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Lent: An Awakened Imagination

The brain is the organ of truth; imagination the organ of reality.
{Clyde Kilby}

Many Christian disciplines – and Lent is no different – suffer from a debilitating reputation: that they are activities encouraging us to withdraw from the reality around us, ways of hiding out from the physical, lived-in world. For many of us, prayer is what we do only after we are finished doing everything we can muster. Meditation, we suppose, is for monks who cloister themselves away and who literally have nothing better to do with their time. Even communal worship takes a bit of a rap for being a way the church creates and sustains its cultural bubble.

If ever we use our spiritual practices as a way of disengagement, however, we have entirely missed the point. A constant posture of dependence on God and recognition of Jesus’ sustaining presence (which is simply another way of saying prayer) is not an afterthought, but rather the very oxygen we need to survive, to “breathe and move and have our being.” Gathering with God’s people to retell the Gospel story and to remember that Jesus is with us, redeeming and healing, offers an invitation to more deeply engage God’s work in our world, not a way of distancing ourselves from it.

This is why it is most insidious that the word imagination has become synonymous with detaching from the “real world.” Imagination suffers under the unfair indictment that it is the realm for children who have not yet grown up. However, the constant witness of our best spiritual teachers, from St. Ignatius to C.S. Lewis to Eugene Peterson, insists that the redeemed imagination is actually one of the ways we ground ourselves in real, solid, spiritual truth. Our redeemed, Christ-immersed imagination allows us to see with spiritual eyes and to hear with spiritual ears what is real, what is true, what we might miss if all we relied on was our analytical brain or our five senses. So, in Christian theology, the imagination is neither divorced from or subservient to our physical, rational realities. Rather, they all work in harmony, our whole person engaging all God has for us.

This is why, for me, Lent is a season where God uses my physical experiences to connect my heart and soul to spiritual truth. And, let me tell you, if ever I needed my heart and soul to envision and hear and obey spiritual truth, it is now.

I need to be caught up in a fuller, truer, more alive story than the one I have been living in. My mind has grown dull with shame and fear and the tyranny of a mind locked-in on all that is small and stifling, all that is in opposition to God. I need to be re-awakened. I need prodding. I am a physical being, and I need something tangible, a physical jolt, to blow a little oxygen on the embers of my soul’s imagination.

Today, I do not need a doctrine or a principal or a theological idea (all good). Today, I need the hand of God, the whisper of the Spirit. I need my brother Jesus to walk beside me. Today, I need a fresh vision of what God is doing in my heart, in my family, among my friends and my church. Today, I need to hear God tell me what he truly thinks of me. Today, I need the Spirit to allow me to see another story, a story quite different from the one the Deceiver has been peddling.

Today, this second week of Lent, I need a physical reminder that God is with me, that Jesus is all around me, that the Spirit of the Living God is the one truth-teller. I need the Word of God to again “become flesh.”

So, today, as I pray the Hours, I hear these words: Be strong and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord. And hope fills my heart. My imagination turns from my small self and hears another truth, another reality. I fast over a meal, and my physical hunger turns my attention toward my deeper craving for God’s redemption. I turn off the computer earlier than normal, and my mind (rather than being distracted by virtual realities or the constant possibility of more information) engages the very present fact that I am a father, a husband, a son of God. Here. Now. In this space. In this moment.

I want all God has for me, all God is for me in Jesus. I want my mind and my heart and my soul and my body to be fully alive, awake to my world. I pray that this Lenten season would offer me another opportunity to see Jesus do a fresh work, a fresh awakening.

It takes imagination to live in God’s world. {N.T. Wright}

hope / Winn

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