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Pure Imagination

My kids, and even many friends and family, will tell you that I frequently serenade them with lyrics by way of word association. They know that if they come down to the kitchen in the morning describing last night’s nightmare, I will regale them with, “Last night I had the strangest dream. I sailed away to China, in a little row boat to find ya, and you said you had to get your laundry cleaned…”

So, when I recently re-read the guided meditation on page 141 of the Metanoia Catholic Journal, the words of Gene Wilder’s slightly creepy song as Willy Wonka came to mind.

“There is no life I know

To compare with pure imagination

Living there, you’ll be free

If you truly wish to be.”

As a journal discussion facilitator for Metanoia Catholic, I recently noticed my distinct lack of visualization during Exercise 3 of the Metanoia Journal: Contemplating our Goals with God. Visualization involves using sounds, colors, smells, touch, memories, and emotions to help you create a picture in your mind.  

I got curious about my own experience while trying to picture my desires in the way Matt and Erin suggest in the back of the journal on page 141. There is a Guided Imagery Prayer to help spark your imagination, which involves picturing yourself walking toward the altar, desires in hand, in the form of an offertory. Having brought up the gifts during mass many times at my own church in Ashburn, VA, I had little difficulty envisioning my outstretched hands carrying the gifts toward our carved, white altar. Anything beyond that was out of my mind’s reach.

Envisioning myself doing something new, something slightly beyond what I am already doing happened very infrequently.

It didn’t occur to me that other people might be vividly picturing something far more detailed during this meditation until I started to lead a simple Lectio Divina during the journal group discussion on Wednesday mornings. I had never really given a lot of thought to the relatively blank screen in the movies of my mind up until now. So, I put my #1 Clifton Strength, input, to work and discovered the phenomenon called aphantasia.

Aphantasia: the inability or limited ability to voluntarily create a mental picture in your head

A (Greek) – meaning without

Phantasia (Greek)  – meaning imagination

According to Aphantasia Network, some people envision unmentioned parts of a story –  like action or setting –  in greater detail than others. There is a spectrum that goes from blind imagination, to somewhat limited ability, to hyperphantasia – meaning a wildly vivid imagination. If you are curious about your own powers of imagination, take the Vividness of Visual Imagery Questionnaire on the website. (Futuristic, a Clifton Strength commonly characterized by the ability to envision things that have not happened yet in great detail, is ranked number 27 out of 34 for me, so it makes sense to me that my score was low!) At times I have concentrated very hard during guided reflections with Dr Gerry Crete on the Hallow app to imagine colors or the kind of peaceful scenery that I could refer back to when I want to feel a sense of calm or safe space. It’s more like remembering a photograph for me than a new creation of my imagination.

Using guided meditation as a tool, I hoped to spark something that would allow God’s plan for this season of my life to be laid out before me in undeniable technicolor images. Imagining my desires and goals in full form just wasn’t happening.

And I was judging that.

I was judging it so much that the old and deep-rooted lie, “There must be something wrong with me,” popped up again.

Imagine that (pun intended) … The Enemy was tempting me with a pretty thought that I “should” have a wildly vivid imagination if what I desire is pure and good and worthy of God. The perceived lack of having this type of imagination was becoming evidence that something was wrong with me. Oh, the thought circles!

Not long after my research into aphantasia, I asked God in Exercise 7 of the journal for His interpretation of my desire to be able to envision my goals with a pure imagination. This is what he said:

Sit in my love.”  

I frequently hear God during prayer and contemplation. His voice is deep and kind, calm and gentle, sometimes commanding but never condemning. Isn’t it interesting that I can HEAR his voice so clearly but have difficulty conjuring an image?

I lingered in my prayer spot on the loveseat in the living room a while longer, trying to imagine what God had told me to do.

Sit in my love.”

What I managed to come up with for a mental picture was something like General Snoke’s throne in the movie The Last Jedi!  His huge knees at the level of my chin were impossible to climb, and I was vaguely aware of the Elite red guard figures behind me. What a preposterous image of my Heavenly Father!  So much effort and the best I could do was draw from the memory of a Star Wars character. Eek! I let go of the need to make it happen, surrendered it all to the Lord, and moved on with my day.

The next morning, though, I had a completely different experience in a half-awake state, right before the sun came up. In my mind’s eye, I was a little girl snuggled up in my own father’s lap, nestled in his reading chair, right next to the fireplace. He held the newspaper in his left hand, with me leaning into his right shoulder. His right arm was behind me, reaching down to stroke  our old cocker spaniel, Boots, who was curled up in her spot next to us.

I was aware of such warmth – such ease and comfort. Such a sweet and enveloping love. Such imaginative detail. And it was no effort at all!

But it was fleeting.

And when it disappeared I heard the Lord say to me:

“See, my child,” I said, “Sit in my love.”

God was showing me that my disposition of receptivity is far more fruitful than my forced effort, which came from a sense of “doing it the wrong way.”  He was reminding me that I am uniquely and wonderfully made and that my desires, my goals, and my imaginings of them are the result of something He has planted in my heart and soul. Through patience, receptivity, and allowing, He revealed to me the image of a warm and loving father who would comfort and protect me. It was exactly the image I needed at the time. His message and early morning phantasm were multi-layered answers to my petition.

My father passed away more than 8 years ago, and this image was a sweet and comforting memory.  

The command to sit in my love referred to the need for being still, quieting my mind, in order to have ears to hear.  

I began to understand that the blending of recall with a spiritual knowing (hearing His voice) is My Heavenly Father’s particular gift to me. It doesn’t have to look or sound like anyone else’s!