Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free. (John 8:32)
Children’s art can tell us a great deal about how they view themselves and the world. In fact, in some instances, their drawings may convey much more about how they feel than they can tell us. If a young boy or girl were to draw a big yellow sun, a rainbow, or a butterfly we could conclude from looking at their drawing that he or she is happy. However, a drawing in which people are depicted without mouths or a landscape shown with dark clouds hovering over it would indicate that something is seriously wrong in their life. The features in the drawing represent something true about their life. This is a good example of how truth is conveyed not simply rationally and logically, but also symbolically, even unconsciously.
In inner-hearing prayer it is important to understand that in the heart (the part of the soul to which imagination, feelings, intuition and emotions are attributed) truth is expressed symbolically, not literally. Images and pictures “speak” truth to the heart and the heart represents its truth in a similar fashion. Great Christian writers like C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien understood this principle and wrote stories that depicted Christian themes imaginatively using metaphor and symbolism.
In The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis, life under the tyranny of sin and death is depicted as being lived in a frozen land never touched by the warmth and jubilation of spring. This land, where it is always winter but never Christmas, is ruled by a seductive and sadistic ice queen, a clever and astute personification of evil. Jesus is portrayed as a great lion – an animal universally viewed as fierce and majestic – who is valiant, regal, keenly truthful and tender. Adults enjoy reading the books in this series as much as children do because they value the way Lewis is able to convey the truth of the gospel – and the Church’s doctrines about the Incarnation, the Atonement and the Last Judgment – symbolically.
In the symbolic world of the person’s heart who is unable to receive God’s forgiveness (or who is unable to forgive) images which represent death, nonexistence, anger, fear, pride or idolatry prevail. Their conscious mind may not even be aware of what their heart believes to be true about life, and how their heart “pictures” it, but this truth has a powerful hold on them unconsciously – to the extent that the good they want to do they do not do, but the evil they do not want to do—this they keep on doing. (Romans 7:19) In their heart, it is “always winter, but never Christmas.”
God created the heart to picture truth and he has been known to communicate using visions, images and metaphors (Numbers 12:6). These images are consistent with who he is and with what the Bible reveals to us about him.
So, when in prayer for healing we invite someone who is unable to receive or remit forgiveness to picture Jesus on the cross, we are inviting the heart to see and experience the truth about Jesus – that he is the bearer of our sins and our suffering – in the way God created the heart to receive his truth. Through the power of the Holy Spirit, the person is thus enabled to see with the eyes of their heart…the hope to which God has called them. (Ephesians 1:18). This is how the grip in which sin and death have held their heart is broken.
This is not “make-believe” or wishful thinking. Through inner-healing prayer the sin-sick soul is brought to a vision of God’s truth under the direction of the Holy Spirit using their imagination, the God-given picture-making faculty of the heart. Often, after the person has confessed and used their imagination to “see” their sins entering the wounds of Jesus on the cross, God “speaks” an image to their heart. When I ask him or her what they see with the eyes of their heart, it is often an image of Jesus comforting them or releasing them from the effects of their sins. I point out that this image or vision given them represents God’s truth. It is given in the language the heart understands and is not to be taken literally. It symbolizes what their heart most needed to receive and unifies the mind and heart under the truth of the gospel.
The practice of using the imagination in prayer is an old one. St. Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, taught Christians to meditate on passages of Scripture by using their imagination to recreate, with the eyes of their heart, the action contained in a selected biblical passage. This form of prayer has been in continuous use since the early sixteenth century. The thoughts or feelings that arise while exercising the imagination in this way can often reveal to the mind something that has resided unconsciously in the heart – opening the way for a fruitful time of prayer with the Lord. This is a useful spiritual practice and inner-healing prayer draws upon the principles which underlie it.
The use of the imagination and Christian symbolism should not be reserved just for inner-healing prayer and Scripture meditation, but instead incorporated into worship and employed on other occasions when Christians gather together. Leanne Payne makes an important point in her book, The Healing Presence, when she quotes the Rev. Alan Jones: “Symbols bind up reality for us. When the symbols die, we die too.” When only our rational mind is presented the good news of the gospel, our intuitive heart will suffer. Therefore, churches which support and feature the orthodox expressions of Christian artists (painters, musicians, actors and writers, etc.) are ones which understand that a soul can be nurtured to health in Christ through the imaginative use of Christian symbols, images and metaphors.
Next week: Inner-healing prayer for the heart that is unable to forgive.