I have been given the gift of imagination. As a child, I could play for hours, by myself, creating stories for my Barbies or writing wildly creative stories about even the most mundane topics. Teachers in school praised my love of imagination and my parents bravely endured many a “reading” of those stories.
The one place I didn’t feel that imagination was a gift was at church. Church was about knowing the one correct answer to the leading question that was asked. Where I would embellish edges with lacy details in stories I would create, church frowned on embellishment in any form.
Church, and therefore God, to my young mind, was black or white, right or wrong, straight and narrow.
My ability to create long, winding prose that wove in shades of ivory, grey, indigo, and the softest pink had no use to the church, and therefore, God.
When I was introduced the world of imaginative contemplation, I felt my creativity take its first full breath in years. Imaginative contemplation invites the pray-er to be present in a scripture story. Experience the recorded words as a living, breathing human being that was actually there when the events took place. Smell the grassy pastures described in Psalm 23. Feel the mud on your eyes as Jesus cures your blindness. Taste the salt in the air as you step out of the boat to walk to Jesus on the Sea of Galilee. See the bush burn and feel the hard, crusty desert under your bare feet as you approach. Hear the gentle whisper of God’s voice in the cave.
The goal of this type of prayer is not to gain greater knowledge of the text, though that might happen, but to BE WITH GOD.
Amazing things can happen when we are with God! God speaks to us, through words that have been recorded for centuries. God has a word for us, right now, in this moment. Jesuits, or those monks who are members of the Society of Jesus, describe imaginative contemplation as a ladder than progresses in this way:
- The past becomes present.
- The present becomes personal.
- God speaks to me directly in the present.
- I find myself changing in light of God’s communication.
If you long to hear a word from God, consider using your imagination to explore the stories in the Bible. It might be that God has already recorded a word for you. But you might have to let go of your own black/white, right/wrong, straight and narrow view to perceive the softer shades the text has to offer.
I always recommend learning this method of prayer with the Gospel stories. When you come to prayer, allow your body and mind to relax and become present to the moment. Imagine entering into the presence of God and find God smiling. Rest there for a time. Before you begin to read, ask God for the grace to see Him more clearly through the person of Jesus. Here are a few familiar texts to choose from: Luke 15:1-7, Luke 8: 22-25, Matthew 3: 13-17, and Matthew 9:18-26.
I hope you will share your experience!