The Irredeemable Faculty?

It’s an unfortunate reality in the global Church today that we have become such skilled line-in-the-sand drawers. This ability was on painful display as I researched several aspects of experimental prayer, and each time I was naively saddened and surprised by just how many things about which we can accuse each other of moral error. One of those topics was postures for prayer, which will be dealt with in a later post. But even more silly and heartbreaking was the vehement arguments against the use of the imagination in prayer. It seems a very many people believe that this aspect of human thought is the seat of sin in a person’s mind, that it is utterly twisted, broken, and irredeemable. This makes me very sad, first because this perspective limits the reaches of Christ’s power to make all things new. It also negates so many beautiful aspects of Scripture – poetry and parable both. Mostly, though, because this view is an adamant rejection of one of the qualities of personhood that I think most connect us to the Imago Dei, the image of God dwelling deep inside each of us. He breathed a Word and created zebra and amoeba alike. He worked photosynthesis and life from decay and a billion other systems and processes into the workings of the universe. I think He created the cosmos because He enjoyed revealing His massiveness in the reaches of light and energy that we will never, ever be able to plumb or comprehend. He devised a range of languages in an instant and made us capable of continuing to develop, transition, and recreate our spoken words. When He gave instruction for His Tabernacle and later His Temple, He was meticulous in describing the materials, designs, colors, smells, sounds, and even clothing to be found there. There was depth to the beauty and the meaning behind these elements. One day He even breathed that same Word into a young woman’s womb, knitting together the DNA that would become flesh and bone, blood and nervous system, ligament and imagination wrapped up in a man called Jesus who was born far from home. He would teach with story, analogy, parable, and graphic object lessons. He would draw out the imaginations of those around Him with probing questions, searching interviews, and scribbles in the sand. He would eventually defy the greatest imaginations by raising from the dead and sustaining a 2000-year-old movement of disciples, followers, scallywags, and saints.

It seems to me that to consider the imagination as something to be blindly crucified because it has the capability of aiding and abetting our sin is a little like taking literally Jesus’ words to pluck out offending eyes or sever offending hands. He was painting a picture of the seriousness of sin and its consequences, teaching us that the desires of the physical body should never be allowed to compromise the health and wholeness of our souls. Our bodies are just as capable of making possible the greatest feats of love, mercy, and healing as taking us to the depths of corruption and sin. Likewise the imagination, if it can in fact be redeemed, seems to be one of the things that can most clearly reflect the nature of Christ dwelling inside of us today. Anyone who’s been moved to tears or laughter at the playing of a piano key, the phrases of a wordsmith, or the stroke of an artist must understand what I mean. The works of the imagination can minister deeper healing, reveal greater hope, and lead us to higher ecstasies than all the flat sermons and unilluminated reading in the world.

Furthermore in regard to prayer in particular, Richard Foster keenly observes that very few of us are able to experience God in sheer abstraction. We might agree with the idea that we should seek His presence in solitude, that silence is a much-needed discipline in our loud and busy world. But how do we find God in those places? Remember that seeking God in silence is about more than emptying ourselves in the Eastern sense of meditation; we empty to make space for the attachment to something utterly spiritual. But how do we make those ties? How do we find Him once the room is clear? An ancient father of the faith compared the use of imagination in prayer to the tethering of a hawk to the wrist so that this wild, beautiful thing might “rest of the hand.” In the same way, we attach our imaginations to a particular thing so that we can “confine our mind within the mystery.” The following are some examples, maybe some suggestions. Try one out and let me know what you think…

Instead of just reading a story in the Gospel of Mark, pour yourself into the story. Engage every sense at your disposal. Are you by the sea? Smell the water. Hear lapping waves. Tune into the noise of the bustling people, selling wet fish and changing clanging coins at the tax collector’s booth. Taste the bread and the smoked fish. Feel the weight of the storm as it rolls in over the mountains and toward the water. Feel the fear as the boat lurches beneath you, get wet as waves crash over the edge and threaten you all. Focus your eye on the figure moving across the water.

Is a friend struggling with some sort of sexual issue? As you pray, picture a river flooding its banks leaving chaos and destruction in its wake. Lift up this image of your friend’s sexuality to the God who hears you. Ask Him to calm the waters, to reign in the flood. Remember that sexuality is a powerful, pure, beautiful, life-giving, celebratory aspect of your friend’s life when it remains within the confines of the river banks. Ask God to draw these boundaries clearly for your friend, to extend the grace and strength to regain the full mystery of their sexuality as it returns to its intended place and course.

Place a candle in front of you as you enter into confession of sin. Spend time imagining the darkness created within you and your world by your sin. Feel the weight of it, the fear and disorientation of it. Light the candle, inviting the light of Christ into the space, into your soul. Ask Him to reveal any roots of darkness, to dispel them with the power and love of His light.

Put some molding clay in a plastic bag. Fiddle with it as you begin to meditate on your relationship with God the potter and you as the clay. Ask Him to refashion the things in you that are distorted. Lift up to Him the cracks and chips that you feel make you less valuable. Remember that He says His glory dwells best in simple jars of clay. Ask Him how you can participate in the revealing of His love, restoration, and healing in your world today.

Learn to use prayer beads. Bake bread. Take a hike and engage every sense. Garden or knit. Place an icon or crucifix or coin or jar of water or stone in front of you as a thing to which to attach your imagination as you ask the Holy Spirit to fill the space with His words, to guide you in your prayer.

As we continue to experiment together, let’s choose to believe that the reaches of Christ’s redemption are boundless.

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3 Comments

  1. Leslie said,

    April 29, 2011 at 7:50 am

    Mandy, I thought this post was great. Thanks for writing, I am so glad to have met you. Leslie

  2. April 29, 2011 at 8:05 pm

    No argument here. God is definitely an artist, and we are made in his image. I wonder if the prohibition against imagination is a fear of people making stuff up and calling it “God”…

    • MandyK said,

      April 30, 2011 at 7:26 am

      I’m sure that’s a big part of it. I also think that people are scared of others creating, calling it good, but it not being “Christian” enough. The whole, God only uses worship music thing. It makes me a little sad…


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