In a previous post, I proposed that we have spiritual senses, but they are generally crowded out by our more powerful physical senses.
This week I would like to talk about a style of relating to God that has revolutionized my personal life more than any other. It is the simple practice of engaging the imagination, otherwise known as the eyes of our hearts, in encountering God.
For much of my life I had a hard time praying, meditating on God, and hearing from God. What would happen was basically this, I would try to talk to God in words. Meanwhile, my mind would be flooded with images, daydreams, feelings, and distractions. It was like I was trying to talk at God through a radio script while the television was blasting right in front of my face. And I didn’t know how to turn the dumb thing off. As far as listening to God in such a state, well…just forget it.
Then I finally learned the secret. While you can’t turn off that inner television set, you can change the channel. You can use that inner imaging system to focus on God. You can picture meeting with him. Looking into his face. You can tune your thoughts to a favorite image of God from the Bible. The shepherd. The king on his throne. The loving father. Jesus the carpenter. The dove. Or something in nature that speaks to you of God’s divinity. The ocean. The mountains. A sunset. A campfire. You name it. Perhaps you can even meet with God on that mountaintop or beach and have a conversation, or hug, right there.
Somehow I had never thought of that. It seemed too simple. Almost like make-believe. But it is the way to engage all of ourselves in the process of prayer. To focus our whole minds on God’s presence. And here I thought a vision would have to be all super-natural and block out my normal eyesight. Not that it couldn’t happen, I suppose. But don’t you find that God often moves in much gentler, simpler, harder to pin down ways that require a bit of faith.
The ancient Hebrews knew about this. They understood dreams and visions. They understood that we had spiritual eyes that needed to look into the face of God. Imagine is one definition for the Hebrew word for meditate. The medieval Christians understood this as well. They called it Visio Divina. Who knows, maybe every Christian in the world besides me somehow understood this. “Turn your eyes upon Jesus. Look full in his wonderful face. And the things of earth will grow vaguely dim in the light of his glory and grace.” Seems like this idea has been around for a long time. Maybe I just missed it. But since I did, I want to make sure no one else misses it like me.
In fact, while reading the Bible you can use this same inner imaging system. You can picture yourself living Bible stories. Imagine what it would have been like to walk with Paul, to listen to Jesus on the Mount of Olives, to go to battle beside King David. More importantly, you can engage your faith by picturing what it would look like if scripture were truer than your circumstances. How that would change your life.
I first stumbled upon this concept when my kids were small. I would worry when I left them with the babysitter. Picturing all sorts of horrible things happening to them. Prayer didn’t seem to help. Quoting scriptures just felt like some fear-ridden attempt at Christian magic spells. Finally it hit me. I could pray, maybe quote those scriptures, then I would picture the kids safe at home playing happily with their babysitter and surrounded by the angels. What a difference that made. My fear would melt away, and I could enjoy my outing.
As I’ve mentioned before. Maybe this isn’t the thing for you. Or maybe you aren’t as dense as I am, and you figured this out long ago. But for others of you, this simple technique might hold the key to deepening your awareness of the spiritual kingdom, relating to God, and hearing his voice. I hope for someone today, this is just the thing you’ve been searching for.
How do you picture God? Where is your favorite place to meet with him? If you could take a three day vacation, just you and God, where would you like to spend it?