The other day as I prayed the Liturgy of the Hours, at the line “God himself will set me free from the hunter’s snare” suddenly I imagined myself in the woods with my foot caught in the sharp jaws of a trap. I felt the pain and the desperation. “Hmm,” I thought. “This is how I teach people to pray the Gospel stories, by putting themselves into the scene and letting all their senses come into play.” For some reason it never occurred to me to apply this method St. Ignatius promoted to other prayers too.
Let’s experiment with a psalm. Psalm 127:1 is “Unless the LORD builds the house those who build it labor in vain. Unless the LORD guards the city, the guard keeps watch in vain.” For the first sentence see and hear someone hammering the last plank of wood onto a house. But then the house collapses. Hear the deafening sounds. Breathe in the dust. For the second sentence visualize a city with a soldier stationed in the tower but hordes of enemies forces breaking through the walls. Hear the war cries.
What about traditional prayers? For “Hail, Mary, full of grace” picture a beautiful Jewish girl radiating a dazzling aura. For “blessed is the fruit of your womb” see Mary cradling in her arms a tiny Baby Jesus who looks up at her and laughs as only a baby can laugh.
Each morning I ask God to bless people who are dear to me and to help those for whom I promised to pray. Now instead of simply rattling off their names, I picture each one.
Granted, praying this way calls for creativity and takes a little longer, but it has advantages. For one thing, it focuses your attention and holds distractions at bay.
You might try incorporating your five senses the next time you pray. If you do, what happened?