(a raw article, towards a sanctified imagination)
Jesus taught: If the eye is good, the whole is good. The eye is a gate which effects the whole person, and guides it forward into becoming what we are meant to be. In this collage like essay, I’m looking at the relationship between prayer, and the sanctified use of the imagination. We see and know. God asked Jeremiah to go run the streets of Jerusalem and see, and then know! In prayer, we see, then we start to seek understanding or interpretation, then we start to incarnate and labor for the vision by faith on earth. The imagination brings in the raw data. Spiritual perception is the beginning of believing, and co-laboring it into actual experience! The imagination in dialogue with The Holy Spirit in prayer, does not just conjure up vision; it is led. Our human imagination is shaped and guided by The Holy Spirit in prayer, and we start to see more of what God is seeing. Of course, we cannot see as God does–truly holistically. But we have the Mind of Christ, and can therefore see more “in Him” than without Him!
The sanctified imagination is capable of seeing much more accurately and deeply, and therefore praying with much more of His Authority and Power, into The Nature of Things. So when we pray, we are shown things about what we are praying about. We see that person, or city or neighborhood in vision or image, and then we seek out an understanding of what we see; then we fellowship with His Suffering, to make it so! We see into knowing, then into action, in short. Raw information, interpretation, method of implementation in His Love and Wisdom! Vision, interpretation, then application or methods of intervention. This is how we learn His Ways in Prayer! Vision comes first.
Exercise: while in a prayer space with Jesus, ask Him to show you something (in your spiritual sight or visual space); once He gives you an image, ask Him what it means; write it down; then ask Him why He is showing you that image. Consider His Ways, and praise; then return back into that prayer space and ask for another image, and repeat, until you are reveling in God’s Wonderfulness!
The imagination of the prophets is also a great and related study (imaginations on Fire, you might name that study!). For here you have people whose primary spirituality or place of meeting God was most often in the imaginative dimension–ie dreams, visions, impressions etc. The very first thing God speaks to Jeremiah is, “What do you see?” And then of course, the first church sermon spoke of an increase in dreams and visions as The Spirit was poured out. This was predicting an increase of imaginative activity between God and humanity! God increasing His communication lines, and we needing to be more fully consecrated in Him to receive His words. Hence, the increase of the prophetic, and what i would call the diameter of creative communications between God and His People. Something, we as followers of Jesus, would not want to miss out on–this potential increase in the scope and dimension of our imaginations in Him! And again, this was in Peter’s first sermon spoken by The Holy Spirit! Just beforehand in the narrative, the image of the Holy Spirit Himself is given to us as just that, an image–one of fiery forked tongues! So we start to sense the importance of the imagination in our conversation with God, and His conversings with us, as something very basic in our relationship with God. The prophets were constantly shown things in vision (you could say, they had an imaginative spirituality; much as most artist do!), that they then would seek out the interpretation of, including the death and resurrection of Christ. By the spirit of Christ into them, the New Testament tells us, they sought out to know the future times.
Language itself is forged by the imagination as George Macdonald pointed out. Words start “winged” and slowly as they come into common usage, fly to earth; but they always have a poetic history! There was a image/concept each word was trying to carry! So you see that they whole bible could be seen as an imaginative collaboration between God and its writers! There are endless theories historically on the relationship between imagination and intellect, but clearly, for Christians, the two collaborate in His Holy Spirit! We come to see, then to know, then to act in His Love. We are meant to move in His full Way.
To ignore the imaginative dimension in ourselves or His Creation is to miss out on a large part of what it means to be human. I remember long ago, a Christian friend told me not to pay attention to my dreams; that they were mainly an “enemy space”. I’m glad i did not follow that advice, because whatever areas we leave to the enemy, he will certainly take over. We are meant to cultivate the whole self in Christ, and to surrender “all”!
The imagination is also the explorer or discoverer–the finder, the entrepreneur (as the original Saxon etymology has it!). And as George Macdonald writes, “the faculty which explores, precedes the one which discovers.” If we do not move from imagination, we cannot move forward; the faculty that finds, precedes the one which utters what it has found, as he puts it. So imagination comes first. The rituals of the priest precede the taking of the land. The symbolic comes before then full incarnation. Symbol precedes incarnation. The prophets are sent before God’s intervention to warn, watch instruct etc. The prophet is a type of symbolizer, which comes before the fuller expression. And God reveals things firstly through them, and then acts. God is kind to do so. And we are thankful that He symbolizes himself before He just blows us away.
