Many of us assume that meditation is a method of self-emptying and silencing, which allows a deeply accomplished spiritual master to enter into a kind of union with God. This kind of apophatic meditation is more accurately called contemplation. Contemplation is a gift of vision and knowledge given by God.
Meditation, on the other hand, as the word is used here, involves St. Ignatius’ (the founder of the Jesuits) specific method of entering into a biblical scene. It requires the believer to use imagination, senses and openness to God’s guidance to place oneself within a biblical story. The seeker uses five senses to imagine how the scene looked, to hear the sounds, to smell the odors, to eat the food and finally to enter into conversation with Christ.
Is it possible that God can speak to us through our imaginations? For some people, the sensate experience, the freedom to use their imaginations in this way, may open them up to a new realm of spiritual experience. For others, the distractions of their present environment may prevent them from fully entering into the biblical scene. Each person will likely find that each experience affects him differently.
To do imaginative meditation on your own, first choose a Bible passage that you would like to meditate on. You may wish to meditate on the same passage each day of the week, noting how your experience varies and deepens each time. Or you may prefer to meditate on a different scene each day.
To begin your meditation, bring yourself into a state of calm. Pay attention to your breathing, breathing fully and slowly. Consciously relax your muscles, starting with your head and neck and moving down to your toes. Then read the passage through slowly and carefully, one sentence at a time. With each sentence, imagine:
What does the landscape look like? What does the air feel like? Is it hot? Dry? Dusty? Is there a smell of rain in the air? Are there trees, rivers, rocks, mountains? Build the landscape in your mind.
What people are present? Is there a crowd, or just a few people? Where are you in the scene? What do the people look like? Are they peaceful, angry, impatient, expectant? Are they paying attention to Jesus, or wishing he would go away?
What background sounds do you hear? Is there wind, the sound of water rushing or gurgling, the sound of a crowd, footsteps, laughter, sobbing?
What do you smell? Are there flowers? Are the people sweaty? Is there a smell of dinner cooking?
What do you feel with your sense of touch in this scene? The wind blowing? A hand touching yours? Does the hand feel soft or rough, weak or strong? Are your feet sore from walking a long way? Are you hungry, thirsty? Are you in pain or in need of healing?
Finally, what conversation do you hear? Does Jesus turn and speak directly to you? What do you say to him?