While reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning.
—C. S. Lewis
New discoveries in the field of neuroscience confirm the truth that our minds and bodies are wired for being able to relate to God. We have been created with a brain that has both a left and a right hemisphere. Each side functions differently in terms of how we receive and process information. Dr. Curt Thompson, in Anatomy of the Soul, writes that, “we cannot separate what we do with our brains and our relationships from what we do with God. God has designed our minds, part of his good creation, to invite us into a deeper, more secure, more courageous relationship with him and with one another.” Neuroscientist, Andrew Newberg and co-author, Mark Waldman in How God Changes Your Brain, address the topic of altering the neural circuitry in the brain, and state that if we focus on God long enough, He “becomes neurologically real.”
The process of spiritual transformation involves being transformed by the renewing of our minds as the apostle Paul writes in Romans 12: 2. We function best when both our left-brain and our right- brain activities are integrated. The functions of the left-brain deal mostly with cognitive, rational, linear thinking, while the functions of the right-brain deal mostly with intuitive, creative, emotional and imaginative thinking. In our western culture we tend to place great emphasis on left-brain cognitive learning, but very little emphasis is given to right-brain experiential learning. This influences even the way that we approach the Bible, spiritual matters, and our relationship with God.
The Bible is filled with encouragement to use our right-brain capabilities of imagination through story, parables, images, and symbols. Author Richard Foster writes in Sanctuary of the Soul that, "God so accommodates, so enfleshes himself into our world that the Lord uses the images we know and understand to teach us about the unseen world of which we know so little and which we find so difficult to understand. Indeed, in one important sense faith is the highest act of the sanctified imagination." A God-focused imagination (primarily right-brain activity) is thus a key factor in our ability to personally experience God in this life. He further elaborates in his classic work Celebration of Discipline that we can “actually encounter the living Christ . . . be addressed by His voice and be touched by His healing power. It can be more than an exercise of imagination; it can be a genuine confrontation. Jesus Christ will actually come to you.” A. W. Tozer, in Knowledge of the Holy, confirms that through a “sanctified imagination,” the Holy Spirit “presents Christ to our inner vision.” Dr. Trevor Hart, author of Faith Thinking: The Dynamics of Christian Theology, adds that the imagination is one place, if not perhaps the main place, where “God’s Spirit, present and active, works in renewing us and conforming us to Christ.” This gives a depth of meaning to Paul’s statement that as we contemplate the Lord's glory, we “are being transformed into his image” (2 Corinthians 3:18 TNIV).
I invite you to take 5-10 minutes of silent meditation to experience the Lord’s presence. Ask the Holy Spirit to sanctify your imagination. Relax, take a few slow, deep breaths and focus on God being with you. Do not force any thoughts, give any distracting thoughts to God, and simply allow yourself to be aware of what’s happening around you and within yourself and in your imagination. When finished, give God thanks for his loving presence with you and reflectively evaluate your experience.
Larry Hinkle, DMin., DASD, is founder and director of the ministry of Odyssey in Christ, Spiritual Formation for Leadership. Larry has served in pastoral ministry for over 30 years and is a teacher, spiritual director and retreat leader.