It doesn’t sound as though imageless prayer and the activity of the imagination will be good companions. But many things take us by surprise when we habitually give ourselves over to meditation. “Once again I have been suddenly redeemed by an image”, Etty Hillesum notes in her diary, as prayer works its transformation in her.
As part of the WCCM 2021 speaker series, Liz Watson, a meditator from England, introduces the upcoming talk titled Imageless Prayer and the Power of Imagination, to be held online 10th June, 20:00 – 21:30 (French time).
by Liz Watson
One of the companions that walks alongside me in this meditation journey is Etty Hillesum. She was introduced to me some years ago and she was one of those figures whose wisdom keeps coming alongside me when I need it. And one of the things I came across in her writing recently was this: “All that matters – she says – is the right relationship between words and wordlessness.” And you could equally well say:
Her own imagination was very highly developed in a literary sphere and she tried to write poetry and short stories and essays, but she always found that a very frustrating thing to do.
She was trying to capture the essence of what she found around her. But somehow it never came out right. What was projected onto the page didn’t seem to be up to what was in her imagination, what was possible. And she found her life like that as well. The difference between the way she projected herself out into the world was at odds with the way she felt deep down inside herself.
She couldn’t really make life work the way she imagined it could be or should be. But then at a certain point, from a standing start you might say, she began to find God in her life, and she began regular prayer, and in particular, she discovered silence in her life. And that gradually, although in some ways quite quickly, began to change things quite radically for her. She discovered that there’s a depth in her which she hadn’t known before.
And she discovered that if you allow yourself to come into contact with this depth, with this God within, you can bit by bit allow your life to flow out from this deeper source. And that’s very different than trying to shape your life the way you imagine it could be or should be. And as she continues to spend this time in silence and find the silence expanding her, she discovers that the place of imagination in her life changes. Her imagination begins to come into service, not of herself and working out how life could be or should be or shaping her desires. It’s as though her imagination begins to serve this awakening of a deeper reality that she’s coming more into contact with and has a sense is flowing from her. This shift is clear, both in her life and in her writing.
This chain of relationship of what the power of the imagination is for and what it can do and what it’s serving. So that’s a little bit of the sort of territory I’d like to explore in June. The possibility of the forming of a right relationship between imageless prayer and the power of the imagination, how that relationship begins to shift and to serve a different purpose in us and to work out differently in our life.