Engaging the Senses Through Your Imagination

burning bush light

If you’re a regular church-goer, you’ve probably heard something like the following, oh, maybe a million times: “God loved us so much that he sent his only Son to us so he could save us from our sins.”

Well, that’s just great. These words formulate a basic tenet of our Christian faith. Yet what do they really mean to you and to me? Even though we have some powerful words here—God, love, sins—they are just words. Abstractions. They appeal to our mind but not necessarily our heart or our senses. In many ways these grand ideas end up becoming theological clichés or spiritual white noise: “Jesus died for our sins,” “God loves you.” After a while words like that end up sounding like my mom telling me that I’m “special.” Maybe it’s true, but there’s always doubt. I mean, it’s my mom! She’s supposed to say things like that!

A way of transcending abstraction is to use St. Ignatius Loyola’s technique of actively engaging the senses through your imagination. This helps us to move beyond words. One of the easiest ways of doing this is to select a favorite passage of Scripture, read it a few times to familiarize yourself with the basic story, and then visualize yourself as deeply in the scene as humanly possible.

Suppose you pick the story in Exodus when God reveals himself to Moses through a burning bush. Open your heart and use your senses: look, listen, feel, smell, and taste the scene and make it as real as you can. Imagine Mount Sinai and the vistas Moses sees when he looks out across the land. Imagine what Moses looks like. What is he wearing? Are his sandals worn out? Is he hungry? Imagine the wind blowing through his hair, but don’t only imagine it, feel it. Remember a time in your life when you felt wind on your face, and bring that to your meditation. Try to feel what Moses might have felt on top of that mountain, with very little water. Alone.

Then imagine the bush. It can be as big or small as you want it. Imagine it starting to burn—slowly, smoldering at first. Is there a smell of smoke? Is it giving off heat? Even though wildfires are common in this arid region of the world, this bush doesn’t seem to be burning into ashes.

Imagine what you would have felt if you were there. Imagine what you would have felt if the bush started talking to you. How is the bush communicating to you? Through words? Through impressions? What does the bush say? How would you react?

Take the time to quiet yourself and experience the scene. Your mind might race to something you need to take care of at work or at home. Accept it and then let it go. Then listen, taste, feel, see, and smell the scene. Allow that experience to talk to your heart.

About Gary Jansen 1 Article
Gary Jansen is senior editor of religion and spirituality at the Crown Publishing Group at Penguin Random House. He is the author of The 15-Minute Prayer Solution, Station to Station, The Rosary: A Journey to the Beloved, and the bestselling memoir, Holy Ghosts. A popular lecturer and commentator, Jansen has appeared on A&E, the Sundance Channel, the Travel Channel, Coast to Coast AM, CNN.com and NPR. His writing has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, and USA Today.

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