Sunday 12 August 2012

Welcoming God into Your Imagination

By Eric Hanna, S.J.

Your imagination, like every aspect of who you are, is a gift to you from a loving God. Imagination is an intimate part of the self. Sometimes we feel we must shield our imaginings from others – because others may not accept what we imagine and in so doing deny an aspect of our self. But, as many of us have learned over the years, that which we hide from others is what we most long to show, so that it may be seen and loved unconditionally.

Children love to imagine. They invent every kind of story under the sun and act out those stories with a kind of unselfconscious joy that grown-ups secretly envy. However, anyone who encountered the pressures of the crowd at school will have experienced the danger in sharing one's imaginings. Too often, when a child brightly expresses what they imagined, they are met with the scorn of bullies who see a weak spot: “that's stupid”. What you imagine is stupid. You are stupid. It hurts to hear. And we grow up with the lesson of not revealing our mind to others so freely.

The privacy of the imagination can become a secret rebellion against the crowd. In the imagination, we can do whatever we want without fear of condemnation. It is easy to begin to cling to this power. We begin to equate private imagination with personal freedom. We declare: no one has the right to impinge upon my imaginings! All this leads, mostly subconsciously, to an unhealthy attitude about God and the imagination. God becomes just another authority figure seeking to judge our secret rebellions, an ultimate big-brother stripping away the last shred of autonomy. God becomes a frightening thing to let inside.

But the fear of God's peaking into our imagination comes from the fear we have developed of other persons who have hurt us. God is not a peering mind from outside, looking to pick apart what is not of Himself. God is the loving giver of the imagination. One person's mind is a fountain of imaginings, its water coming from the ocean of God's infinite possibility. What God sees within us, no matter how we may secretly fear showing it, God loves without judgment or condition. The experience of welcoming God into our thoughts and imaginings is the experience of being loved.

But what of the dark self? What of the intimate within that is capable of imagining the unacceptable: murder and rage and hate. These things, too seem to come from within us. Surely God did not put them there? Surely he cannot love that part of us, but will rather expunge it? And deep within us, we fear losing our freedom, even a freedom to do evil.

I am prepared to tell you that God loves a murderer even without that murderer repenting in his heart. As a mother loves her child. God is incapable of doing anything else. And if you truly loved someone who had done evil, you would accept that one wholly for who he is. And this loving acceptance would not be lessened by your desire that the murderer indeed repent and embrace his humanity. And being loved unconditionally is what causes us to repent our sin and become more alive.

God does not love you in spite of your capacity for sin but because you are the person you are, including all your choices and inclinations. You are loved before your choices. You are loved in your imagination. It is not in repressing our darker sides that we become free: rather it is in bringing those secret parts of our selves to the love of God. In being loved, the self is transformed.

Consider sharing a deeply personal secret with a close friend. The act of making yourself vulnerable is frightening. If the friend condemns, you feel unloved in the deepest core of your self. But usually the friend (and God always) is full of understanding. The friend wants to know the whole story because the friend wants to know and love you. And the friend, without judgment, accepts what you share. This experience sets you free. It opens you to being loved in a profound and intimate way. And the secret does not weigh so heavily. Over time it becomes something that unites you and your friend, rather than divides.

God is waiting to develop this kind of intimacy with you. God waits on your invitation. And even the memories which you find most painful or shameful to share, God will show to be connected to parts of your soul that run even deeper and which are wholly good. The more you show God, the more you'll understand yourself to be loved. And you'll begin to feel more free to live your true and inner self in the world, out loud and fearlessly.

Like a child with a friend, you can laugh with God in the casual imaginings that run through your mind. The imagination is a place of play. And God delights in a playful back and forth as the possibilities of life unfold. God supplies and energizes the imagination like a cup overflowing, as He has supplied and energized your whole being. In sharing and growing in this intimacy, you become alive. You become as vibrant and open to possibility as a little child, with the wisdom and compassion of a grown-up.

And so I recommend a simple prayer to you: “Loving God, come into my imagination.” You'll be amazed at the difference it makes in your life. Be prepared to be challenged. For many things that sounded sensible to you in secret appear silly to you when you bring them to the light. But also be prepared to be loved to the very depths. And having experienced such a deep and abiding love you will be moved, freely and naturally, to look at others with that same unconditional acceptance: both in the world and in your imagination.


  1. Great insightful post. Thanks Br. Eric!

  2. Br Eric: Beautiful. Keep it up. What do you make of Matt 7:21? How does that jive with the love of God that you talk about here?
    Tom Schuessler Mayville, WI