Imagining Scripture

Among the mature we speak wisdom, though it is not a wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are doomed to perish. But we speak God’s wisdom, secret and hidden, which God decreed before the ages for our glory. None of the rulers of this age understood this; for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But, as it is written,

“‘No eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the human heart conceived, what God has prepared for those who love him’” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

These things God has revealed to us through the Spirit; for the Spirit searches everything, even the depths of God. For what human being knows what is truly human except the human spirit that is within? So also no one comprehends what is truly God’s except the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit that is from God, so that we may understand the gifts bestowed on us by God. And we speak of these things in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual things to those who are spiritual.

Those who are unspiritual do not receive the gifts of God’s Spirit, for they are foolishness to them, and they are unable to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. Those who are spiritual discern all things, and they are themselves subject to no one else’s scrutiny.

“‘For who has known the mind of the Lord so as to instruct him?’ But we have the mind of Christ” (1 Corinthians 2:16).

I am a teacher of centering prayer, a prayer that goes beyond thoughts and images to God dwelling in the center of our being. We encourage folks to spend an hour a day in prayer, little enough for God who gives us the twenty-four hours.

How do we spend the hour? First, we “center” twice a day for twenty minutes at a time. Centering prayer is based on faith—by faith we know that God dwells within us, with all God’s creative love, and wants our love. And faith comes through hearing. So we also spend some time each day in lectio, listening to the Lord in his inspired word, especially in the holy Gospels.

It is here—as we listen to the Lord in Scripture—that our imagination comes into play. Some get the idea that because we encourage centering prayer, which goes beyond images, we must be against the use of the imagination. By no means. There is a time and place to use this wonderful faculty God has given us.

If we may speak so anthropomorphically, just think of the imagination God has exercised in creating this wonderful world of ours. How he must have delighted in making all the different flowers and trees with their varied colors, especially in the fall, not to speak of the ever-changing clouds. Think of the animal kingdom, the tropical fish beyond counting, and you and me and all our sisters and brothers—what variety, what imagination!

Perhaps God’s most imaginative act was when he decided himself to become a Jewish carpenter, born of a virgin, and to die on a cross to give an ultimate sign of love. And what imagination we see in Jesus. Think of his many stories and parables: the workers in the vineyard, the prodigal son, the good shepherd, the searching housewife and so many more. Everyday things became fabric for his canvas—“Which of you when your child asks for an egg would give the child a stone?” And there are his many “signs.” Did not his imagination reach a summit when he undertook to change bread into his very self and give us to eat? What a sign of self-giving and nurturing love!

His church, the one he founded, continued to use imagination in surrounding this eucharistic sign with a rich, symbolic liturgy taking many forms, ever adapting itself to different peoples and changing times. Imagination is behind the whole sacramental system and the never-ending challenge to find the language (a collection of creative symbols) to express the inexpressible.

The Scriptures resort to imaginative stories and myths to express what is too big for our logical concepts. Letting the Scriptures come alive in our imagination, we have the challenge to hear what they are saying to us today and to share that with others.

Yes, it is not only for the church as a whole, the church as the divinely constituted teacher, but for each one of us to use our imagination to enter into what is beyond and to share what we receive.

My nephew claims to have watched The Lion King twenty-three times with his little daughter. Little ones never tire of images and flights of imagination. Jesus said, “Unless you become as little ones, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” We need to let the Scriptures fill our imaginations and give us the images that will stir our emotions and motivate our wills to seek wholeheartedly what is beyond, but what alone can satisfy our hearts, which are made for the divine.

See Also

With lectio we are prepared truly to seek God at the center, beyond all the thoughts and images, which are too small for God but which point the way and urge us on. There is a time to imagine. And there is a time to leave images behind.

[AN EXCERPT FROM Seeking His Mind: 40 Meetings With Christ. REPRINTED WITH PERMISSION.]

RELATED LINKS:

LECTIO: A WAY TO TRANSFORMATION

ANCIENT PRAYERS

CHRISTIAN MEDITATION: AN OXYMORON?

CONNECTING WITH CHRIST

READ MORE GOD | POST COMMENTS BELOW

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