Encouragement for a lifelong journey of faith

Category: Imagination as a Tool for Spiritual Growth (Page 1 of 2)

September 16, 2018 — Practice Imagination

Today’s Bible reading

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it. 

Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.

But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

“Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” — Matthew 14:22-33

More thoughts for meditation

I’ve read this passage many times and have heard it preached just as many. If memory serves, the focus settles on Peter’s inability to keep his focus on Jesus while he is on the water. But there is a vital moment right before that is rich with meaning. I’m thinking of the moment where Peter imagines himself on the surface of the water right next to Jesus.

Peter often makes impulsive choices throughout the gospels, and they tend to define him as bullish and brash disciple. But in this moment, I sense a childlike characteristic in Peter–one where he cries out, “I want to walk on the water like Jesus!” What a rich and boundless imagination Peter has.

In our contemporary culture where fear and scarcity flush through our phones and computers, it can be difficult to engage our imagination to cast vision for that next stage that God is calling us into. I sense that the older we get, the more conservative strategies are deemed to be wise; charity and vulnerability become foolish. But Jesus walks above the fear and invites to follow. The first step is to imagine that it is even possible.

Suggestions for action

The spirit is moving in you. Have you been mulling over a generous act, a phone call of reconciliation or stepping out in trust? Imagine that Jesus is with in that action. Maybe today is the day that you step onto the water with Jesus? Pray your imagination.

September 15, 2018 — Faith like a Mustard Seed

Today’s Bible reading

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” — Matthew 13:31-32

More thoughts for meditation

I see the parable of the mustard seed as a story about how Imagination is often the first step of being faithful to a calling. What begins as something seemingly simple and small carries circumstance shifting, world changing potential.

I don’t think it is coincidental that many of the people who have done terrible things in the name of Jesus also tried to stop imaginative work. And in the same vein, I’m convinced the people I know personally who are creating ways to combat evil and injustice with good and love are some of the most imaginative people I know.

A great example of how Circle of Hope does this well is our compassion teams. There are 16 compassion teams, and a few more that are in the process of becoming. One of the things that is so wonder-full about these teams is that each of them started out in someone’s imagination. The vision of something that could be is similar to the mustard seed mentioned in the parable above. These ideas, when planted, and shown the care they need, transform into something powerful within our reality.  

Suggestions for action

What need do you see around you? What idea, or mustard seed of imagination, are you able to picture where you could step into that need and cultivate something good? It might be a new compassion team, or joining a team that is already doing something great. Take a moment to look at the teams here, pray for them, be inspired, possibly even join one!

September 14, 2018 — The Glory Here and the Glory Yet to Come

Today’s Bible reading

The wolf will live with the lamb,
   the leopard will lie down with the goat,
the calf and the lion and the yearling[a] together;
   and a little child will lead them.
The cow will feed with the bear,
   their young will lie down together,
   and the lion will eat straw like the ox.
The infant will play near the cobra’s den,
   and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.
They will neither harm nor destroy
   on all my holy mountain,
for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord
   as the waters cover the sea. — Isaiah 11:6-9

More thoughts for meditation

“Why is our world beautiful, and what are we as Christians to do about the fact that our world is beautiful? Why is our world ugly, and what are we as Christians to do about the fact that our world is ugly?

How do we make sense of these, and how do we live as ourselves, called to be human beings who live within that ugliness and that beauty and are called to respond appropriately to God in God’s world?

You need imagination to cope with that. Most of us find that too hard, so we retreat into soap operas and shopping and sport and hanging out and drinking coffee and shopping and so on. From time to time we catch our breath at the sight of the mountains coming out through the clouds or at something we see on television about horrible violence somewhere else or maybe even not somewhere else. It’s too big and too difficult and we can’t cope with it and so we retreat.

And our Christian tradition has not given us the means to cope with being creatures who live in a world achingly beautiful and awesomely ugly. We go back to scripture and we find worship offered God by the angels, who in Isaiah 6 sing day and night, without ceasing, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God of Hosts, The whole earth is full of his glory.’

And we say, yes, it is — the whole earth is full of God’s glory. I see it. I catch it on the sunrise and the sunset, the flight of a bird, the sight of a whale emerging from the waves, whatever it is. The world is full of God’s glory and power. Then we remind ourselves that it’s also a place of violence and destruction, and of terror and shame and fear which invade our own souls. And then we move on in Isaiah and just a few chapters later in Isaiah chapter 11 we find there a vision, an extraordinary vision, of a world healed by the love of God, a world in which the lion and the lamb will lie down together, a world in which there will be peace at all levels, peace between humans, peace between animals, reconciliation right through the cosmos. And answers the prophet, ‘the world will be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea.’

