In her response to Nishioka’s lead essay, Clayton discusses biblical figures that exhibit “this imagination life at work.” This second session in a series on imagination invites participants to consider what it means to exhibit imagination by exploring the stories of biblical characters and people in their own lives. The lesson incorporates ideas of post-modern education from Thompson’s response article as well, inviting participants to imagine their way into scripture.
This lesson plan is intended for a 60-minute adult education class as part of a series on imagination. Participants may have read the articles on Imagination by Nishioka, Hylen, Clayton, and Thompson, but this is not necessary. This lesson plan may be adapted for a shorter or longer timeframe.
The room should be arranged with a circle of chairs in the middle of the space for the opening, presenting and closing sections of the lesson. Additionally, enough small tables should be placed around the outside of the room so that participants can gather in groups of 3 or 4 during the exploring and responding sections.
Objective: At the end of the teaching session, participants will be able to
1. Identify biblical figures that illustrate imagination,
2. Describe the ways in which these figures reveal the meaning of imagination for us using images provided, and
3. Tell stories and/or create drawings to explore people and situations in which they recognize imagination at work in their own lives.
*(optional) “This Imagination Life” by Rodger Nishioka, “Cultivating a Biblical Imagination” by Sarah Hylen, “A Response/Reflection, for Rodger Nishioka’s lead essay: This Imagination Life” by Kimberly Clayton, and Response Essay by Casey Thompson
*Drawing paper and chalk pastels or other drawing medium (to be used in the opening and responding sections)
*Color prints of the images below (see the exploring section)
Opening (7 minutes)
Welcome individuals to the room and give time for them to greet one another.
In his response essay, Thompson invites us to think about the ways in which we engage scripture as a church and consider methods of interpretation that invite us into the text rather than keeping us outside of it. Thus, the opening and closing liturgies intend to invite participants to experience the Psalms and be led to experience the rest of the lesson in imaginative ways.
–Prayer for Illumination (From Garth House, Litanies for All Occasions)
O wind that sways no branches,
Fire that does not burn,
Unimaginable light that does not blind,
Fountain of life that has no end,
Infinite river of joy,
Flawless mirror of God’s power,
Kind laughing agent of God’s mirth,
Gentle consolation of God’s mercy,
O Holy Spirit of God,
Abide with your people; come to us now. Amen.
–Reading: Psalm 40
–Before beginning, invite participants to close their eyes during the reading or use the drawing materials provided to imagine the text. Invite participants to imagine themselves in the place of the psalmist during the reading.
–Leave about 30 seconds for silence following the reading.
–Invite a few participants to share what the experience was like for them. You may ask, “In what ways does the psalmist demonstrate imagination?”
Presenting (10 minutes)
Clayton recognizes that imaginative individuals in scripture often demonstrate great bravery, daring, creativity, and conviction. She references Dykstra, who believes imagination is characterized by humility and gratitude, and the novelist Carson McCullers. who said that imagination takes humility, love and great courage. She names many in the Old Testament and the New Testament whose imagination was evident in their ability to see God’s vision in the midst of paradigms that refused God’s ways of justice, mercy, and peace. To begin a dialogue about some of these characters, present the story of Shiphrah and Puah, including the visual interpretation, Shiphrah and Puah Midwives of Egypt, 1989, by Dina Cormick.
Read Exodus 1:8-20. Walk through the story beginning at v. 15.
Next review a Craig Dykstra quote used in Clayton’s article and the previous lesson, “[Imagination] involves what one might call ‘seeing in depth.’ It is the capacity to perceive the ‘more’ in what is already before us. It is the capacity to see beneath the surface of things, to get beyond the obvious and the merely conventional, to note the many aspects of any particular situation, to attend to the deep meaning of things.”
The midwives are given a clear command from Pharaoh that they do not follow. When Pharaoh catches them, they lie in order that they might live to continue breaking Pharaoh’s command. Because of the midwives, the Hebrew people grow, Moses is saved from death, and the people are eventually able to escape to freedom. The midwives “see in depth,” imagining a different way. Their imagination is fueled by a fear of God. In the midst of a system of slavery, these women were able to imagine beyond Pharaoh’s intention for the Hebrew people to see the “more,” that is, God’s intention for humanity and for the Hebrew people.
Exploring (20 minutes)
Nishioka’s discussion of Coleridge’s “secondary imagination” and Clayton’s discussion of Dykstra’s “ecclesial imagination” remind us that imagination is not individual but communal. Divide the class into groups of two or three and ask them to move to the tables around the room so that they may explore together others in scripture that exhibit imagination. Each group should be given the characters and texts they are to study. Provide an image at each table that may help the group think more deeply about their story. Invite each group to (1.) Read the passage provided, (2.) Examine the image provided, and (3.) Discuss provided questions (note: Depending on the number of participants you have, you may have to add or subtract characters to be discussed. Other possibilities are Moses, Joshua, Esther, Ruth, the story of the healing of the bleeding woman and Jairus’ daughter from Mark, and Paul.). Inform groups that they will be asked to share their thoughts with the class.
text: Genesis 28:10-22
art: “The Dream of Jacob” He Qi2
|2. Isaiah’s dream
text: Isaiah 11
art: “Peaceable Kingdom” John August Swanson3
|3. The Annunciation
text: Luke 1:26-38
art: “The Annunciation” Fra Angelico4 and “The Annunciation,” a mosaic from the Philippines at the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth5
|4. John the Baptist
text: Luke 3:1-18
art: details from The Isenheim Altarpiece6
|5. The story of Lazarus
text: John 11:1-44
art: “Raising of Lazarus” Giotto7 and “Raising of Lazarus” Lee Porter8
|6. The Syrophoenician Woman
text: Mark 7:24-30
art: “Icon of the Syrophoenician Woman” Robert Lentz9
Questions for conversation in each group:
Which character or characters exhibit(s) imagination in this text?
In what ways do they exhibit imagination?
Are there characters in this story for whom imagination seems hard?
Does the image given illumine new dimensions of the character’s imagination for you?
What is the verb that most communicates this character’s imaginative qualities?
How might you enact this verb in your own life?
After the groups have had about 10 minutes for conversation, ask each group to take about two minutes to read their passage and present the highlights of their conversation and ideas to the class.
Responding (15 minutes)
Invite participants, still in their groups, to use drawing materials to draw or write the story of (1.) Someone in your life who has exhibited imagination or (2.) A time when you have recognized imagination at work in your faith journey. Give participants an opportunity to tell their stories, drawn or written, to those in their group.
Closing (7 minutes)
Gather the class again in the center of the room, sitting in the circle of chairs.
Read Psalm 40 again.
Ask the following questions:
What, if anything, did you hear differently this time around?
Why do you think that is?
End with the following prayer or create your own, leaving room for participants to offer their own prayers for imagination.
O God, none can compare with you,
for your wondrous deeds for our salvation are without number,
and your faithfulness is beyond imagination.
Send us from this place alive with your Spirit,
who from age to age has led your people
in the way of imagination and in paths of new life.
Make us bold and creative witnesses to your love,
that all the earth may rejoice
until the day when all will be made new
and we will see you face to face.