Lesson Plan #3: Imagination in Scripture and Storytelling
Sarah Hylen considers imagination an “essential tool” for faithful biblical interpretation. Imagination is at work in the lives of biblical characters and is key to our interpretation of the text. But imagination was also a vital force for the writers of biblical texts as they imaginatively interpreted what they experienced of God, crafting the narrative, poetry, and letters we read today. Each of these dimensions of imagination at work in and around scripture form the basis for this lesson.
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. Tables should be arranged around the room for participants to sit in groups during the exploring and responding portions of the class.
At the end of the teaching session participants will be able to
1. Name unique aspects of each gospel
2. Reflect on the role imagination played in the writing of the gospels and plays in our interpretation of them, given the unique aspects discovered in various texts, and
3. Create a narrative interpretation of a given story, discussing the impact of the experience on the reading of the gospels.
*(optional) “Cultivating a Biblical Imagination,” by Sarah E. Hylen
*Drawing paper and chalk pastels or other drawing medium (to be used in the opening section)
*Computer and projector to show the short film, “La Luna”
Opening (10 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:
God who imagined order out of chaos and light out of darkness, silence in us any voice but your own, that we may hear what you have to say to us today and, by the power of the Holy Spirit, see you anew. Amen.
–Reading: Psalm 22
–Invite participants to close their eyes during the reading.
–Once the reading is over, ask participants to take about 2 minutes to re-tell the story on a piece of paper. This can be written or drawn. You will return to these at the end of class, so you can ask participants to put them aside.
Presenting (10 minutes)1
Give a brief overview of each gospel, its audience, timeframe, and theology. Recognize publicly that these are not certain facts, but they are mostly agreed-upon by scholars. These are at best a starting point in discussing the gospels and imagination, a reference and a tool.
Date: around 80-90
Author: Traditionally Matthew, a tax collector and disciple of Jesus, though likely not an eye witness, may have drawn on sayings of Jesus, oral and written tradition, and Mark’s gospel, most likely a Jewish Christian.
Theology: Matthew is concerned with portraying Jesus as the fulfillment of Old Testament prophesies and takes care to develop stories to echo Old Testament narratives. His Christology may be higher than Mark’s but not as high as John’s.
Audience: Most likely addressed to a Jewish Christian church that includes some Gentiles.
Time written: around 60-75
Author: Mark, perhaps John Mark of Acts, who traveled with Paul and Barnabas and followed Peter, not an eye witness of Jesus’ ministry but probably used oral and written tradition to craft his gospel.
Theology: It is clear that Mark expected Christ to come again soon, and wrote with a sense of urgency. The mystery of Christ is maintained in this gospel.
Audience: Possibly Gentiles not familiar with Judaism, but likely Christians converted by people familiar with the Jewish Christian tradition. Some believe the community to which he wrote had undergone persecution.
Time written: around 85
Author: Traditionally Luke, a physician, who traveled with Paul, not an eye witness of Jesus’ ministry, but used Mark and other available sources. Some believe he could have been a convert to Judaism before he became a Christian, but most feel that he was not raised a Jew.
Theology: Luke’s gospel prepares for the events of Acts, the second part of his narrative. He gives attention to the continuity between Jesus’ ministry and the mission of the early church. Luke is concerned for Gentiles and for those on the margins of society.
Audience: Most likely a largely Gentile community evangelized by the Pauline mission.
Time written: 80-110
Author: Traditionally John, one of Jesus’ disciples, likely someone who considered himself part of John’s tradition.
Theology: John’s Christology is high and his theology of incarnation central to his message. John’s Jesus often uses metaphor and image to describe himself. He also uses twofold meanings and irony in his discourse, and takes time to explain even in the midst of misunderstanding.
Audience: Traditionally located in the Ephesus area, likely Syria.
Exploring (10 minutes)
Divide the class into groups of 3 or 4. Give each group a story that occurs in all 4 of the gospels and the passages in which they can find it (below). Invite them to compare and contrast each telling, looking for aspects of audience, timeframe, theology, and style. They should also consider the placement of their texts within each gospel and note the presence or absence of surrounding stories.
Group #1: The Calling of the First Disciples
Matthew 4:18-22, John 1:35-51, Mark 1:16-20, Luke 5:1-11
Group #2: Jesus Feeds Five Thousand
Matthew 14:13-21, Mark 6:30-44, Luke 9:10-17, John 6:1-13
Group #3: The Death of Christ
Matthew 27:35-44, Mark 15:24-32, Luke 23:33-43, John 19:18-27
Group #4: The Resurrection
Matthew 28:5-8, Mark 16:2-8, Luke 24:1-8, John 20:1
Responding (25 minutes)
Show the Pixar short film, La Luna,10 to the class as they remain in their groups. After showing the film, give participants 5 minutes to work in their groups (without sharing thoughts or ideas with other groups) to create a verbal narrative interpretation of “La Luna.” They should start by deciding what they think is going on in the story and create a new story to interpret what they see. They may give the characters names if they wish, but they do not have to. The narrative they construct should be short, since each group will tell their story to the class.
After each group has shared their narrative interpretation with the class, invite the class as a whole to step back from the process. You may ask the following or other questions:
What did you hear from other groups that was similar to your interpretation of the story?
What did you hear that was different?
What, if anything, do you feel was gained by hearing the story portrayed in multiple ways?
After hearing other stories, would you have changed anything about your own?
How does this experience influence the way you read the gospels?
Which telling to you think was the truest? Can you tell, and if so, how?
Which of the gospels do you think portrays the truest story? Can you tell, and if so, how? (may be framed as a trick question, since the gospels together expand our imaginations and bring us to a truer vision of God than one could alone.)
Closing (5 minutes)
Gather the class again in the center of the room, sitting in the circle of chairs.
Ask two volunteers to share what they wrote from the opening exercise.
Ask this of the creators:
What did you decide about the way in which you wanted to tell what you saw?
Ask the following questions of the class:
What did you hear that was different than what you remember of Psalm 22?
What did you hear that was consistent?
End with this or another prayer.
God of many names,
you come to us in diverse ways
and call us to unique ventures,
new interpretations, and special visions.
Thank you for the gift of perspective.
Send us to tell what we have seen,
But also to listen for what others have heard.
Call us to speak your truth,
But remind us that we cannot hold the truth alone.
Lift our imaginations beyond our small corners,
That together we may serve you more faithfully
And follow you more nearly,
In the name of Christ, our rock and redeemer, we pray.