Archives, Songs of Assent

Anything But Imaginary

I remember standing in front of a class of Wheaton students over a decade ago and saying, “Having ‘a personal relationship with Jesus is easy to talk about, but is often the very reality we struggle to step into.”  And I found myself saying something similar to a class of seminarians just last week.

At this point in my life I would be swift to clarify that statement: Jesus has a relationship with us, a love that “will not let us go.”  Nothing we do or don’t do can initiate what He has already won for us, and now so freely offers those who, by the enabling power of the Holy Spirit, confess him to be Lord.  But this “relationship,” while based in an objectivity so deep that we scarcely can begin to comprehend it,  contains a responsive dimension, as well.  Our hearts are hungry to know our connectedness to Him at the level of our real experience.  We long to know that He is truly present with us.

So last week, I invited my students into a simple, ancient exercise. I asked the Holy Spirit to reveal Jesus to us, and then invited us to become the blind man healed by Jesus in John 9.  We took a few moments to imagine being this beggared, sightless man.  They shut their eyes as I slowly read the story to them, simply changing it from third to first person.  Within a few moments none of us were “outside” that story. We were in.  We were the blind man. We heard the new voice of a man who refused to answer the tiresome question of whose fault it was that we were blind in the same life-sapping ways. We felt (and smelled) the mud  He put on our eyes, and the tender, firm fingers that placed it there.  We went and washed in the pool. We felt the frustration of not knowing what Jesus looked like so that we could find him.  We were pressed into a corner by the religious leaders until we, too, were convinced of whom Jesus was. For when his eyes were opened, the scales came off ours again, too. And by the end, we, like our friend on the page, worshipped the Jesus who came, a second time, to find him.

One of my students, who, six weeks ago was the vocal skeptic as to the “relevance” of classic spiritual practices, said, “OK, I see.  I’ve never realized that I’m always an outsider to the Gospels.  Jesus touches someone else, but I never thought it could be me.  I’ve always stood on the margins when I am being invited in.”

Years ago I read a couple of lines from Oswald Chamber’s My Utmost for His Highest that changed my life in this regard. He writes, “Is your imagination stayed on God or is it starved?…If you have never used your imagination to put yourself before God, begin to do it now.” (Feb. 11)  That insight, combined with the truth that the Scriptures contain the LIVING word that does something while we are listening, has been used by the Spirit of God to draw me into life-changing relationship with the living Lord—over and over again.

This is how I wrote the chapter on Confidence in Songs of Assent.  For when we come to terms with how vulnerable we really are, only the hands on protection and comfort of a flesh and blood Jesus reaching out to us through the pages of Scripture by the effective power of His Spirit will suffice.

So while we are tempted to think of our imagination as the capacity to see the unreal, when the Holy Spirit harnesses this aspect of our humanity it becomes the capacity to see the unseen.  Like Mary Poppins and the children on a “jolly holiday” we pop into the chalk picture—at the Spirit’s bidding–only to find that the view from the inside is anything but imaginary.

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