My point here, is that the imaginative or symbolic is in the foreground of God’s communications with humanity. He offers a symbol or sign, and then He acts. It is one of His Ways. He lets us know, and then He does it! This gives us room to consider and choose. It is one of the greatest kindnesses of His communications with us! I’ll send my prophets first, so you get a clear message! The whole of the OT, for instance, presages, or is a type of what becomes incarnate in the NT. Each aspect of OT symbol is incarnated in the New–the literal bread in the tabernacle, becomes the Bread of Life etc–the literal becomes the spiritual, in short; Jesus calls Himself, the fulfillment of The Laws; but first God spent a very long time setting up the symbol of His Son! The imagination itself is a sign of how God symbolizes and communicates Himself beforehand, so that we may know, and choose to turn to Him. The imagination is that pioneer out front sending light back to the whole!
Abraham was shown something (through the faculties of his spiritual imagination) which he moved towards his whole life. In fact, the whole hall of faith fame in Hebrews 11, were all shown things (spiritual imagination!), which they, then, moved towards! That’s the role of the imagination! Jesus Himself–for the glory SET BEFORE HIM, endured the Cross. That vision brought hope that is the center note of history. Vision brings hope, brings faith, brings endurance etc. Without vision the people perish. We need to see to have hope. So imagination shows us something we can then move and build towards. That’s part of its role in life. You look also here at I Peter where the whole letter rest on this vision (imagination) of the hope–the spiritual continuum. John does the same; argue for hope based on the vision of the future. Imagine what is to come, act in the present accordingly, is basically the whole meaning of I Peter! And John echoes it with more subtle esoteric language! Imagine the hope, which you are already tasting in the Holy Spirit, and live in the present accordingly! We cannot really have hope without imagination. Most of the New Testament is asking us to look forwards into Christ. We cannot look forwards without imagination!
We are shown things in prayer, and we pray them into being in Him. We do this, through faith, but first we must see in order to know how to pray, and press on to labor things down into incarnation. Truly cleanse the windows of our perceptions Lord! Without sight, we can’t start to pray. Of course, there is petition, where we are bringing him our needs and thoughts; but power prayer is from praying what He is praying. And to do so, we need vision!
So I would say the imagination is the entrepreneurial part of who we are. If we want to invent, or move forward in life and come up with creative solutions, we will need this vital dimension of our humanity. Lord bless my start up part! This is the part which comes up with new hypothesis, which through understanding becomes law in the scientific method. This is the part which sees possibilities and potential. There is wild fire atomic energy in this aspect of who we are! Which is why so many who highlight this aspect (artists) are so often blown apart by it. But in Christ, we are able to harness its energy and let it be part of the whole in a dynamic life giving way.
Of course, at times the imagination itself has been worshiped, as in aspects of the Romantic movement in literature and art. We are sinful idiots, who also worshiped our own intellects–eg, the poorly named “enlightenment”. But just as the intellect in itself is not the enemy, nor is the imagination–the whole person is meant to be in and under, and in dynamic living dialogue with Our God, and as we visit His Cross daily, each aspect is correctly and longingly refined and brought home in Him, and brought back into its redeemed and intended purpose! We are becoming the sons and daughters of God, and the brothers and sisters of Jesus Himself! Those who are moving ever more in His Ways, taking on His Whole Nature. We are those who are becoming the children of God Himself! Thus, our imaginations are being gradually baptized into His Being.
Lord I bring my imagination to You to occupy and cause to bloom and be led by Your Holy Spirit. Thanks. Make it part of your dwelling Lord. Forgive me, for ignoring or not nurturing every inch of my imagination in You.
But in this little essay, i want to concentrate mostly on the role of imagination in prayer. When we pray with Jesus, who ever lives to intercede for us; we start to be shown images. The bible then teaches us to seek to understand what we see. We start to form an interpretation. Then we see again how Jesus is applying this understanding–ie we start to see how He is applying the knowledge of God into an intervention. And we at this stage start to know His Ways. So I would say that imagination is one step in heading towards knowing and therefore loving The Ways of God.