We, my friends, are called to live between the vision of the world which is already filled with the glory of God, and a world which is yet to be filled with the glory of God, as the waters cover the sea. It’s a fascinating phrase. How do the waters cover the sea? They are the sea. God intends to flood the world with himself, with his love in fresh ways, in which what we already know of the beauty and power and majesty of creation will be taken up and enhanced yet further when that which is ugly and which defaces God’s world has been finally done away in God’s project of reconciliation, of beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks, so that nation will not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore — another Isaiah vision of God’s future.” — N.T. Wright

What strikes me as significant here is how we are called not only to imagine what the glory of God’s reconciliation will look like, but we are encouraged to set a foundation of recognizing God’s glory already here among us. The glory that is within each of us, in our homes, on our streets, in our neighborhoods, and beyond.

It is not difficult to create a mental picture of destruction. Frequently I find myself looking at the news on my phone within the first 30 minutes of waking up. Not that I need a fresh dousing of what terror is in the world, but it’s there regardless, and starting the day this way sets a tone. The prophecy from Isaiah we read above is intensely beautiful to me because it is so different from the pictures we see consistently in the news, and in our lives daily. This prophecy is actually impossible! And yet Isaiah is painting a picture of what will be. Unlike the tone of the news on my phone, this prophecy is refreshing. It inspires awe. And it is this glory that we are called to imagine and work toward creating.

Suggestions for action

Make a list of how you see the glory of God around you. This is a wonderful practice especially in places where it’s not as obvious. Now make a list of the glory yet to come. Pray the glory.

Think of one simple step you could take in bringing that glory here now, and do it. Think about sharing this step, and asking others to do the same. Imagine a critical mass of God’s glory.

Today is John Chrysostom Day! Admire his faith at Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body!

September 13, 2018 — Prayer and Imagination

Today’s Bible reading

Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. — Mark 1:35

More thoughts for meditation

My habit of prayer directly impacts my ability to imagine. And with a schedule that seems endlessly jam-packed with meetings, responsibilities, and traffic, I find the lived-out call of Jesus to be challenging. But I also know the fruit of this discipline to be nourishing. Prayerful imagination invites me to a deeper understanding of my identity as the beloved of God. Imagination also allows me to consider the dramatic richness of the scene where Jesus sneaks out from the house to pray.

Did he quietly put on his sandals? Did any of the disciples notice him leaving? Was anyone else awake at that time? Did a shepherd see him and wonder what he was doing? And what solitary place did Jesus go to? I can imagine that it may have been by a stream…or maybe beside an olive tree…or in the cleft of a mountain. What did Jesus pray about?

Is there a story from the Bible that really strikes a chord within you? When I was pregnant I saw the advent story come alive in a new ways as I imagined Mary’s fear about pending labor, and raising a child in an uncertain, sometimes violent, and often scary world. I could feel the sheer joy and exhilaration of holding a new baby in my arms. Throughout my life I’ve been drawn to water, and when I read the story of Jesus walking on water in Matthew I am awestruck. I enjoy reading about Jesus sharing meals, and going on walks with his friends because that intimacy among people dear to me is relatable.

St. Ignatius of Loyola is known for his leadership in the use of this practice of using scripture and imagination in prayer:

Ignatian prayer places great emphasis on the power of the imagination to deepen our relationship with God. One of the principal forms of prayer in the Spiritual Exercises is imaginative reflection on scenes from the Gospels. The praying retreatant becomes a participant in the event—the healing of the blind man Bartimaeus, for example. The retreatant feels the heat of the sun, smells the passing animals, hears the noise of the crowd. Above all, the retreatant watches and hears Jesus as he approaches the man, heals him, and disputes with the angry Pharisees.

If you want to learn more about St. Ignatius you can visit our Celebrating Our Transhistorical Body sight and read more here.

Suggestions for action

Take some time to use this method of prayer this week. Maybe commit to taking five minutes each morning to enter into one of these stories using all your senses to ignite your imagination. You could even try imagining what Jesus might be doing in your neighborhood right now. You may find yourself working with Jesus in a new way as you envision how he would love your neighbors, or even how he loves you.

« Older posts