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Creativity, imagination, Jesus, and prayer for people we love

Lynne Baab • Thursday August 6 2020

Creativity, imagination, Jesus, and prayer for people we love

Sometimes when I’m praying for family members and friends, I try to think of one word to summarize what I long for in their lives. Recently one of my favorite words is “shalom,” with its broadest meaning – well being in every area of life. For several friends and family members, I find myself praying the word “joy.” For several friends who struggle with anxiety, I simply pray “peace.” For my intrepid granddaughter, when I feel anxious about her safety, I pray the word “protection.”

From my recent reading about Jesus and imagination in Cheryl Forbes’ book Imagination: Embracing a Theology of Wonder, I have begun to see my one word prayers for people as a small manifestation of the imaginative work of Jesus in me. Forbes writes:

“Jesus was a what-if person, a why-not person. What if this man could talk? What if this leper were healed? What if the people didn’t cry out – would the stones? Why not touch his robe? These are the questions Jesus and others asked. He had the spirit of change about him, a curiosity about people and situations. He wasn’t content to hear, “But we’ve always done it that way.” He not only changed the way, he changed the “it.”  Whatever the “it” is in your life or mine, when Jesus enters, he transforms it. That is imagination in action.” [1]

My one-word prayers come from my longing for people I love, my “what-if” related to their lives. What if this particular friend was able to dwell more deeply in God’s peace? What if this family member experienced deep joy more consistently?

Forbes’ ideas about Jesus not only changing the way but also changing the “it” can also fuel our prayers. When we pray for complex family relationships for a friend or challenging work conditions for a family member, we are thinking about the “it” of their lives and asking Jesus to enter and transform the situation. When we pray, we engage our imagination to picture how things could be better for the people we love.

Another way to engage with the creativity of Jesus in our prayers is to think about what attribute or name for Jesus might be helpful for the person we’re praying for. “Jesus, Good Shepherd, my friend needs the guidance of a shepherd as she tries to figure out whether to apply for a new job.” “Light of the world, shine your light on my cousin who is trying to figure out how to navigate her relationships in her household.” “Jesus, the One who showed compassion on people in need, give your help to the young woman I know who is in danger of being evicted.”

When I was discussing empathy last week, I mentioned that we always have to be open to being corrected when we reflect back to people what we hear from them. This openness to correction must include our prayers. Perhaps I’ve been praying for a friend, using the word “Emmanuel” – God with us – hoping that she will feel Jesus’ presence with her. In a conversation with this friend, I tell her that’s what I’ve been praying, and she says, “Thanks so much for those prayers. I have felt God with me. But what I really need is God’s strength. I am so tired and so overwhelmed with the demands of life right now. Please pray for God’s help with my fatigue.” All of our imagination for our friends, all the ways we try to discern the “it” that God is trying to change in their lives, must be informed by the way they view their lives.

Maybe for my tired and overwhelmed friend, I begin praying for energy and strength. In addition, I can still pray “Emmanuel” for this friend, especially if I perceive that a sense of God’s presence is still what that friend needs. In our prayers, we need to be informed by what our friends and family members say about their situation, as well as what we perceive to be God’s work in them. Jesus, the imaginative one, speaks to us through the Holy Spirit so that we can think creatively about the lives of people we care about.

Creative God, give us creativity in our prayers. As we pray, help us think of words and pictures that come from you and from the needs of people we love. Enter into our hearts as we pray, loving Jesus, and bring your imagination. Amen

(Next week: Creativity, imagination, Jesus and equality in relationships. Illustration by Dave Baab: one of his pandemic paintings, a park on Capitol Hill, Seattle. I love getting new subscribers. Sign up below to receive an email when I post on this blog.)

This is the ninth post on creativity. This topic was inspired by the number of people who have told me (or posted on Facebook or Instagram) about the new/old forms of creativity they have engaged in during the pandemic, everything from knitting to quilting to gardening. My husband, Dave, has been painting watercolors way more hours per week than he used to. Creativity seems to be an important coping strategy, and I wanted to explore it further. Previous posts in this series:

[1] Cheryl Forbes, Imagination: Embracing a Theology of Wonder (Portland, OR: Multnomah Press, 1986), 65.

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