Holy Imagination

“It is at the level of imagination that the fateful issues of our new world-experience must first be mastered,” says the early twentieth-century poet-theologian Amos Wilder. Visualizing yourself as complete can be a method of focusing and a form of prayer. Imagination also creates a powerful way to pray without words for another: You visualize the person in your mind’s eye as already whole and complete, holding the person in the light—a practice called kything prayer.

Imagination can also transform struggles into gifts. Philip Schultz, a Pulitzer Prize–winning poet and author of the memoir My Dyslexia, tells his story of being placed in the “dummy class” at a separate table in elementary school because of his perceived stupidity for not being able to read.

Then one night, with the moon glowing outside his window as his mother read aloud to him, he decided to imagine himself into being a boy who could read: “I invented a character who could read and write. Starting that night, I’d lie in bed silently imitating the words my mother read, imagining the taste, heft, and ring of each sound as if it were coming out of my mouth. I imagined the words and their sounds being a kind of key with which I would open an invisible door to a world previously denied me.”

“To this day,” Schulz says, “I can’t attend a High Holy Day service at my synagogue without feeling I don’t belong there, because I can’t speak Hebrew and must pretend to read my prayer book.” For me, that is honest to God prayer: his not praying verbally is a deeper prayer; it’s praying with the heart. Sometimes merely the desire to pray is already prayer.

Ignatius of Loyola is known for his highly developed use of the imagination. In The Spiritual Exercises, Ignatius invites you to imagine yourself in the scenes of scriptures, to visualize yourself as the beggar or as the paralyzed person now coming alive—or as the poor woman touching Jesus’s garment, immune to others’ criticism while receiving the full attention of the Lord of love. So imagination is integrated with real-life situations. (From Kent Ira Groff, Honest Go God Prayer, SkyLight Paths Publisher).

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