Dear Pope Francis,
I was recently cleaning out some of the files on my computer, and I stumbled across some documents that I had written before beginning my M.Div. With school starting today, it seemed like an appropriate time to read through them.
What I found was something that I had forgotten all about. It was a ‘day in my life’, written before I had even moved to Toronto. I had used my vivid imagination to ‘watch’ a day in my life as an M.Div. student. The day I described was towards that end of my third year, I was living with two roommates, whom I got along with. I was busy with school and extracurricular activities. Most of it was described in great detail, but definitely imaginative as time has shown that some of the details are inaccurate (such as I have one roommate, not two).
I used this ‘day in my life’ trick before, notably before beginning every year of my undergrad. It helps me to create a concrete image of what I want for my life at the end of a particular time period or endeavour. Even when the details don’t match up exactly, I still find the whole process helpful, because it usually gives me some ideals to shoot for. In this case, it was that I would be involved, as I have always been, but that I would be striking a healthy balance, which I struggle with. I would feel settled where I was, but, after having a (mostly) good time doing my M.Div., I would be ready to look ahead to the next adventure.
I’ve seen this kind of imaginative technique used in other situations, like self-help books, weight loss programs and people expounding the power of positive thinking. Even Ignatian spirituality encourages the use of imagination to place yourself into a Gospel passage, allowing the text to speak to you based on how you insert yourself into the scene.
In some ways, this is another way that we can allow ourselves to become like little children again, which Jesus suggests is important in the life of disciples. Imagination is so often written off as something childish, something which everyone eventually grows out of. Yes, I have grown out of having imaginary friends, but imagination continues to help me connect with where I want to go by creating that reality as vividly as I can before it begins.
Certainly, there are limits to this method; we can’t simply imagine world peace into existence. Maybe it can help us to see new ways we can help bring it about in our own lives by imagining what living peacefully concretely looks like in our own corner of the world. Maybe it helps someone get through a hard time, or empathize by walking a mile in another person’s shoes. Or maybe it allows us to sink in and really connect with a Gospel story that we’ve hear many times before so that it challenges us in a new way.
Another limit, especially when using imagination as I used it before starting my M. Div., is how to know if what we imagine the future to look like is even remotely what God’s plan is. Again, it comes back to those big ideas in the image, rather than the minute details. As I discern, part of the answer often comes as these imaginings, so I have a sense that I will be busy, but what exactly keeps me busy, I don’t know. As I find consolation in the day-to-day discernment, those big concept ideas begin to take shape, even if the concrete image I had isn’t exactly the same as the reality.
If you’re looking for something different in your prayer life, perhaps try the Ignatian practice of inserting yourself into the scripture. Or if you need a little boost of motivation, try picturing what life could be like after you accomplish the goal you’re working on. It might just be the dose of child-like energy we need.
Going to my imagination place,