Let’s try a thought exercise. Pretend for a moment that you are God on the day before Creation. What is going through your mind? Are you perhaps lonely and dreaming of what it would be like to have companions? If you had companions, what would they be like? What would they do? How would you interact with them? Where would they live? Would you be able to love them? Would they be able to love you?
God dreamed us up
Creation is an act of imagination, born out of a need. God needed something, and so God created it. Being God, he could create anything he imagined.
The pinnacle of God’s imagination was us. God dreamed us up. And in creating us in God’s image, God created in us that same ability to dream and imagine. I’m not sure, however, if we have always been good stewards of our gift of imagination. As a rule, we don’t trust our imagination, and we don’t use it very often. We speak about “imaginary” things as whimsical and even false.
Don’t waste your gift
An underused imagination can be a detriment to our spiritual growth and to our catechetical ministry. We have to teach the catechumens to imagine. Spiritual imagination is the only way they will come to know God. It is through imagination that we can see and touch physical objects and, through them, “see” God.
Try another thought exercise. Think of a large cube. From your vantage, you can only see two sides of it and the top. But you know it has six sides. You can imagine all the unseen sides, and you know they are there. Your imagination informs a reality you cannot literally see.
The Constitution on the Sacred Liturgy says that the sanctification of the catechumens (and all of us) happens through the use of “signs perceptible to the senses” (7). In other words, even though we cannot literally “see” the catechumens becoming holy, we know that they are because of the signs we can see. Because of visible signs—especially in the sacraments, but also in daily life—we can imagine that the Holy Spirit is acting in our lives.
We have to teach the catechumens to imagine. Spiritual imagination is the only way they will come to know God. It is through imagination that we can see and touch physical objects and, through them, “see” God.
Imagination in the RCIA process
Therefore, as catechists, we have to teach the inquirers and catechumens how to imagine. Every week, ask the inquirers or catechumens where they saw God in their life. Try to get them to identify concrete experiences and tell stories about things they actually saw or heard or touched. Ask them why they imagined that concrete thing was a sign of God in their lives. Make sure all the Catholics in the room also share how they imagined God in the past week. For folks who have never done this, it will be bumpy and awkward at first. Some people will even say they didn’t see God anywhere in the past week. Keep asking anyway. When the catechumens begin to realize you are going to start every meeting with, “Where did you see God this week?”, they will start watching for signs. At first, they may even make things up, just to satisfy you. That’s great! That’s an initial step in activating their imagination.
As they get better at using their imagination, begin to teach them how to see God in the liturgy. Focus on how they imagine God acting through the stories of Scripture. But don’t stop there. The catechumens might see God in the candlelight, the incense, the procession, the stained glass, the altar, the gathered assembly, the priest…. The list could go on.
God is our imaginary friend
I really think we do not spend enough time focusing on these “imaginary” experiences of God. We cannot teach who God is or what God expects of us until the catechumens have a deep conversion experience that only comes from “meeting” God and “seeing” God. And they can only do that through their imagination. For most of us Catholics, “seeing” God is second nature. But for the catechumens, it is a skill they have to learn. And catechists are the ones who have to show them how.
What do you imagine your RCIA team will do next?
Are you teaching your inquirers and catechumens to imagine? What next step might you take to help them see God? What additional tips or insights do you have that can help the rest of us in our ministry?