The imaginative, reflective, and personal potential of Ignatian prayer engages young people to dive deeply and create meaning. It empowers them by giving the opportunity to make choices. Young people make a choice in imaginative prayer to paint their own picture or place themselves in the story from any viewpoint they choose.
Adolescents, as a result of digital interfaces, respond well to image-based understanding. When they see something, they understand it. Instead of painting a picture of a Scripture story for young people, invite them to paint their own image by asking them some of the following questions:
- What do you see, hear, and feel?
- Where are you in this story?
- What do you feel in your heart?
- When you take this down from your brain into your heart, what do you feel?
- What does it feel like knowing you are here?
- What are you saying?
- What are you doing?
- What is God/Jesus doing?
- What is God/Jesus saying?
When young people discover the freedom to make their own choices in how to engage their imaginations in prayer, that prayer becomes more personal and intimate. Intimacy is a great desire of young people who are seeking accompaniment. We see this need in the trends of loneliness in young people. With Ignatian prayer, a young person is empowered by his or her imagination to enter a personal conversation with God, who will never abandon them.
Pope Francis encourages us to develop the capacity to listen; listening is the key to accompaniment and discernment: “When we are called upon to help others discern their path in life, what is uppermost is the ability to listen.” (Christus Vivit, #291) In the Spiritual Exercises, St. Ignatius of Loyola offers three intimate conversations with Mary, Jesus, and God the Father. This conversation gives the person making the Exercises the opportunity to listen to Mary, Jesus, and God’s understanding of a concept before receiving the Church’s teaching. This technique is useful in in sharing the Church’s moral and social teachings; it is also a powerful way to experience God’s love. Consider the effect on a young person if he or she intentionally imagines God’s loving gaze. That is a much more powerful experience than hearing someone say, “God loves you.”
We are not intermediators between the young person and God. God and the teenager forge their own relationship. With this personal and intimate relationship, the young person is comfortable to live as he or she is in our community, the Church. We simply make the space for young people to enter into conversation with God. Here are some tips to help make that space.
- Ask young people to close their eyes when you read Scripture, and then ask them what they saw, smelled, or felt. Where did they place themselves in the story? Why does that matter?
- Have young people draw a Scripture story as you read it.
- Provide moments of silence during the prayer, prompting young people to listen for what God has to say.
- Invite young people to journal. Perhaps use already available points of contact, like the digital interfaces available, to post a journaling prompt like, “Where did you see God today?”
- Allow for silence and response in group gatherings.
- Have young people form pairs to discuss and reflect on their prayer experience.
- Create opportunities for young people to pray for one another.