Friday, April 3, 2009

Using the Imagination Isn't the Same as Pretending

Many who read my book, Picturing the Face of Jesus, may discover the final exercise at the end of each chapter a bit awkward, at first. I guide the reader through an exercise of envisioning himself or herself in the gospel story and imagining Jesus offering him or her the same expressive emotion as He did the main character(s) in the story. Some readers might question, “Is it okay to use the imagination? Isn’t that making things up?” My response, not surprisingly, is “No.”

Using the imagination isn’t the same as pretending. Imagination is a tool God has given us to bring the spiritual and temporal worlds together. Paul said, “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, and no mind has imagined what God has prepared for those who love him.” In other words, we can’t begin to imagine all the wonderful things that God has in store for those who love him. But that doesn't mean we shouldn't try!

Jesus used his imagination as a spiritual lens through which to view the temporal world. One day he sent his disciples out, two by two, to heal and cast out demons. When his disciples returned, they were flabbergasted by God's display of power! They saw lives restored and demons demoralized. But Jesus saw something else. He told his disciples: “I saw Satan fall from heaven like lightning!” (Luke 10:18) Did he literally “see” or did he envision, in the heavenly realm, what was really happening? Did he imagine the forces of evil experiencing a profound setback as his disciples ministered with power in Christ’s name?

When we employ our imagination in order to understand what God has for us, who God is, and what God is doing, we bring the two realities of life together--the spiritual and the tangible. Like the dial on a pair of binoculars, the imagination brings the focus of both lenses together and reality into sharper view.

I hope that you will read my book, give it your best, and practice the imagining prayer exercises. Take your time, as you move through each instruction slowly. Pause and engage your imagination. Ask the Spirit to help you encounter the eternal and living Christ who is present today, in your sacred moment of prayer. Please write and tell me how's it going!

To give you a taste, here is an excerpt from Chapter 1: The Face of Welcome

Imagining Prayer: Letting Jesus Welcome You

When you picture Jesus’ face, do you imagine it as an inviting one? When you pray, do you feel a sense of warmth in his presence? Do you long to experience him as the receptive, open, and responsive person whom Zacchaeus experienced?

If so, begin by imagining and meditating on the story of Zacchaeus. Thoughtfully read the story in Luke 19:1-10 a few times.

• In prayer, picture yourself crouched on the limb of that tree. Why is it important for you to see Jesus?
• Imagine the crowd parting, and Jesus looking up at you with an expression of openness and delight. What does it feel like to be greeted by Jesus’ welcoming face?
• Allow the goodness of his warmth toward you, the smile on his face, to warm your heart. Respond in whatever way feels natural to you.
• Meditate on the sensation of Jesus’ welcoming face as he greets you. You may not picture an actual face, but rather feel the gladness embodied in his expression.
• Have a conversation with Jesus. Stay in the tree as long as you need to be there. When you are ready, accept his request to come home with you. Open your heart to his welcoming presence and simply be with him.

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