If you’ve ever journeyed anywhere with children, or you’ve been a child yourself, you’ve heard this familiar refrain. “Are we there yet?” echoes impatiently across childhood.
So, it came as no surprise when two grandchildren spoke those words one hot summer afternoon. We had journeyed to the thick heat of the soccer fields to watch their feet fly across the grass. Then, after a quick snack and a cool drink, we toted them back home to their parents.
“Are we there yet?” hung in the air, full of its edge of whininess, sprinkled with a side of tears or tantrums ready to erupt.
Glancing over my shoulder as we idled at the stop light, I said, “Hold on now, while we pause at the Hover Station.”
Two tired sweat-streaked faces frown, their voices grump complaints. Four weary eyes glare back at me quizzically.
“Gran? What’s a Hover Station?”
“A place of pause, where the spaceship hovers, hanging out in space for a bit.”
“But, Gran, we are not in space. This is taking too long.”
“Are you sure we aren’t in space?” I asked. “Stretch your hands out by your side. Move them in small circles while we hover here at the Hover Station,” I said, demonstrating. Looking in the rearview mirror, four little hands fluttered in the air.
“That’s right. They do,” I said.
“Well, so do the vehicles in the Star Wars movies,” the other grandchild replied.
“Be on the alert,” I said. “Departing Hover Station. What do I need to watch out for as I maneuver this spaceship towards the landing pad of home?”
“Eek,” one shrieked, pointing to a stand of towering pine trees. “Don’t let those giant green-and-brown soldiers take aim at us.”
“Yikes. I’m scared the space aliens will capture us out here in the open. See that unicorn cloud ahead?” the other grandchild said. “Looks safe and cozy.”
“Let’s fly onward towards it, shall we?” I replied.
- Crossing over bridges, meandering creeks amid sprawling marshland shimmer below, definitely territories full of mischievous creatures to be avoided.
- On traffic-packed roads, pickup trucks and minivans acquired super-hero or super-villain names, reflective of occupants within who clearly stood for good or evil.
- Underpasses offered caves of escape, a breather from the heat of pursuit by aliens of one type or another.
- Railroad tracks signaled enemy attempts to crash our spaceship with their bumpy air disruption.
- Thunderclouds represented shadows of dark under-lords of the planet.
Before long, fueled by imagination at every turn, we hovered unfazed at home’s haven, a place to find refreshment and restoration after our harrowing zoom through space.
“How was soccer camp today?” the parents asked.
“It was normal. But guess what? We flew home in a spaceship, which was super, super fun. I wish the trip home had been longer.”
Imagination transforms the ordinary mundane into places of wonder and provides tales that grow wilder by the minute. Trace elements of dreams and visions conglomerate to form pictures in our mind. The moment at hand may take place on a planet in outer space, a pinpoint in time long ago and far away, or a place in the distant future. Imagination helps us hang on, shifts how time moves, and allows us to discover delight in the waiting places of life.
Walk into any museum. You’ll hear stories of creatures and people who roamed this land long before us. Stop by a construction site. You’ll be treated to tales of what the future will look like when new structures soar into existence. We humans live and breathe imagination.
On that hot summer afternoon, our grandchildren didn’t need information to carry them home. They didn’t care how many miles stretched out between the soccer fields and their home where parents awaited their return. They weren’t watching the clock to count the approximate number of minutes until arrival. They had no interest in a list of names of rivers we would cross via bridges that dot the way. Nor were they asking for each road’s name or the direction we would turn enroute home.
What they needed was not more information. They needed a way to enter the experience of traveling when the wait seemed long. Imagination offers a refreshing way to be present in the moment and to notice emotions and events along the way. Though there are times we need information, quite often what we need more is the way imagination transports us.
On a podcast interview with a friend, we discussed play as spiritual practice, one which makes space for interior transformations in our life with God. The curator of the podcast queried, “Your openness to be able to play indicates a certain view of who God is. Maybe can you expand on that? What gives you the freedom before God to be like that? What is your view of God that allows that?”
My answer reflected the way I live based on where I started from…with an experience beyond the head-knowledge of years in church settings. I first met Jesus, through a ministry for teenagers—Young Life. There the Person of Jesus came alive to me for the first time, though I’d been in church my whole life, all sixteen years of it.
Young Life leaders know how to bring the stories of Jesus from the page into the imagination.
“We believe it is sinful to bore kids with the gospel. Christ is the strongest, grandest, most attractive personality to ever grace the earth. But a careless messenger with the wrong method can reduce all this magnificence to the level of boredom …. It is a crime to bore anyone with the gospel.” // Jim Rayburn, Founder of Young Life.
From the place of joy, of wonder, I discovered a vibrant Jesus who has captured my heart every day since that one April morning in 1969. That picture of Jesus, grand and strong, full of delight over me, the One ever seeking me, has held me fast over decades. Playful imagination companions a joyful faith.
That’s not to say that my life has been one of constant frivolity and ease…far from it.
When the road of life has stretched long and dusty, I cry out to God, “Are we there yet?” Knots in my gut, shallowed breathing, and a face streaked with tiredness reflect the impacts of difficult days. I’ve wondered how long all this waiting will go on. My heart has wished at time for another story. Could long waits and deep heartbreaks be shortened, eased, become less trying, please, God?
