Holy Imagination

What most of us want is a God who will solve our problems. It is no surprise that petitions and intercessions top the prayer charts in most American churches.  Invite people to spend some time in silence opening themselves up to the will of God and folks will fidget.  Give them a chance to role out their list and there’s no stopping them.

The same problem-solving God shapes the way in which most of us read the Bible.  There is a reason that the Gideons have long offered a Bible with a problem-solving list of passages at the back of the book.  If in trouble, read this…if depressed, read that…

But does assaulting heaven with a laundry list of needs constitute “holy imagination?”

No.  No matter how big the needs are, no matter how long the list might be, no matter how confidant you are that God will fill the requisition list — none of that constitutes holy imagination.

Don’t misunderstand.  There is nothing wrong with talking to God about our problems.  But a non-stop conversation with God about our needs is not the same thing as a spiritual life and imagining a bigger, longer list of stuff for God to do does not constitute a holy imagination.

A holy imagination is a life that is open, immediate, and raw — receptive and ready to respond to God on God’s terms.  An imagination open to what God wants to do — an imagination that isn’t tied to me and mine, or here and now.

That’s why when the prophet Joel anticipated a new future for humankind he didn’t indulge the specifics of competing needs and well-defined futures.  And he didn’t imagine a future that embraced just his own nation, or the movers-and-shakers. Instead he described a generation of people immediately and vulnerably in touch with the will of God and filled with fresh imaginings:

“I will pour out my Spirit on all people.  Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.”  (NIV, Joel 2:28)

By all means, talk to God about your needs.  But save space when you pray or read Scripture for more than that.  Save space to dream with God.

About Frederick Schmidt

The Reverend Dr. Frederick W. Schmidt, Jr. holds the Rueben P. Job Chair in Spiritual Formation at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, IL, and directs the Rueben Job Institute for Spiritual Formation. He is an Episcopal Priest, spiritual director, retreat facilitator, conference leader, writer, and consulting editor at Church Publishing in New York. He is the author of numerous published articles and reviews, as well as several books: A Still Small Voice: Women, Ordination and the Church (Syracuse University Press, 1998), The Changing Face of God (Morehouse, 2000), When Suffering Persists (Morehouse, 2001), in Italian translation: Sofferenza, All ricerca di una riposta (Torino: Claudiana, 2004), What God Wants for Your Life (Harper, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Revelation (Morehouse, 2005), Conversations with Scripture: Luke (Morehouse, 2009), and The Dave Test (Abingdon, 2013). He and his wife, Natalie (who is also an Episcopal priest), live in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with their Gordon Setter, Hilda of Whitby. They have four children and five grandchildren: Henry, Addie, Heidi, Sophie, and Drew, with a sixth on the way.