Message: If you apply your imagination to prayer, you will experience (like Peter), "Lord, it is good that we are here."
This year during Lent my homilies focus of prayer: what it is, how to do and why we need it.* Last weekend we saw the importance of prayer for knowing whether we are following God or being deceived by the enemy. By learning more about prayer we can know when we are hearing God's voice.
This Sunday I am addressing how to pray, specifically how to use Scripture for prayer. This is not something I personally invented, but received from our rich Catholic tradition.
When you take a Scripture passage, the first thing to do is to pray to the Holy Spirit. He inspired the text and he can guide you if you ask him. Breathe deeply to calm your body and mind, then read a verse - for example, the first sentence from today's Gospel. Jesus led them up a high mountain. Apply your imagination. Initially this might seem strange, but think about it.** Most of us recognize that God speaks to us through the heart, the conscience and the intellect. Can he not also speak through the imagination?
As you climb that mountain, imagine what you see: Are there flowers and trees along the way? What sounds do you hear? Is the day warm? Do you feel a breeze? Maybe you have climbed a high hill with friends. Those memories can help you enter the Gospel scene. If you spend the entire prayer time walking with Jesus and his companions, that would be a beautiful prayer.
The climb, however, leads to a breathtaking experience. Jesus' appearance changes. You get a glimpse of his true reality. Physicists tell us that beneath the surface - say, of a grain of sand - pulsates a world of molecules, atoms and sub-atomic particles. With the Transfiguration, you get a glimpse behind the scenes: Jesus and the saints, represented by Moses and Elijah. For a moment you might feel like Peter, "Lord, it is good that we are here."
Now your prayer will not always result in fireworks. Sometimes distractions will flood your mind. When they do, gently go back to the Scripture verse. If the distractions continue, it might indicate you should pray for some person - maybe someone who upsets you or someone in trouble. Or perhaps you need to ask God's help with some temptation - overeating, anger, lust... I will say more next week about how to deal with distractions.
No matter what happens during the prayer time, make a good finish. Maybe kneel down for a moment, say a short prayer like "Jesus, I trust in you." Or "Lord, help me today." Or slowly say the Our Father.
Do not get discouraged if you experience some dryness. It is natural, even inevitable. Especially for those times when God seems distant or absent, a person needs a structure of prayer. It's no coincidence that disciple and discipline are practically the same word. If we are going to become disciples of Jesus, we need discipline, especially in our life of prayer. More next week.
For this week I encourage you to open your entire soul to God: Not just your conscience - your sense of right and wrong. Not just your intellect - your ability to reason things out. And not just your heart - that sea of emotions inside you. Use also the power of your imagination - your ability to enter a scene and to allow God to take you behind the scene or below the surface. If you apply your imagination to prayer, you will experience (like Peter), "Lord, it is good that we are here." Amen.
*As I mention in the bulletin, the current issue of Northwest Catholic has some helpful articles on prayer.
**In The Jesuit Guide to (Almost) Everything: A Spirituality for Real Life, Fr. James Martin tells about his first reaction to using the imagination in prayer and how his spiritual director helped him:
When I first heard about this method in the novitiate, I thought it sounded ridiculous. Using your imagination? Making things up in your head? Was everything you imagined supposed to be God speaking to you? Isn‘t that what crazy people think? In one of my first conversations with David, I confessed my doubts, even disappointment, about ―Ignatian contemplation.‖ As he listened, he began to smile. I can still see him sitting in his easy chair with his cup of coffee at the ready. ―Let me ask you a question,‖ he said. ―Do you think that God can speak to you through your relationships with other people?‖ ―Of course,‖ I said. ―Through reading Scripture and through the sacraments?‖ Yes and yes. ―Through your daily experiences, and through your desires and emotions?‖ Yes, yes, and yes. ―Do you think God can communicate through what you see every day and hear and feel and even smell?‖ Of course. ―Then why couldn‘t God speak to you through your imagination?‖ That made sense. Think seriously about your imagination, David said. Wasn‘t it a gift from God, like your intellect or your memory? And if it was a gift, why couldn‘t it be used to experience God? This made sense, too. Using my imagination wasn‘t so much making things up, as it was trusting that my imagination could help to lead me to the one who created it: God. That didn‘t mean that everything I imagined during prayer was coming from God. But it did mean that from time to time God could use my imagination as one way of communicating with me.
From Archives (Year A homilies for 2nd Sunday of Lent):
Homilies for Second Sunday of Lent ("Transfiguration Sunday")
Seapadre Homilies: Cycle A, Cycle B, Cycle C
Audio Files of Homilies
Podcasts of homilies (website of my niece, Sara)
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Bulletin (St. Mary's Parish)
Parish Picture Album
MBC - Mary Bloom Center, Puno, Peru