PENTECOST MOMENTS — SATURDAY, JULY 10
TRAINING THE IMAGINATION
“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast …” Isaiah 26:3.
In older translations of the above Scripture, the word ‘mind’ is translated ‘imagination.’ In the old Revised Version, this passage reads, “Thou wilt keep him in perfect peace whose imagination is stayed on Thee.” The imagination is part of the mind, one of the more important functions of our intellect. And it has a holy purpose.
When I was a youngster growing up in the ‘50s, imagination was not so appreciated by adults. “Get your head out of the clouds,” “Quit daydreaming,“ and “That’s just your imagination,” were common criticisms. Being a very imaginative little girl, I was made to feel ashamed of my flights of fancy, my rich inner life. No one ever thought to encourage me to become a writer, that’s for sure! I carried this attitude into adulthood, and my vivid imagination became the subject of a lot of prayer and worry. Then a friend gave me Oswald Chambers’ classic book of daily meditations, My Utmost for His Highest. I was startled to read Chambers’ feelings about imagination: “Imagination is the greatest gift God has given us and it ought to be devoted entirely to Him.” [Page 42].
If you think about it, Jesus was one of the most imaginative people ever. All those stories and parables he made up to teach his points came from a fertile imagination. One can see in Jesus what it means to have an imagination devoted entirely to God. Imagination is a way to leap beyond our mundane circumstances, to see connections between ordinary earthly happenings and spiritual truths. Imagination helps us put ourselves in God’s presence when we pray, to ‘see’ God in our mind’s eye and, thus love him more. We know the images we have of God are not complete, but that’s all right. Until we actually do see God face to face, our imaginations are all we have to picture God and may actually prepare us for that great encounter.
How do we devote and dedicate our imaginations to God? Here are a few things to consider:
- First, we must turn our imaginations away from the things we should not be brooding about. As Oswald Chambers put it, we have to turn our imaginations away from our idols. We have many idols: our work, our perceptions of holiness and rightness, our hurts, our desire to change the people around us to fit our expectations. If each of us were to keep a journal of our thoughts throughout the day, we would see a lot of time dedicated to imagining silly things, thinking empty thoughts, having imaginary conversations to straighten out problems and make ourselves look good. St. Paul said we are to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ.” [II Cor. 10:5b]. This will not happen overnight–our thought patterns are deep habits. But if we ask God’s help and turn away from these thoughts when we become aware of them, even our imaginations can be retrained.
- We can use the tools God has placed all around us, namely nature. Make it a habit to feed your imagination by looking around you. Take the time to sit under the stars at night and gaze. Watch the birds and bunnies playing below your window. Look at the sunset. Buy some flowers, make a pretty arrangement, and gaze at them. Listen to beautiful music and imagine yourself dancing to it. Then imagine dancing with Jesus (he’s a really good dancer, you know!). Remember St. Paul’s advice in Philippians 4:8: Think about things that are true, noble, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy.
- Use your imagination to place yourself in Bible stories. Ask God to help you picture yourself in the crowd as Jesus tells his stories, as Jesus talks with the Samaritan woman, as the angel tells Mary she is about to become the mother of the Messiah. Be a fly on the wall at Martha and Mary’s house and listen to their conversations with Jesus, their incredulous joy after Lazarus was raised from the dead. The possibilities are endless.
- Use your imagination to place yourself in God’s presence when you go to prayer. Where will you meet God? In the throne room? In his sitting room? Will you sit next to him, or on his lap … or on the other side of the room? Or you can imagine yourself, like Mack in the book, The Shack, chatting with God in the kitchen while you cook together. Or digging in the garden together. Or walking in the woods together. When you begin to do this, you will find yourself drawing closer to God and looking forward to your quiet times with God. And God will have surprises for you. Last summer, in my prayer time, I saw God and I at the beach walking together. Suddenly, he began to walk out on the water and held out his hand for me to come. Next thing I knew, we were way out in the middle of the ocean somewhere, sitting cross-legged right on top of the water, bobbing up and down gently with the waves. That was God’s idea, and so much fun I asked if we could do it all summer! If you are willing to honor your imagination and use it, God will give you very interesting visions to feed your imagination and make it grow.
Remember that God is “able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine.” [Ephesians 3:20]. So … we should get into the habit of asking — and imagining!
Scripture Readings for Sunday, July 11: Deut. 30:10-14; Psalm 69:14, 17, 30-34; Colossians 1:15-20; Luke 10:25-37 (the Greatest Commandment and the Parable of the Good Samaritan).
Meditation: Read the Gospel reading for tomorrow. Samaritans were hated by the Jews, so for Jesus to tell a story where the hero was a Samaritan was a challenge for his hearers. Use your imagination to picture this story in modern times. Who would you substitute for the Samaritan as the unlikely hero of the story? A homeless person? An undocumented Mexican? That certain crabby neighbor no one likes?