St. John of the Cross said, “The Christian imagination plays a great role in the spiritual development of the soul.”
When my faith flagged, when I’ve stumbled, bumbled, or crashed, I’ve counted on my sacred imagination to help my soul grow.
I’ve turned page after page of my Bible. I’ve traced the ways other people of God entered ups and downs. The people within the pages are not just made-up characters in a big black book on the shelf. They are fellow-travelers who have lent words for emotions I’ve endured. They have showed me how to hope when hope felt scarce.
- I’ve wrestled with God like Jacob.
- I’ve stood in awe of burning bushes like Moses.
- I’ve felt overlooked and forgotten like Joseph.
- I’ve startled at unexpected announcements like Sarai and Abram, like Zechariah and Elizabeth.
- I’ve lost, and lost, and lost, like Job.
- I’ve been over the top all-in or hidden in the dark shadows like Peter.
Here courage and encouragement mingle. In the middle of the story, I’ve realized new things about myself and about God. Imagination invites me to enter scenes in scripture. From the address of story and imagination, I’d found ways to live truer to the God I love. I’ve wailed on the floor and danced at dawn, being in the story with familiar folks in the Bible. I’ve reread and reread and reread the last chapters of Revelation. It continuously etches hope deep on my heart. Experiencing God’s presence for myself while engaging in the stories of people in the Bible through my imagination cultivates my faith.
Whether alone with God in prayer, reflecting on the pages of my journal, or conversing with others who travel Kingdom of God roads, imagination and truth combine to offer a richer experience of who Jesus is and who I—His image-bearer—can become.
A robust Jesus invites a robust faith to emerge.
The Spiritual Practice of Imaginative Prayer
The spiritual practice of imaginative prayer, an experience of encountering God in the moments of the Bible, aids faith’s explorations as well. I delve into sorrow’s aches as well as joy’s bright shimmers as I walk with Hannah, Mary, or Lydia.
Like tired sweaty children stuck at a stop light longing for home, some days feels as if we shall never ever, ever make it home to where refreshment and restoration reside.
Yet we get to choose how we go forth. Imagination, infused with memory, dreams, and visions, transports us back or forward through time and space. It allows us to be frank about emotions and wounds experienced in this time of waiting. It invites immersion into Bible stories from long ago and current dialogues with the Living God.
Life with God started in a garden, one meant to be permanently inhabited in intimate fellowship between the Creator and His creatures. It’s to be relational. Life will be fully restored again in a lush garden where the throne of God next to the river that flows resides by the tree of life full of fruit. We shall be face-to-face with God Himself, relational to the nth degree. To live well in the Kingdom of God, I count on sacred moments fueled with vast imagination to help me step into life with God. That holds me steady in here and now, and gives me gumption for the road ahead.
Like my grandchildren, I do whine at times. I too stand at the raw junction of tears and tantrums, here in the desert called Wait, in the exhaustion of the longevity of the journey homeward.
Yet when I engage my sacred imagination, faint glimpses of the good ahead urge me onward. I set my heart forward and experience bits and pieces of the Bigger Story, the one God keeps holding out before me. The good, the true, and the beautiful fuel us. Decades on this lovely planet will one day give way to something yet grander than our wildest dreams.
In the last few years, heart-deep friends left this earth for home with Jesus. I await sweet reunion with them, with Him. Yet today, I recall that I am literally surrounded by the cloud of witnesses mentioned in the book of Hebrews. They entice us onward.
- So how to live fully alive to the here and now?
- How to persevere in the long pauses of waiting?
- What to do when the cry is “Are we there yet?”
I contend that a mind and heart tapped into imagination lead us deeper into the ways of Jesus. Let imagination be a robust companion on the sojourn homeward. Read the Gospels. Step into scenes from when Jesus visited our earth. Gallop forward with excitement. Wonder what it shall be like when we arrive at last fully home, where we truly belong. Imagine. Imagine. Imagine.
Frank Gaebelein said, “As a Christian, I am responsible for the furniture of my mind and imagination.” My imagination and yours are gifts to carry us onward ‘til the day we no longer need to say, “Are we there yet?” for we will have arrived right where we belong: home.
Until then, friends, let’s keep fueling the fires of our imagination as a heart-true companion along the road of our Kingdom life, keeping Jesus and His truth as our deepest delight.
- What ways does your sacred imagination deepen your faith?
- What brings you to say, “Are we there yet?”
- How have you dismissed imagination as a vital part of your life of faith?
- What happens when you enter into imagined future moments with Jesus?
- What happens when you invite Jesus into past moments that broke your heart?
May your imagination be holy transportation into heart transformation along the way home.
Other Blogs and Resources on the topic of Imaginative Prayer Links:
- Peters Ponderings – Blog
- Thomas Thoughts – Blog
- All I Did – Blog
- Echoing Her Yes – Blog
- Friends of the Blind Man – Blog
- Touching the Hem of His Garment – Blog
- What We Didn’t Know – Blog
- Imagination if the Heart of Faith – Christian Century article
- Imagination Leading to Faith – C.S. Lewis website
- Pray with Your Imagination – Ignatian Spirituality.com
- Always Looking for a Bridge: A Conversation with Andrew Peterson about the Christian Imagination – Albert Mohler: This is Thinking in Public Podcast