From an article I’m working on about seeing and being in love with cities: Mending the imaginations of our neighborhoods and cities into His True Image.
I’m in love with cities!
“Each city and country has its gifts, and struggles, and unique broken but redeemable reflections of certain aspects of The Real. Finding their particular nuances and what aspect they reflect of God, has become part of my spirituality.” (from a book on the theology of cities, I’m reading; to disciple the nations you have to know them and love them first like people!)
Cities are like people to me-on a journey of becoming, in need of love and revelation to know themselves, just like us. I like walking alongside them, and enjoying what they already know, and seeing what they need. Listening to them on their own terms, not mine. Trying to hear them for what they truly are, not through my projections or needs on them.
In my life, I’ve fallen in love with many cities…
Each city reflects unique aspects: Antwerp has creative curious friendship; berlin a strong house for all nations and bold leadership-arm of God stuff; Prague, that sweet song of solomon fragrance, a lover’s attire, and a place of mystical exchanges in conversation; Austin, creative incubator, entrepreneurial catalyst haven…each city has their gifts and their struggles to become. It is a joy to get to know so many places well. So many places still yet to know and love in this life. Perhaps we never finish in loving…
Of course, like people, our very strengths unredeemed are also our greatest weaknesses, or areas of life which are hardest to live out. So the biggest wounds are often where the greatest strengths reside. I like looking there first to know and listen. So a place of friendship, can become insular; a place of leadership can become presumptuous, a place of curiosity can become mentally unstable etc—but just on the other side of these shadows, is the redeemed identity, standing in the Light, and reflecting upwardly. I like to bring salt and light right there. So I can see who the other really is.
I also like to think of how individual’s stories who live in a city, relate to the city’s biography. How our personal stories relate to our city’s narrative has always fascinated me. Why am I here in this place at this moment of our journeys. What developmental stage is my city at, and my own—how do they match and where do they not? I love asking these sorts of questions as I travel.
I have an insatiable appetite to love more places people and things, and to come to know God through them, and let them be loved by God into their true shining..let’s take off our outer masks and get to know one another deep to deep friend. I’m in love with what that outer expression is coming from! As Van Gogh said, “The way to know God is to love many things deeply.”
“We are trying to encounter and mend a fuller image of who God is by seeing a loving one another and places more precisely. We are doing a repairing of the imagination—how we image God, one another, and the earth itself. One way to do so, is to see one another more accurately. When we see well, we are engaged in healing the imagination of Reality. To baptize our imaginations is an act of healing for the world. When we see accurately, we help things be more truly themselves.”
When we were told to disciple the nations, it included cities. We were to disciple them into all three Names of God—the Father, The Son, and The Holy Spirit. Part of this holistic baptism into all three Names, is to see one another in love. We see through His Love, this lens made for the aperture of the spiritual imagination. We must wear it, or put it on, so we can see one another more as He does. This is the use of the imagination in discipleship. Blessed are you church, Jesus says through Peter, for The Father has revealed this to you. The Father had revealed the true identity of Jesus to Peter, so He could see that He was The Son of God. We are equally blessed when the Father shows us the true Identity of His Son, and as He reveals the true identities of one another through His lens of Love.
This is a key part of the role of imagination in discipleship of the nations. The baptized imagination sees more as He sees, the true identity of other. And can therefore call it forth and bless it into His Name. He is healing the nations through the imagination. We are no longer just using the imagination to carry gospel information, we are actually allowing Him to look out through the imagination and heal the nations. The sanctified imagination is part of what Christ uses to heal the nations. the cities, and the world itself.
Ultimately, we have to get a clear picture of who God is. When we do, we will see what parts of His Life are reflected in others around us, and our cities. And which parts are still being brought into alignment with His True Image. Then we ourselves can start to try on our eternal images, and we can help others put on theirs. By starting to wear our eternal clothes, we begin to imagine ourselves more as He sees us. By helping others try on theirs, we get to partner with Him in healing the nations!
Practices: When we pray, write down or draw what we see about whatever or whomever we are praying for. Gather them, and ask the Holy Spirit to amplify them towards a fuller picture, to fill in the poem of its true being.
Then our seeing becomes a way of getting to appreciate how God sees.
When we walk around our neighborhoods ask Him to draw your attention to things which represent the aspects of Him He wants to draw out and bless in that neighborhood. And which sins still need to be confessed for that area to become a clearer reflection of Him!
When we prayer walk our cities, start to enter His creative dialogue with her central symbols or meeting places. Be part of mending the imagination of your city! See what He wants them to be, if the patterns of sin were removed. Pray and confess those blocks of sin in each place which keep Him from expressing Himself more accurately.
You can do this in small groups or by yourself.
Try to paint or draw, dance, photo, or write how that place would look whole.
There are many other exercises I use, but these are a few.
Creative prayer walking, or walking with your imagination engaged in your relationship with Christ, can change the atmosphere of your sphere or domain of influence—your neighborhoods and cities can become a clearer reflection of His True image there. As you do so, you find that you yourself also become clearer in this creative collaborative partnership with God in mending the imagination of people places and things.
Prayer itself then can become a place where you get to know more of who God is, and how He sees yourself, your home, your neighborhood, and your city. Prayer becomes a way of getting to know and therefore love God more! And your place becomes a medium through which you come to appreciate all He sees. For the eyes of Lord are always watching, and caring for what He Himself made, knows, redeems and loves.