Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Review of "Seeing is Believing" by Greg Boyd

I was interested in Greg Boyd's Seeing is Believing: Experience Jesus through Imaginative Prayer in part because I enjoyed Boyd's thoughtfulness in his other writings, but also because I've been sensing I need to go deeper in my prayer life lately. Boyd's premise is that using our imaginations while communing with and resting in Christ is not dangerous, fanciful or juvenile as Westerners are conditioned to think. Instead, our imagination is actually the way we behold Christ and reflect Him from one degree of glory to the next (2 Cor 3:18). Likewise, Boyd argues we can only really know the glory of God that is seen in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 4:6) by using our imagination to envision Him. Creating a mental image, and fleshing it out as completely as possible by using all five senses, Boyd argues, is essential for transformation. It is our feelings that influence our actions far more than mental knowledge. A vivid memory of our experience shapes us more than a memorized list of information.

Perhaps because I grew up in a church tradition that mistrusted both feelings and the imagination as vain, self-serving, and fleshly, I still feel some trepidation exercising my own imagination in prayer times. Boyd calls these times "resting in Christ," in contrast to the deceptive, try-harder, hide-your-faults mode that many of us instinctively perform during prayer.

So what does this actually look like? 
Boyd recommends using a form of "cataphatic spirituality" (you can Google it) in order to retreat to an inner sanctuary with Jesus where the words of scripture come alive with vivid sights, sounds, feelings and even aromas and flavors if possible. On page 98, Boyd describes how transformation by the renewing of the mind can take place while experiencing the truth of 1 Corinthians 6:19, that we are a temple of God because we're indwelt by His Spirit:
"...imagine in vivid detail what you look, sound, and feel like when you perfectly manifest this truth. Run it through your mind like a virtual-reality movie in which you are the main actor.  Experience yourself incarnating this truth 'with all five senses.' Ask the Holy Spirit to help you accurately and vividly play out scenarios in your mind that reflect real-life situations in which you typically feel the most empty or powerless. Only now see yourself in these situations perfectly manifesting God's truth that you are a walking, talking version of Solomon's temple, filled with all of God's glory!"
Boyd instructs Christians to take every thought and memory captive by running imagination "movies" with different verses that declare the reality of who we are in Christ. What the Bible says about believers looks starkly different than how the world sees us and how we usually view ourselves. To this, Boyd says: "Take it on faith that the you who responds to situations in ways that manifest the truth that you are a temple of God, filled with God's love, joy, and peace, is the real you. Commit to seeing yourself as God sees you, regardless of how it feels" (99).

Beyond claiming Bible truths, Boyd uses imaginative prayer to help believers heal from painful experiences, such as abuse or great loss, by instructing believers to revisit their painful memories and envision Jesus in those situations with them. Over time and repeated re-plays of the memory, Christians can undo the deceptive message and replace it with a more freeing one.

My take-away:
I love the idea of really visualizing what scripture says about who we are. Bridging the disconnect until my default conception of myself comes into line with God's view makes so much sense.

The last three chapters of the book describes three people for whom imaginative prayer was a way to heal deep wounds from the past. While this was interesting, I felt the examples had such dramatic and traumatic childhoods that I really couldn't apply the examples to my own largely happy upbringing. It's not that I don't have memories or experiences that have contributed to a deceptive mindset, but I'm not entirely convinced my petty little memories of disappointment or rejection are "big" enough to devote to this process of re-working through imaginative prayer.

Overall, this book opened me up to what seems just a fragment of the huge body of various prayer practices within Christian tradition. I'm excited to keep exploring!

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