One of the many effective ways to let the Word of God
indwells us is to read the bible using our eyes, minds and imagination.
Imagining ourselves present at the scenes of the event in the bible text,
either as an active participant or passive observer may have a powerful effect
on our spiritual life. This way of reading makes the biblical text come alive,
giving substance and texture to the sentences on the page. It allows the Holy
Spirit to work not only on our minds but also through our senses and feelings.
We also become more sensitive to the text and to the nuances of the Holy Spirit
in the text. However we must control our imagination and not let it run wild!
The imagination in imaginative reading is confined to what the text says and
should not create new stories or narrative that is not found in the bible or is
contrary to biblical teachings.
One example of imaginative reading is to imagine being
present when Jesus preaches the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. We imagine we
are present when Jesus sat down on the mountain to preach. We are at the bottom
of the mountain and we look up to the man seated on the slope. There are many
people close by also looking up. We can feel the cool morning breeze that comes
from the Sea of Galilee. The grass felt moist
under our sandaled feet and the sun warm on our skin. We look up again as a
voice sounded, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of
heaven…” We mediate as we continue to read the text in Matt. 5:3 onwards.
Alice Fryling in her book Meeting God Together shares her experience of using imaginative
reading in her spiritual direction session and encourages her directee to imagine
being an active participant with her imagination. Alice writes,
For example, I was meeting with
someone who had been struggling with the same problem in her life for years.
Nothing seemed to help. As we talked, I began thinking about the man who waited
by the pool of Bethesda
for thirty-eight years for someone to help him get into the pool and be healed.
I read the passage, John 5:1-8, to my friend, and I asked to picture herself
lying there by the pool, struggling with her desire to be healed. Then I asked
her to imagine Jesus approaching her. How would she feel? What might Jesus say
to her? How would she respond to Jesus? By entering into this story in
Scripture, my friend was able to experience God's love in a new way in her own
situation. The Spirit touched her life in a quiet way, but one as real as the
way Jesus touched the lame man. The Spirit's touch was personal and unique,
well suited to her particular needs (72).
Following this experience with her friend, Alice also
experienced a similar encounter herself with the text John 5 which she shares,
I had been praying about a number
of relational entanglements that were draining life and energy from me. As I
prayed, I talked with God about all the reasons these entanglements had gone on
for so long and why I couldn't do anything about them. The passage in John came
to mind. Reading the passage for myself this time, I was struck by Jesus' words
to the ill man. Jesus said, "Stand up, take your mat and walk." These
were familiar words to me. But this time, I heard the Spirit say to me,
"Just walk!" And with that command came an invitation to let go of my
need to figure things out and instead "just walk." All that week,
when I was tempted to spiral back down into the entanglements of the
relationship, I heard, "Just walk!" Just get going. Live as though
you're healed. Don't lie there anymore. Those words seemed to guard my heart
all week (73).
Imaginative reading provides different experiential
encounters facilitated by the Holy Spirit for different people, and even for
the same person, it will be different at different times in his or her life.
It is reasonable that some Christians are cautious about
these approaches. Two major concerns are that we are not employing the proper
hermeneutic tools here in our bible reading, and that we may be reading the
bible out of context. These are valid concerns and are interrelated. Hans Frei
argues in The
Eclipse of Biblical Narrative: A Study in 18th and 19th Century Hermeneutics
(1980) that the ‘proper’ hermeneutical which are the historical-critical method, the grammatical method,
higher criticism, and systematic theology in current use actually
intellectualized and subdivided the texts, and located their meaning outside
the text! Frei contends that any interpretation of the Scriptures that
discounts the realistic, historical narrative will result in distortion.
According to Frei, we are already reading the bible out of context. Maybe lectio divina and imaginative reading
will lead us to the context in which the bible is written.
A further comment about the common bible reading tools we
use nowadays is that they date back to the Enlightenment and Newtonian science,
which sought knowledge by breaking everything into its smallest pieces. Lectio divina and imaginative reading of
the bible have been utilized by Christians since the time of the early church
and is still being used down the centuries by some traditions of the Christian
Basically it boils down to our willingness to believe that
God can use the bible through our imagination and emotions to speak to us. If
we believe in the power of the Holy Spirit, then we should feel secure to use
our imagination for the Holy Spirit will guide us into the truth. Whatever we
receive will need to be checked with a more mature Christian and against the
teachings of the Christian faith. This is where the spiritual director comes
in. Lectio divina and imaginative
reading need to be discerned through the lens of biblical teachings and a
second pair of eyes is helpful. The revival of these ancient practices of
reading the bible will enhance our spiritual encounters with God through his
Labels: Bible, Bible Exposition, Biblical Studies, Christian Spirituality