For the next several posts, I want to explore a topic that once aroused suspicion in me. Now it is something I love to experience and share with men. It’s a form of praying that goes by many names. I’m going to call it in its simplest terms — imaginative prayer. Here, instead of using words, prayer becomes a series of images by which we experience God’s presence. Why was I suspicious at first? And why did I change my mind? Read on to see my objections and answers with imaginative prayer.
Here are four objections I had about imaginative prayer. Perhaps you may see yourself among one or more of them:
- As a child of the Enlightenment era, I breathed the air that viewed the physical world as the truly real. Although I believed in God and the spiritual world, I was taught implicitly that my religious beliefs were for private use only. They were not welcome in the public arena where science and reason held court. These two constituted the real world. Faith and religion were, by unspoken deduction, declared unreal.
- The imagination came under that same rubric. Whatever was imagined was not something with which science or reason could work. Therefore, the imagination equated with the imaginary. And again, by unspoken deduction, it was seen as unreal and even untrue. It was OK for children during play, but definitely not for the adult world.
- To add more stumbling blocks, I grew up during a time when New Age thinking was billowing into a powerful movement. Here Eastern mysticism and meditative practices were dressed up in Western thinking, promising a first-hand encounter with the spiritual world. Imagining certain things in the mind was encouraged as a part of the mind-over-matter mantra woven through the literature. So to use the imagination became equated with New Age ideas.
- On the whole, teachers and preachers faithfully communicated the truths of the Christian faith to me. I have a bedrock of solid orthodoxy that has served me well through the years. But the way the Bible was preached and the way I was taught to study it came with an unsolicited assumption. If I can just think with truer ideas, it will lead me closer to Christ. I had filled my whole world of spirituality with abstract ideas that I hoped would lead me toward union with Him. So the thought of using my imagination seemed alien, even bizarre. I was understandably suspicious.
Answering the Objections
But over time, each of the above objections has been overcome. Here are the answers that came to me:
- As the Postmodern era took over in my adult life, it rightly criticized the arrogance of the Enlightenment and the unproven assumption that only the physical world was real. Much of human history has held an opposite view: the spiritual was the truly real, with the physical being derivative of it in some way. Although Postmodernism can give no substantive answers to the life’s big questions, it did lift the iron curtain of dominance that Enlightenment thinking held in intellectual circles. Religious ideas are once more considered as valid in the marketplace.
- I came to realize that the imagination is the part of the brain that makes us most like God. It is also the most sophisticated and mysterious part of our being. Through it, we become sub-creators, able to make our own worlds using the stuff of the created order. Without the imagination, there would be no art, no architecture, no literature, no music, no theater, no inventions, no sports successes, and even no advances in science.
- While there may be parallels with the New Age movement in using the imagination , parallels do not mean influence or complicity. The New Age movement also spoke of prayer and the spiritual world. These are both massive truths for any Christian, yet there can be no charge of New Age influence here. Furthermore, using the imagination has been a part of the Bible’s teaching and church tradition.
- I came to a crisis of faith some time ago. The truths of the faith I knew well. I had read thousands of pages of theology and Biblical study, and yet my life was slipping into a dark hole of depression and narcissism. It’s not that the faith wasn’t true. But there was something terribly missing in the way I was accessing those truths. Knowing abstract ideas was just not enough. There had to be more.
And there is more. So much more. And that’s what I want to explore in future posts. Using our imagination in prayer takes what we know to be true about God and helps us to experience Him as real. We will explore the Bible’s use of the imagination, images for God in the Bible, ways to pray with the imagination, and some personal stories.
Let me leave you with a question to begin exploring imaginative prayer on your own. The next time you pray, imagine God looking at you. What do you see?
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