In this sense, imagination is a part of knowing or epistemology. It is one of the inner tools we have as humans to know Our Creator and His Creation. As we pray, we are shown things, which allow us to behold a deeper understanding of how He is interpreting each situation. So we do not pray as blind people, but rather those who are called into more of His Sight!
Very practically, many people have allowed their imaginations to become dulled-either by the world’s way of seeing, or just from lack of active creative participation with God. This poverty of imagination is unfortunately prevalent in many part of His Church. But there is a creative revival abreast! Historically, we lost our frenetic and articulate sense of vision along the way in church history, though there have in each generation been exceptions. This is for many reasons. In the church at least, some resulted as a negative effect of the reformation. Most of what was restored to the church during the Reformation was absolutely essential and needed and from God. But, it also had an unfortunate overreaction to the previous icons and misuse of the symbolic life of the church. So that it snuffed some of the creative expression to and with God.
Ironically, Martin Luther himself wrote hymns and translated the bible afresh! He himself obviously had an intact imagination, however, some of the overreaction to iconoclasm in the catholic church, really did leave us imaginatively impoverished. I am afraid we almost threw out the shining Baby with the bathwater in terms of the imagination of His Church. We see this in much of the boring subsequent architecture of the protestant church. In not wanting to look worldly or wealthy, we became poor in the wrong ways–we became poor of imagination. We came to have perceptual poverty. A real problem being corrected in our day. For if the church has no creative, dynamic, vision forward, we are all in trouble.
For this reason even now, you see art is often only used in the church as a instrument of evangelism. I say “used”, because that is what it’s like to tell an artist, their creative process is only good for carrying the gospel information. Art and creativity have intrinsic worth as a part of who we are, and an essential aspect of our relationship with God. There are other uses of art; and to create itself is a priestly act, which also reflects how God made us. There is room to “use” art to trick people into the gospel, i suppose. But that is not its primary use. Art is not meant to be propaganda for God; it is part of being fully human, and it is a very practical part of our relationship with God.
I would say in prayer and prophecy, the imagination is rather more of a way of knowing Him, than it is a tool to speak about Him. God asked Jeremiah: What do you see? And then tells Him, he sees rightly. Later God tells Jeremiah to run through the streets of Jerusalem and “see and know”. Seeing is part and leads to knowing. This is true in prayer and the prophetic. God is One. His imagination is part of who He is. We are meant to be becoming one, so our imaginations are part of this integration process we call sanctification. Fortunately, when The Holy Spirit comes, things get very creative! And more of who we truly are, gets activated and awakened.
Well, what does a sanctified imagination look like! Fully human. I would offer examples like George Macdonald, the great Scottish theologian; CS Lewis, his protege and many others who have modeled an integrated imagination in their relationships with God. But i would also say all of us can integrate and sharpen our imaginations in our relationship with God; and the expressive excellence which will come through us, will astound even ourselves! We see even as early back in church history as St Ignacius, an integration of the imagination into his spiritual exercises. It was assumed “normal Christianity” to imagine that one was “in” (i.e. to visualize oneself in the story!) the bible stories, as part of understanding and interpreting them. He also developed exercises to engage our imaginations in our prayer life! This monk, esteemed imagination highly throughout his life.
Language itself is born of the imagination! All words were once “winged” as George Macdonald points out. All language was born in the imagination as an expression of some living form. We ourselves are called God’s poems in scripture! (Eph 2:10). We are certainly not unimaginative poetry, if God wrote and is re-writing us, then we are free to sing the song of ourselves–or rather let Him sing these poems through us!!! His whole poetry collection is about His Own Nature and Goodness. So to be freely sung, is an act of incarnating the spirit of His Testimony!
Out of the heart comes good and evil, so we must be sanctifying our imaginations as a type of heart filter as well, so we are not imagistically overcome by evil. In our day, there is much pornographication of the imagination all around us. Not just the viewing of pornography, but moving in the ways of pornography-which include using vision for selfish means. Even in the church, we must guard against “using” art manipulatively, and thus moving in the ways of witchcraft. The ways of manipulation use vision for selfish means, and usurp true authority, and offer a false version of how God inhabits and frees the imagination in communion with Him! We must take care of how we use the imagination. You see the church often slips into entertainment rather than worship in its imaginative or creative life. When we try to manipulate people towards God, we move in sheer darkness. And really are worse than the world. This is form of the prostitution of the imagination, and is more than deadly. It is a misrepresentation of who God is. For this reason again, we need to actively and intentionally engage our imaginations, so they will not sit in neutral and be used by the enemy of life. We need to bring our whole selves to His Cross and then into His Fullness of Life; to intentionally carry our imaginations to Him at His Cross and be reborn there in Him! We need to both die and be reborn daily in this area of our imagination, creativity and vision. This is essential in our times to see correctly, and be led into understanding of our times. It is part of who we are, it is part of knowing God, it is part of the new creation. And it is desperately needed in our days, just to interpret the simplest things.
