The first time I read The Lorax to my niece Vicki, she was seven. It made her cry. “Oh, Aunt Norma!” she exclaimed. “We have to do something!” Quickly, she had been drawn into the story so personally and profoundly that her little heart broke for the Truffula Trees and the Brown-Bar-ba-loots and the Swomee-Swans and the Humming-Fish and everything else damaged by the Once-ler’s greed and pollution.
“What can we do?” she sobbed. “Who’s gonna speak for the trees?”
I assured her that she could do that. And now, almost half a century later, she’s still a staunch environmentalist. The redemption of all creation is central to a Christian world-view shaped in childhood by her imagination.
Faith makes the abstract concrete. Imagination does, too.
Children don’t need lessons on engaging their imagination. It comes naturally to them. Indeed, we sometimes accuse them of having “an overactive imagination.” As adults, however, we can become so consumed with our productivity-driven lives that we lose the wonder we knew as children.
“Children see magic because they look for it,” Christopher Moore writes. And we can, too.
If we want to.
That is especially true for Christians. We can earnestly desire—and pray fervently for—more faith, forgetting that faith itself is an act of imagination. Faith makes the abstract concrete (Hebrews 11:1). Imagination does, too. With our imagination we can experience God (Father, Son, and Spirit) in extraordinary ways.
First, we must spend time in God’s Word. Serious, intentional time. Not verse-of-the-day or daily-devotional time, but hungry-to-know-God time. That means turning off phones and electronics (have I lost you now?), sitting down, getting still and quiet, breathing mindfully, focusing on God’s revelation of himself in his Word, and genuinely engaging it. It can help to use different, unfamiliar translations and reading methods like lectio divina (slow, contemplative reading). Ask God to speak to you, to reveal himself to you. Then wait quietly for him to do just that.
Put yourself in the text. That’s fairly easy to do if you’re reading the Gospels or Acts or some of the history passages in the Old Testament. Pay attention to sights, sounds, tastes, smells, movement, etc., (imagination relies heavily on the senses). Even if you are reading poetry or prophecy or letters, you can imagine the scene before you and put yourself in it. In the call narratives (Isaiah, Moses, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, the Apostles, etc.), there is a lot of sensory appeal, and if you read carefully and imaginatively, you may hear God calling you as well. Putting yourself in the scene lifts the Bible’s long-ago-and-far-away mystique, making it intensely relevant and personal.
Add meditation to your Bible reading and prayer. Because meditation is an ancient practice in many religions, especially Eastern mysticism, some Christians fear it. In dozens of places, though, the Bible instructs us to meditate both day and night: on God, his word, his mighty works, his promises, his decrees and precepts, his unfailing love. Meditation means simply to focus intensely on one thing for an extended period of time, and for a Christian that one thing is God.
Thankfully, we can pray anytime, anywhere. While it’s preferable to carve out time to become still and quiet, then meditate and pray, the Bible portrays prayer as constant communion with God, instructing us to “pray without ceasing.” My friend Tina, a devout and visionary Christian, describes her experience this way:
My prayers are much more like a constant conversation asking Jesus to allow me to see him in this moment, and then this moment, and the next. I certainly haven't figured out any keys to "fixing" myself, only ways to take my focus off myself. It's constantly exchanging my flesh eyes for my spirit eyes…. I look for God and marvel in his creation. When I don't have answers, just resting in WHO he is, is the answer. I take time to lie down, shut my eyes and hear from God. While my conversations with him are dear, nothing compares to what he can show me when I become quiet and willing to receive. These are the times he gives me pictures and visions of beauty often accompanied by scripture and a word.
Finally, practice. Tina goes on to say that “there are layers of history in all this.” Any discipline takes time to learn and to develop. Never give up! Determine that you want to do this and that you will do this. Then with God’s help, keep at it. It may be slow going at first, but your spirit life will grow as you develop it. As you have time, do some online research about Christian spirituality and imagination. Read books by Richard Foster and others who can help you learn more about spiritual disciplines. (l can make you a bibliography. Just message, text, or email me, or speak to me at church.)
As you practice, you will enrich your own relationship with God, but you will also increase your effectiveness as a member of his body, the Church, as you share God’s own vision to heal and redeem both his creation and those for whom Jesus died.
Norma Farthing is a former teacher and administrator who's married to John, a former professor and pastor. They enjoy retirement in Northwest Arkansas, especially being Nana and Poppy to Landon and Layton, reading good books, watching old movies, and cheering for the Duke Blue Devils.