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Creative prayer using the imagination

Lynne Baab • Thursday April 18 2019

Creative prayer using the imagination

Sometime in my twenties, a worship leader suggested visualizing a cross. Using our imagination, we could lay our concerns at the foot of the cross, entrusting our worries and struggles to Jesus.

That was the first time someone suggested using my imagination in prayer. In the years since then, I have developed detailed imaginary worlds that enable me to talk to Jesus and to pray about things that matter to me. In this post, I want to chart the development of using my imagination in prayer by focusing on the first three steps.

That first step involved laying concerns at the foot of the cross. Sometimes I imagined myself writing my concerns on slips of paper, which I left there by the cross. Other times I pictured Jesus hanging on the cross, and I brought to him my pain and struggle. I took comfort that Jesus was “the man of sorrows, acquainted with grief,” and of course, his death on the cross is a significant manifestation of that powerful description of him from Isaiah 53.

I’m writing this blog post between Palm Sunday and Good Friday, and I am enjoying pondering the significance of imagining the cross of Christ as we pray.

In my thirties, I developed a new pattern of prayer with my imagination. I had a walking route that I took two to three times a week. I walked seven blocks from our house in North Seattle to Greenlake. I headed south along the shore of the lake until I reached the aqua theater at the southern tip of the lake. Then I turned around and headed home by the same route.

Many times on my walks I followed the same pattern. Between our house and the lake, I thought about what was bothering me most in my life. When I reached the lake, I imagined Jesus in a rowboat on the lake, and I handed him my worries, concerns, struggles and pain. He received the things I handed him, and threw them in the lake. It was clear to me that I didn’t have the strength of character to throw those concerns into the depths of the lake myself, but I knew Jesus could do it for me.

When I reached the aqua theater and turned around, I continued to imagine Jesus in the boat beside me, but heading this direction, I imagined him handing me gifts like peace, contentment, and joy.

My imaginative prayer using Jesus in the boat added a couple of things that putting my worries at the foot of the cross didn’t do. This one involved my whole body, because I was walking, and it involved Jesus' body, too. Jesus reached out to take worries from me, and then he gave gifts to me. I enjoyed picturing Jesus’ arms and hands receiving from me and giving to me. This form of imaginative prayer felt more active than the earlier one.

My third form of imaginative prayer came in my fifties, when I no longer walked by Greenlake. I exercised in a gym, not a bad place for praying. However, in those years, a lot of my prayer took place in bed at night, before I fell asleep or in the middle of the night when I dealt with sleeplessness.

This time I imagined a beautiful big meadow on one side of a wide river with dramatic mountains on the other side. The river, I imagined, was the River of God’s Love. I walk with Jesus through the meadow and stand on the shore of the River of God’s Love. I hand Jesus the things I’m concerned about, and he throws them into the river. God’s love absorbs my problems, and they float away in the river to be dealt with by God.

Again, I know I don’t have the strength to throw my concerns into the river by myself. I can, however, hand them to Jesus. After I hand them all to him, and after he throws them into the river, I put my right hand in his left hand, and we stand there together enjoying God’s love. “For I, the Lord your God, hold your right hand; it is I who say to you, ‘Do not fear, I will help you’” (Isaiah 41:13). 

Standing with Jesus beside the River of God’s Love gives me a sense of intimacy with Jesus and a deep peace, knowing my problems are taken into God’s love.

Maybe these three forms of imaginary prayer will stimulate your imagination. Maybe you already have imaginary settings that help you pray. Either way, I’ll leave you with Hebrews 4:15-16. “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

(Next week: creative prayer while walking. Illustration: the portion of Greenlake in Seattle where I used to imagine Jesus in a rowboat. Watercolor by Dave Baab.)

This is the ninth post in a series on creative prayer. Previous posts:
     Creative prayer with art                    
     Creative prayer: Art as symbol and metaphor                      
     Creative prayer for creation care            
     Prompts for prayer         
     More prayer prompts    
     Creative prayer using our hands       
     Creative prayer in a hospitable spirit                
     Joy spot sightings                        

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