We can practice in prayer; asking Jesus to reveal or show us things through our imaginations, then going on to say, what does that image mean? And pressing on to see His Love and ways.
The sanctified imagination, also freshly illuminates scriptures! We see new nuances today, on a passage which only yesterday seemed to sit on the page. We experience a sudden hologram of information in image word, sometimes even sound and color. The pages “come to life” in His Holy Spirit and we see more than we thought was there! Each passage becomes a hypertext leading us further into The Living God and His Ways! The Word becomes life in us through the awakened imagination. That is part of our inheritance as those in Christ! With our imaginations illuminated in His Holy Spirit, we truly start to feel the glowing of glory to glory, which is meant to be our way!
Going back to prayer, these new lights on scripture allow us to pray whole passages of scripture over those we are praying for, or into situations we are led to. The word illuminated by image allows us to pray in more of His Power. We start to understand what we praying in new ways, which lead us into a deeper appreciation of who He is. In the end, our union with Christ is our goal. And the imagination partakes and illuminated this union! We are becoming like Him in every area of our new creation, including this vital aspect of imagination! The imagination is part of our new birth, or what it means to be born again!
In our time, there is the timely offer of a much deeper incarnation of Jesus Christ into the imaginations and perceptions of His People. Spiritual perception is given to us. This space is where God symbolizes Himself in us! And by doing so, reveals to us, our true selves. This space is where God offers a truer version of Himself out to the world. He desires to express Himself more fully, and distinctly, as an act of Kindness to humanity. Our imaginative surrender is required for Him to make a clear statement, and offer a clarion choice to humanity in our times. The imagination is part of His Dwelling within us. We want to surrender and let Him have His Own pleasures of symbolic expressions through who we are. His desire is for a full baptism of our imaginations into His Very Life. We are allowed and invited to become ever more His. Imaginatively on fire in His Vision and dynamic creative life. In doing so, we shall all prophesy, expressing the Glory of the One who got ahold of our entire lives. Being blazing poetry spoken by The Word.
a parting, impartational prayer:
Impartation to see well in Jesus Name! Lord clear our imaginative and perceptual centers so that we can know, meet, encounter You-directly- through our imaginations, to meet You as a Imaginative Person of Vision and Foresights held in the infinite Wisdom of who You are, and therefore, by the Nature of encountering you in our creativity, simply adore and love you there expressing Yourself in and through us! Clarified sharp accurate discerning sight, Lord in You! Then, please come and inhabit this area entirely in us (set up our homes there Lord!), so we can begin to be acts and actions of Your Living poetry and prophecy in our daily lives, offering the energy, life and message of who You truly are, through who we truly are in You. We want to know You in the creative visual imaginative area of who we are, Lord! We want to collaborate with You here in our perceptual imaginative creative centers Lord. Come Lord into this unique place within us all. You are welcome! We need You to enter. Forgive us for not offering this aspect of who we are more fully before! Walk out through us now in Your Vision! Lord free us here in this visual center, so we can see You firstly, correctly (as The Father showed Peter who You really are! Let us start there! To see Your Identity, is truly the beginning of all other vision! Even vision of who we ourselves are! Then, aid us to get a clearer vision of what You Yourself are seeing in terms of others and our cities, nations and world. And mainly, that we would be given Your Presence in this vital area of who you made us! We want to know You in our imaginations, as we do in every other area of who we are. And then to be purified beacons of Your Life out into a darkening world. Cleanse our spiritual perception Lord, and teach us how to cultivate, steward and welcome You in this area of our lives. Thanks Friend. And may you do this, also for all who read this. Thanks, Amen.
I’ll leave you with this great George Macdonald quote: “To inquire into what God has made (including ourselves!), is the main function of the imagination!”