Today’s Lectio Divina:
I admit I once lived by rumors of You; now I have it all firsthand—from my own eyes and ears! Job 42: 5 (MsgB)
Imagination, as God in His goodness gave it at first to man — imagination is nothing less than the noblest intellectual attribute of the human mind. And his imagination is far more to every spiritually-minded man than a merely intellectual attribute of his mind. I shall not need to go beyond Pascal himself, — so splendidly endowed with this splendid gift. “Imagination,” says Pascal, “creates all the beauty, and all the justice, and all the happiness that is in the heart of man.” Alexander Whyte
Ignatian Truth #6: Ignatian spirituality is all about Conversational Prayer. We are encouraged in the use of our God-given imagination – bringing together the right/left side of the brain. We walk with Jesus rather than just read about Him. We talk with God the Father, Christ the Son, and the Holy Spirit, as one converses with a friend.
So now, my dear friends, I want to address one of the most brilliant aspects of the Spiritual Exercises. As you sit down each time to attend to your daily Lectio Divina (divine reading) assignment, Ignatius now invites you to enter a place many Christians seem fearful to go.
The world of Contemplative Imagination.
Some say there is no place for the human imagination when reading the Word of God. God’s Word stands on its own, the doctrinal police say, and adding human imagination to these sacred texts will only pollute them with fleshly vanity, false doctrine, and human arrogance.
To that line of thinking, might I politely say, “Humbug!”
You see, it’s God who gave us our gifts of imagination. No other creature on the planet has been gifted as such. It’s our imagination, some say, that best proves the words found in Genesis, stating that men and women have been created in the image of God.
In truth, God is amazingly creative, and so are we, His creation!
Oh yes, in this fallen world, leaning on our imagination alone to be our primary source of truth would be wrong. But Ignatius found that when he imagined himself as an active participant of the Gospel stories, placing himself right in the midst of the text, the Holy Spirit would reveal fruit that he’d never have received if left to the words on the pages alone.
Alexander Whyte, in his classic book, Lord, Teach Us To Pray, expounds on the benefits of bringing a Contemplative Imagination to the Gospels. Allow me to share a few of his thoughts here…
As often as, with your imagination anointed with holy oil, you again open your New Testament. At one time, you are the publican: at another time, you are the prodigal: at another time, you are Lazarus, in his grave, beside whose dead body it was not safe or fit for a living man to come: at another time, you are Mary Magdalene: at another time, Peter on the porch: and then at another time, Judas with the money of the chief priest in his hand, and afterwards with his halter round his neck. Till your whole New Testament is all over autobiographic of you. And till you can say to Matthew, and Mark, and Luke, and to John himself: Now I believe; and not for your sayings so much; for I have seen Him myself, and have myself been healed of Him, and know that this is indeed the Christ of God, and the Saviour of the World. Never, then, I implore you, I demand of you — never, now, all the days and nights that are left to you — never open your New Testament till you have offered this prayer to God the Holy Ghost: “Open Thou mine eyes!” And then, as you read, stop and ponder: stop and open your eyes: stop and imagine: stop till you actually see Jesus Christ in the same room with you. “Lo! I am with you always!” Ask Him, if He hides Himself from you, ask Him aloud, — yes, aloud, — whether these are, indeed, His words to you, or no. Expect Him. Rise up, and open to Him. Salute Him. Put down your book. Put down your light, and then say such things as these — say: “Jesus Christ! Son of David! Son of Mary! Carpenter’s Son! Son of God! Saviour of Sinners, of whom I am chief!”
But your absolutely highest, and absolutely best, and absolutely boldest use of your imagination has yet to be told, if you are able to bear it, and are willing to receive it. It is a very high and a very fruitful employment of your imagination to go back and to put yourself by means of it into the place of Adam, and Abraham, and Moses, and Job, and Peter, and Judas, and the Magdalene, and the thief on the cross. But, to put out this magnificent talent to its very best usury, you must take the highest boldness in all the world, and put yourself in the place of CHRIST HIMSELF. Put yourself and all that is within you into the Hand of the Holy Ghost, and He will help you, most willingly and most successfully, to imagine yourself to be Jesus Christ. Imagine yourself, then, to be back in Nazareth, where He was brought up. Imagine yourself, — and show to your son and your Sunday school scholar the way to imagine himself, — sitting beside Joseph and Mary every Sabbath day in that little synagogue. Imagine yourself to be the carpenter’s son, as He was. Imagine yourself at Jordan at John’s great awakening of the dry bones, and then at John’s Baptism. Imagine yourself fighting the devil in the wilderness with nothing but fasting and praying and the Word of God for weapons. Imagine yourself without where to lay your head. Imagine all your disciples turning against you and forsaking you. Imagine the upper room, and the garden, and the arrest and the Cross, and the darkness, and “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” Did you ever imagine yourself to be crucified? Paul did. And the imagination made him the matchless apostle of the Cross that he was.
So, let’s hear it for the joys of Contemplative Imagination. Without it, we are condemned to a dry, crusty religion full of facts and figures and two-dimensional stick figures drawn in the sands of time. But with it, you and I can enter into the multi-dimensional world of Gospel truth where Christ lives not only in the first century but through the aid of the Spirit working alongside my imagination, in my life today as well!
My prayer: Father God, thank You for Your written Word, which anchors me in the Rock of Ages. Thank You, as well, for the gift of Contemplative Imagination, which when combined with the work of the Holy Spirit, can bring me into a whole new level of appreciation and understanding of the Truth found within Your Word. For Your name’s sake. Amen.
My questions to ponder: What might be holding me back from fully engaging my imagination as I read and contemplate on the Word of God? Am I willing to trust the unchanging power of God’s Word to hold me securely in eternal Truth as I allow my imagination to take me fully into the stories found within the Scriptures?
How are you experiencing God as you ponder on these Ignatian truths today?
Over a period of twelve weeks (3 sessions per week), we will take this journey into Iggy’s Biggies, contemplating twelve foundational truths found within the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius. We suggest you bookmark our blog series homepage to keep all the writings in one place for your future reference. Take note that each blog session begins with a short scripture reading. My suggestion is that you don’t hurry through, or skip the text, but treat it as a Lectio Divina reading where you slow down and sit a bit with God’s Word, allowing it to penetrate and influence you as you read.
If you’ve never journeyed through the Exercises, might I suggest that you find a qualified spiritual director and ask them to accompany you along the way? Here at The Contemplative Activist, we can offer a good number of highly qualified folks to do just that.
Oh, and if you enjoy what you’re reading here, we encourage you to share this page and our website, The Contemplative Activist, with your friends!
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