Friday, July 19, 2013

HOW do I pray? (Imagination and prayer)

You sit in your room and prepare to address the almighty God.  How will you begin?  Will you stand, kneel, lie down or walk around?  Will you look up, or close your eyes and look down?  The image your imagination forms of your relationship to God will play a large role in determining the how of prayer.



Importantly, imagination does not define the relationship (but if does affect it!).  I firmly believe there is a God who exists and hears our prayers, whether or not I imagine him to be listening.  But I cannot escape my imagination in prayer.  It is part of the mental facilities engaged when I communicate with God.

For example, why is it that I might be inclined to look up when I pray?  Do I really believe God is in the sky?  Certainly not.  In fact, the Jewish understanding of the "heavens" (as in "Our Father, who art in heaven") includes the air around us, as near as our next breath.  (see more discussion of this in a previous post).  If I imagine God as floating distantly in the sky, I probably need to work on my imagination or my prayer life and my relationship with him will suffer.

I find metaphorical images particularly helpful.  For instance, I love to picture my self opening before God as a flower unfolds before the sun.  Here there is a sort of gentle, expectant, yielding to a good and life-giving God.

Kalmia latifolia, calico bush, in the Smoky Moutains
Mountain Laurel in the Smoky Mountains
Scriptural metaphors are also a good place to start.  The psalms are full of them.  Not only do they expand my understanding of God as I pray, they help me focus.  Trying to speak to an abstract entity is a mental exercise I don't think God ever intended.

Yes, it is true that we cannot see God, or have a true image of him in our mind.  Thankfully, he has given us many images with which to enrich our understanding of him.  With the help of our imagination, these can shape our prayer life.

How have you found your imagination to be helpful in prayer?  Does it hinder you?

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