Imagining a Story of Spirit

Sitting in the backyard with my Sadie, my youngest grandchild, we notice that one toy, a school bus, that has been in the family since the first grandchild, has a missing piece, a bear for the back seat. Where could it be? I was satisfied to say that it had been gone a long time, and probably had been swept away with old dead leaves and branches. But Sadie was not content. She began to spin out all the possibilities: maybe it was underneath something? behind something? taken by a bird up in the sky? or MAYBE  tall cousin Dalton had loved it so much he took it back to Florida with him! But in any case we should keep looking for it, even if we had to shout, “Come out! Come out! wherever you are!” Her imagination of hope challenges me to remember where and when I had last used the imagination that I had promised in my vows of ordination: “Will you pray for and seek to serve the people with energy, intelligence, imagination, and love?”

I also recalled that not too long ago I had invited a group that was discerning about a direction a course of action to follow a template set out by Dr. Elizabeth Liebert in her book The Way of Discernment, that included imagination. But when it comes to discerning a resolution for my own faithful following of the Holy, I hear myself say, all too often, “I just can’t imagine…” Too often I can’t imagine that the lost can be found, the broken can be healed, the ruptured can be restored, or that there is a way where I don’t see a way. My imagination fails to open the windows of my heart and mind to “what eyes have not seen, nor ears heard what God has prepared for those who love God” (I Cor. 2:9).

My imagination needs feeding and exercise. The practice of Ignatius of Loyola of imagining one’s self inside a story from Scripture has been life-changing for me over and over again.  To imagine Jesus’ voice asking me, “What do you want me to do for you?” or to tune into my body when Jesus says to me, “Take up your bed and walk,” or to see myself as Hannah presenting myself before the Holy One: each one has been a moment of transformation for me as I have allowed the sacred story become my own story at critical junctures in my life. I would love to be like Sadie, allowing my mind and heart to soar with possibility as I am the woman at the well, Peter on the roof top, Jacob wrestling for his life. Sadie reminds me to do that.

When I don’t know how to begin in prayer, especially a prayer of questioning where I should go next, I have found that drawing or making a collage frees me to hear and to express the hidden parts of my longing and need. Dr. Liebert gave me an extraordinary gift when I was trying to finish an important academic project when in answer to my despair over being stuck, she handed me magic markers with the instructions to draw. To this artistically-wounded survivor of a demanding school teacher, it was a direction that could only be met with disbelief, as if she had asked me to fly without wings! Yet, prayerfully I picked a red marker, followed by blue, enhanced by green and yellow, and suddenly the Spirit laid out for me the scope and shape of the project, and I was on my way.

Imagination in prayer is a gift of God. Sadie reminds me of that as she waves her hands and as her voice lilts over the garden. What could happen if I brought imagination into my prayer for the places in me and in the world where I feel at an impasse?

  • what story can I imagine about bringing food and health to women in Africa who have so few resources in themselves or the systems in which they live?
  • how is my imagination sparked when I listen to the conflict and despair of our widely divided country?
  • where can i imagine myself  traveling to find a faith community in which I might fit?
  • why is my prayer limited to only those things I can see and “know for sure.” when I follow the One with whom all things are possible?

God be in my prayer and in my imagination!

Patheos blogger Elizabeth Nordquist muses on the use of sacred imagination in prayer.


About Elizabeth Nordquist

Elizabeth Nordquist is a Presbyterian pastor, teacher, and spiritual director who writes on women's issues, spirituality and Scripture, and what is happening in the world--hers, her neighborhood, the Church and the world. Each day she looks for ways in which the Spirit is moving in and around her.

  • Sean Nordquist

    For the record, tall cousin Dalton (who is now REALLY tall cousin Dalton) did not take said bear. :)

  • Paula

    Wonderful words. And a great reminder about the vow to serve with imagination. And tell Sadie I will watch for birds flying overhead with the bear in claw.

  • Beth Freidline

    Inspiring with a smile! Thank you. This morning over my bowl of cereal and fruit, I thought “Grapes and peach be unto you”, which is my greeting for you today.

  • Mary Ann Rohrer

    Thank you, Elizabeth for this encouragement!!!! How we forget.

    Mary Ann

  • Erica

    Imgagining that exchange makes me very happy :)

  • Eileen

    I’m reminded of the awareness in the Tao of Pooh, that Pooh Bear so often begins his words with, “Let me see” For me, a wonderful synchronistic touchstone of seeing and hearing the God within.

  • Ginger Johnston

    I preached on our vows of imagination at Eastern Oregon Presbytery last fall, in the context of imagining our way into God’s future as a church. I delight in all the ways God engages our imaginations in the scriptures.

  • Bev Franco

    I chose “Imagination” as a spiritual practice for my training in Clinical Pastoral Education as I learned to be a chaplain. Imagination brings hope to people who are despairing, grieving, or dying, even by the simple use of the phrase “When you are feeling better …” One dying man and I planned a trip to his beloved Mexico, even though we both knew he would never go. His face lit up as we talked about the villages and sites he would visit and the car he would choose to drive. And I’ve used lots of imagination in preaching to and teaching my seniors at the retirement community, especially about the lives of women in the Bible and the way their power was often displayed through silent protest, like Rizpah in 2nd Samuel 21. You taught me well, Elizabeth!

  • Carolyn Kingshill

    Elizabeth —
    Just back from a week in Maine with my college room-mate. We did alot of reminiscing (sp?) and imaging about the past and future. It was good. Now I’m back to a half-renovated house which I had hoped would be done before I got back. Dust and chaos abounds. But then, one can always bring up the past or the future by imagining.