The great Methodist preacher Colin Morris said, “In the end your religion is vested in your imagination”. A striking — even arresting — remark.
He didn’t mean that our faith is all make-believe, or that God is just the sum of our projected fantasy. He was drawing attention to the primary gateway into the spiritual world, for us physical beings. God is everywhere, but is — in physical terms — invisible. You can see the effects of the presence of God, but of course, you need to have faith to be looking for them in the first place.
This is where the imagination comes in. It helps our faith grow and strengthen if we exercise the imagination to embody spiritual reality. An excellent example of this would be C.S. Lewis’ Chronicles of Narnia, where we can see in Aslan all that we love in Jesus, and the White Witch gives a face and a voice to all that withers and diminishes us.
It is possible to find faith in God by process of reasoning, and some people do exactly that — but it’s a method that is limited to those old enough and clever enough to do it. The gateway of the imagination, and the power of story, give access to the invisible world for people of any age and intellectual ability. Imagination feeds and strengthens faith.
Many Christians observe a discipline of spending time quietly in prayer every day, reading the Bible and resting in the presence of God. It is part of our daily walk with Jesus. For Advent this year, I’ve written a book, Into the Heart of Advent published by SPCK, that takes our daily practice of spending time with Jesus, and uses the imagination to give that physical reality. I have imagined that Jesus, who is indeed really with me, is also physically with me; sharing a pot of tea, sitting at my fireside, walking with me through the town where I live, catching the bus and joining in my Christmas shopping.
Into the Heart of Advent is a book of twenty-five conversations with Jesus, exploring the themes of Advent — waiting and expectancy, light in darkness, judgement and kingliness, incarnation, the Holy Family — and also probing into some of the challenges of the human condition like mental health struggles, neuro-diversity, homelessness and poverty.
Each short chapter starts with a Bible passage, so you might enjoy making it part of your daily quiet time through the weeks of Advent. There’s a chapter for every day of Advent and for Christmas Day.
My hope is that it will help you explore some of the questions and challenges of the human condition, and strengthen your faith in the presence of Jesus, who is really with us, our Emmanuel, even though we do not physically see him.
Find out what Christmas really means to Jesus as Pen Wilcock reveals conversations with God in her book Into the Heart of Advent