Imagination has a bad reputation. In most of our society, it is considered childish to day dream, and a person with their “head in the clouds” is seen as unrealistic and impractical. But it is exactly this ability to access our imagination that motivates the Spiritual Exercises and creates the space within a “retreat” for an exercitant to consider how they will live out their Christian mission.
So much of the Spiritual Exercises is focused on assisting a person who is figuring out what they want to do with their life in a big way (SpEx, 169 cf). But what about the small decisions that we have to make on a regular basis? Like the decisions about how we spend our free time, how we spend our money, how we treat others on a regular basis, and whether we are willing to try new things or engage new groups of people. Do the imaginative Spiritual Exercises have anything to say about these? Yes! (SpEx, 189) But the point of contact is easily missed.
When we are not making big decisions in our lives it can be easy to forget about how we are called to engage our imagination through small decisions in a meaningful way. This is particularly true as the lived experience of our vocation unfolds in reality in unexpected ways. It’s even possible that things are exactly as you thought they would be, but you just haven’t had the chance to envision the details of your next steps. For example, you could have reached a point where your life has found a sense of equilibrium and you’re searching for a way of deepening discipleship in a new way.
For me, it is easy to get stuck here. I find myself accepting things as comfortable and I just keep on doing what I’m doing. If I’m being honest with myself, there is always that call deep within myself inviting me into deeper relationship with God through new avenues that I have yet to explore. It is in that exact moment where imagination enters the picture. In essence, I fall into stagnation because my imagination has gotten lazy: I have stopped dreaming about what God has in store for me. I have stopped picturing how I am called to enter the Christian life more authentically. I avoid imagining ways that I have am being called out of my comfort zone.
It’s hard—there is naturally an aspect of uncomfortability when we imagine something that might be new, even if it is from God: What if I end up in an awkward situation? What if it’s now how I imagine it will be? What if I fail? Yet, when these questions come from the “bad spirit” we are called to set them aside and return to what we have imagined.
If we really believe that our imagination is a spiritual pathway, we are invited to let God speak to us through it and lead us deeper into relationship. We must have the internal freedom and willingness to allow for our imagination to be as big as God’s dream for us and for our world – it should not be limited by our hang-ups and fears. We are called to imagine ways that we might live out our Christian call more honestly and how we should help to build God’s reign in the world through compassion, love, solidarity with the marginalized, and personal authenticity.
After centering yourself and getting into a prayerful mindset, imagine Christ calling you to take a step toward deeper relationship toward him. What does it look like? Are you being invited to alter how you spend your free time and your spending money, to take new interest and care for coworkers or colleagues, to lovingly engage a family member that you struggle with? Perhaps it is in joining a group at your church or religious community, or even trying for a new position of leadership within that community?
Picture yourself doing that activity. What does it feel like? What are the joys that arise in you? Does it feel like God is working within you as you imagine yourself there – does it feel like it is from God?
Keep that image in your mind over the next few days. Does the experience continue to feel like it is from God when you return to it? Do you feel moved to take new steps to turn your imaginations into reality? What do those look like? How might you be invited to take a first step in the next 24 hours toward making that image a reality?
Now, go do it!