I read an interesting book review recently. The author of the newly published book argues that the
problem of fewer people believing in God comes from the loss of people’s ability to use their
imagination. He thinks that present day media: film, TV, internet, etc. has provided such a
bombardment of images and ideas that a person’s own ability to imagine has diminished.
And, the imagination is key to being able to believe something you cannot see, taste, feel, hear…
St. Ignatius of Loyola never thought of himself as a highly educated intellectual even though he had an
advanced degree from the University of Paris. He was well acquainted with the ideas of leading
philosophers and theologians. But the mental quality of thought that drove his spiritual life was his
remarkable imagination. His imagination played a central role in his conversion. Through his many
years of giving spiritual direction to others, he discovered how useful the imagination could be in
fostering a deeper relationship with God. Imaginative prayer and the use of memory are the key
components of an Ignatian spirituality.
Ignatius presents two ways of imagining in his Spiritual Exercises. The first way is to imagine the view
of the world from God’s side. He asks us to “enter into the vision of God.” God is looking down on our
world. We imagine God’s concern for the world. We see God intervening by sending Jesus into the
struggle of life. We are invited to imagine God’s face as he looks on us with love. This type of
imagining helps us see things from God’s perspective and take on God’s qualities of love, compassion,
and understanding. It makes God more real for us.
His second recommendation of imagining is to place ourselves fully within a story from the Gospels.
We become an onlooker or a participant and give full rein to our imagination. Jesus is speaking to a
blind man at the side of the road. We feel the hot sun beating down. We smell the dust kicked up by a
passerby. We feel the clothing we are wearing, the sweat rolling down our brow, and perhaps the rumble
of hunger in our stomach. We see the desperation in the blind man’s face and hear the cry of hope in his
words. We note the irritation of the disciples. We imagine Jesus—the way he walks, his gestures, the
look in his eyes, the expression on his face. We hear him speak the words recorded in the Gospel. We go
on to imagine other words he might have spoken and other deeds he might have done.
To follow Jesus we must know him, and we get to know him through our imagination. We cannot
physically meet him. No photos were taken of him and film did not exist yet. Imaginative prayer
teaches us things about Jesus that we would not learn through the study of scripture or theology classes.
It allows the person of Christ to penetrate into places that the intellect does not touch. It brings Jesus into
our hearts. It engages our feelings. It enflames us with ideals of service. Imaginative prayer makes the
Jesus of the Gospels our Jesus. It helps us develop a unique and personal relationship with him.
The book reviewer said that the author was not without hope because like any muscle, our imagination
can grow and become stronger through use. Not all is lost. It simply means giving ourselves permission
to use our imagination again; as we did when we were children. It is not a waste of time. No teacher will
be there to critique you for daydreaming. Turn off the TV, turn on the gift of imagination, and come to
know God a bit better.