These answers sound a lot like Hebrews 11:1: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” And although none of the people mentioned imagination, the fact that they defined faith by the fact that we can’t see or feel God means that faith needs to involve our imagination by default. In the book Children Finding Faith, Francis Bridger describes faith as believing, trusting, doing and imagining. But why is imagining an important part of faith?
Using our imaginations
Maybe we don’t consider imagination as important because our style of spirituality has often been word-based, primarily focused on believing, understanding and knowing. Imagination is personal and subjective. It has connotations of heresy. However, Francis suggests that we need to use our imaginations if our faith is to be balanced. The book talks about imagination as the creation of images, some of which are of places we have created (eg imaginary worlds), while some are places we have been but are not presently (eg a sunny beach) or places we have never been (eg places in the Bible). Francis describes how imagination is a way of seeing life; imagination transforms our perspective and opens windows into another reality. If we cannot imagine anything beyond what we can see, feel and hear, how can we engage in a relationship with an invisible God? How can we pray for things that do not currently exist? How can we be part of building the often-invisible kingdom of God?
Does the Bible encourage us to use our imaginations?
A quick look reveals Jesus teaching people in an imaginative style, for example that the kingdom of God is like…a field, a man who scatters seed, a mustard seed. The psalms and prophetic books use lots of visual imagery to communicate complex concepts and emotions, and we need to use our imaginations to connect with their message. phesians 3:20 says God is able to “do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (emphasis mine). This suggests God is not limited by what we know and understand, but that his power works far beyond that. So if we are to relate to him, we need to be open to more than we can know; we need to move into the realm of what we can imagine and even more!
What role does imagination play in faith development?
In her thought-provoking book, Children’s Spirituality, Rebecca Nye says that helping children use their imaginations allows them to “sift through layers of meaning and make new discoveries”.
The Bible is full of stories about God’s interactions with people, which we can explore by imagining what it was like to actually be there. As we do this, we ‘experience’ their encounters with God in a fresh and intimate way.
How can we develop the use of imagination in faith?
Rebecca suggests the following three ideas to help develop imagination:
Using imaginative ‘warm-up’ exercises
She suggests asking people to guess what a story prop might be used for. It’s important that there is space to guess and imagine, rather than the answer being too obvious!
Embracing silly things children say and do
Ask them for more information and go down their ‘rabbit holes’. Often the most seemingly disconnected thoughts yield interesting connections and meaning.
Giving children free choice about what they create in response to a Bible story
I love doing this, as it means I can share a story then give the children a choice as to what they want to do in response to it. There is no craft prep, just open-ended materials set out in an inviting way. In a home setting this can be as simple as using the art materials and construction toys we already have. My children will sometimes create things straight after hearing a Bible story or later at their leisure.
Some of the other things that we have found helpful in developing imagination in our faith at home are:
Reading Christian fiction
We recently read The Scarlet Cord, a fictional retelling of the story of Jericho from the perspective of four children: two Israelites and two Canaanites from Jericho. We get to imagine what it would have been like to be there through their eyes. I really enjoyed reading the chapter just before they crossed the Jordan when they don’t yet know God’s plan to get them across, and reflecting on the different responses of the characters to this uncertainty. Sometimes when a story is familiar to us we forget that these are real people experiencing relationship with the same God as us.
Using toys to recreate Bible stories
We use Playmobil to act out stories. Sometimes we photograph them, and sometimes we even use these photos in our photobooks (we’ve created books for stories that are hard to find in children’s Bible storybooks, such as Esther and Josiah).
I find it interesting that using toys like this allows children (and adults) to place themselves in the story. Once we were recreating the feeding of the 5,000 with Playmobil. My girls found two long-haired female figurines to be them, and placed them in a circle with all the other children… along with Robin Hood and Maid Marion! I’m not sure to this day why the children were in a separate circle – perhaps this reflected church, where the children are often segregated – or why Robin Hood was there. However, the purpose of this imaginative play, like any other play, is not for me to understand their thinking, but to give creative expression to concepts they are exploring. If I get a glimpse into their world that is just a bonus.
Employing ‘wondering questions’ when reading the Bible
Open-ended ‘questions’ give everyone a chance to ponder and reflect on their own encounters with the text. We use wondering questions from Godly Play, such as:
- I wonder which part of this story you like best
- I wonder which is the most important part
- I wonder where you might be in this story. Other suggestions could be:
- I wonder how they would have felt at this point.
- I wonder what they considered doing / saying.
- I wonder who else might have been there.
- I wonder how this could have ended differently.
These questions really level the playing field when exploring the Bible as a family. As the answers are personal and subjective, rather than right or wrong, everyone can answer (or not) as they choose.
Which of these ideas might you try? Feel free to get in touch and ask questions, or to let me know how you get on. You can find me on Instagram or on my Facebook page: GodVenture.