How do you feel? What do you think?

5. The scene may come to life for you in vivid detail. Or you may enter into it through verbally describing what you see, contemplating people's words or actions. Creativity and imagination can be helpful, but are not necessary for this exercise. The aim is to engage with the scene and gain a more personal knowledge of Jesus.

6. As you conclude, take time to talk directly to Jesus. Speak whatever comes to your heart.

Living in God's Presence

Over time, this exercise can help you become more aware of God's presence in every aspect of your life. As you attune your senses to how God is moving in Scripture, you can begin to recognize God's presence with you today. This heightened awareness lets you sense God's Spirit living among us, God's Word alive and active (John 16:13; Hebrews 4:12). Like the hemorrhaging woman in Mark's Gospel, you can realize that Jesus is already near. You only have to have the faith to reach out and touch him.


Want to learn more about the Gospels before trying this spiritual exercise?

More resources on the Gospels »

Christina Miller
Christina Miller

Christina Miller is the Senior Scripture Engagement Writer at American Bible Society. She has a BA in English Literature from Pepperdine University and Master's of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. As an active member of the Episcopal Church, Christina has served as a youth director, Christian formation director, healing prayer minister and adult education teacher. She loves to travel and has spent extended periods of time in Germany, Tanzania and Israel.

See more posts from Christina Miller

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