The alarm on my clock radio was going off way too early. Hadn’t I just gone to sleep? I’d spent a few too many late nights getting my school assessments done. My stomach was achy and my yawns were insistent.
But, habit is a routine hard to break, and I got up and went to my daily quiet time with scripture and prayer. As soon as I sat down, a cynical thought greeted me that morning. “Why are you even doing this prayer thing? It’s foolish not to be sleeping instead. It doesn’t change anything anyways.”
My disbelieving thought stayed with me for a moment. It felt so logical and I considered heading straight back to bead, but another thought kept me there. Unbidden, my friends in the faith came to my imagination, and I realized they’d never agree with the skeptic. They would (and do) encourage me to stick with the discipline of prayer, believing, as C.S Lewis once famously said, “we were made for another world.”
I stayed with the prayer time. I usually pray for my faith community, my family and others who come to mind, but that morning, I just imagined them in a circle with me, joining hands, united in a purpose beyond the logic of the world.
That prayer time, as with many others, came to me as a gift that morning and despite feeling hemmed in by the demands of the job, the day felt expansive. My cynical thought had insisted that prayer doesn’t change anything, but my experience proved otherwise. It stayed with me all week, and deepened a sense of gratitude even as I took deep breaths trying to get everything done.
Prompted by a book I read this year called Present Perfect by Gregory Boyd, I have been imagining Jesus with me during my prayer time. Boyd says that this practice helps us rest in God instead of making prayer an obligation. Jesus sits with me in my imagination, and encouraged by the verse which says to “cast all our anxieties on him”, I imagine giving all my worries to him. I literally take them and dump them on Jesus’ lap. Boyd writes that this sense of resting in God is not just a technique, but is how we stay awake to what is true.
Over the months since I’ve been doing this, I’ve noticed a few things. First of all, it helps lighten what is weighing me down. I remember often that I’ve given things to God and it’s like resetting a computer or erasing my whiteboard at school at the end of the day. Jesus has become more real; Someone I love rather than an idea. Maybe it’s a coincidence, but I have also been noticing far less bodily aches and pains in the months since I’ve begun this practice.
Earlier in his life, C.S. Lewis had quite an inner battle of the use of imagination vs. the use of reason. He used to think that reason trumped the imagination and became an atheist as a result. It began to dawn on him that everything that his mind came to solely through reason produced only a dull and unhappy life, whereas the places that his imagination led him produced joy. He began to see that while reason was the natural organ of truth, “imagination [was] the organ of meaning.” His friend Owen Barfield, introduced him to the notion that reason and imagination could co-exist and it changed his world forever. Giving up his atheism, he gave his life to God, then Jesus and the world is much the richer for it.
It’s this sense of meaning that has accompanied me in my journey of imaginative prayer. I’m the furthest thing from an expert. I am often distracted by what the Buddhists call “monkey mind”, and my imagination clearly is often limited by mistrust and doubts. But I have tasted enough of Jesus’ presence to feel encouraged to continue; to steep my life in the reality that I am not alone in this universe.
When I was a teenager, our youth group painted the walls of a room at church with murals. Though the walls no longer exist since the church was destroyed by fire in 1998, one mural has always stayed with me. The mural depicted 2 thrones. On one throne was a great big S, which stood for a life where the Self directs life, and on the other throne was a cross. Here, the Self is not in charge anymore and the Self yields to Christ.
In both circles, the dots represent our interests. When self-directed, our interests result in discord and frustration, but given to God, they result in harmony.
It is a simple depiction of my deepest desire. I want always to sit with Jesus, giving everything to God’s care and serving God’s purposes. In the words of Bishop Desmond Tutu, “I want what God wants.” And on the days when my imagination is clouded by self-direction, when I am fighting this release, I give my scattered-ness to God, asking to “want to want” a life touched by God’s imagination. It is the only life I want.