When I look back on the good ole days of my childhood, I am quite impressed with the adventures that my sisters and I would go on. We had quite the imagination! First, we were princesses, coated in make-up in our castle with playdoh food and purses full of money (play money of course). Then we were explorers with those walkie-talkie machines running around the yard trying to make it to headquarters before dad would see us (he was good about playing along!). You probably have memories from your childhood too!
The past few weeks, we have been speaking about various purifications and detachments that take place in order for us to obtain the transforming union with God! We have spoken about death and how we must always be prepared. This month, we are going to journey through purifications of the intellect, memory, and imagination. Indeed, Lent is a time where we are striving for deeper holiness. Our thoughts are fixed on what we can sacrifice, or how we can break certain habits. However, have we considered the importance of having a renewal of our mind in which we strive for thoughts to be more God-centered?
First, let’s consider what the imagination is made for. Simply, the imagination is made to store and create images. However, the imagination was not meant to store just any images, but it is meant to form ideas in order to know higher realities (heavenly realities) better. Jesus was an expert in helping His listeners use their imagination! He would tell them parables: the Lost Sheep, the Prodigal Son are two examples that paint explicit pictures in our minds. There is a certain pleasure that comes from having certain images. For example, you can imagine yourself going on a beautiful hike in British Columbia and that might instill emotions of joy and excitement. These excitable emotions are meant to be lifted up to God, drawing closer to Him… with being awed by the beauty and majesty of God’s creation. Or, you can imagine yourself on a roller coaster and that can leave you with emotions of excitement…or fear…and even that we must lift to God!
Our imaginations do not only put image-forming ideas in our mind, but they also arouse (bring alive) our senses and passions. Let us consider prayer for a moment. In prayer, we are called to gather all the powers of our soul and focus on the Lord. St. Ignatius believed that our imagination is meant to help us in prayer by choosing scenes from the Gospels to contemplate: seeing how Jesus speaks, acts, interacts and ministers to the people. In this way, thought St. Ignatius, we can experience Jesus and really meet Him. For example, if we are meditating on Our Lord’s Passion and death, we can use our imagination to put ourselves in that setting. We can hear the chanting of the crowd to crucify Him. We can see the tears in Our Lady’s eyes. We can hear and see in our mind the blows that Our Lord received, and hear the nails going into His hands and feet. We can see the blood pouring from the face of the Lord…and His tear-filled eyes longing to save us. These holy images in our minds can really aid our meditation to be fruitful and that is good!
If someone does not have a mortified imagination, two problems can result. First dissipation, (over-indulgence over worldly things) and second, temptation. If we do not strive to recollect our imagination, then having an interior life that is God-centered will be extremely difficult. Things of worldly importance will reign in our minds, and we will seek them more. Temptation can also result since every image that comes to us arouses our senses. If one looks at an impure image for example, on a billboard, or a computer, these images remain in our imagination and can cause terrible temptations which may eventually lead to sin. Padre Pio once said, “Banish from your imagination all those distressing thoughts and sentiments which are all suggested by Satan in order to make you act badly.” As well, having an unmortified imagination can cause anxiety in a person…an excessive fear that the worst will happen. This excessive fear can be damaging to health in mind, body and soul.
So what can be done? How can we better control our imagination? Take this as your motto: what you put in is what will come out. If you put wheat flour, you will get bread. If you put butter in popcorn you get buttery popcorn. If you put a seed in the soil, you will one day have a tree. Simply, we need to be prudent in what we read, and watch especially our consumption of media! Instead of spending hours playing video games settle into some good spiritual reading on the martyrs. Instead of watching that movie with coarse language and sexual content, look at some good sacred art or watch a movie about a Saint.
Another important piece of advice is to be attentive to the duty of the moment. You might have heard the expression, “An idle mind is the devil’s workshop.” We need to strive to prevent daydreaming and idleness at all costs! Being attentive in our prayer life rather than having anxiety about future difficulties is also key for our growth in the spiritual life. Furthermore, the great Fulton Sheen says, “Nothing is as efficacious in curing the memory and imagination as Confession it cleanses us of guilt.” The Sacrament of Confession can help cleanse us of those images in our minds that are taking us away from the Lord. Praying ejaculatory prayers such as “Jesus, Mary, Joseph” or “Jesus I Trust in you,” making the sign of the Cross with reverence often and having images around our homes to look at when we are beginning to daydream or fantasize are also ways to keep our minds fixed on God throughout the day.
Have I allowed my imagination to be worldly centered instead of God centered? What can I do to focus more on God today?
Attention to the present is the best way to prepare for the future! Put everything in the hands of God and this helps us save a lot of energy in the long run. In this way we will be better ready to serve God, knowing Him and serving Him all the days of our lives!