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Faithful seekers who desire to contemplate the life of Christ as it is presented in the biblical witness encounter many challenges.
As we read and pray about the life of Christ, we’re met with obstacles of historical context, ancient cultural worldview, references about supernatural visitations, and even divine apparitions.
Still, we find ourselves drawn to listen, learn, and explore the settings, encounters, and spiritual meaning of all the stories scripture offers us about Jesus.
How might we approach these challenges and obstacles and what tools do we have at our disposal to help us make connections with the life of Christ?
First, we have our logical, critical-thinking minds.
We can research the actual known history of Christ and the times in which he lived.
But what does the logical, critical-thinking mind do with angels visiting a young woman who has already pledged to marry a young man?
How should we understand texts where Christ is verbally sparring with the devil in the wilderness?
What does critical thinking do with a man who was crucified and buried for three days, and later appears to many, blessing them and proclaiming that death does not have the final word?
Another deeper question emerges as we explore Jesus’ life and teachings.
We begin to be curious about how it might shape our faith and how we might be nourished, inspired, and encouraged by the life of Emmanuel; God with us?
For that inquiry, we will need the gift of creative imagination.
Beyond what historians have written or what our eyes can see, or our hands can touch is a realm of possibility in which the Spirit inspires us to join Her in making the invisible visible.
This is the realm in which the life of Christ becomes more than a historical exploration, but one of devotion, imagination, and inner contemplation.
One of the greatest known advocates of imaginative engagements of scripture is St. Ignatius of Loyola.
Ignatius was known for his charitable works, his educational and missionary endeavors, and the founding of the Jesuit order of priests.
He is also revered for his recognition and application of imagination when exploring scripture.
His most notable work, The Spiritual Exercises is an exquisite guide to using the imagination and employing the senses to enter the gospels and thereby have an imaginative experiential encounter with Christ.
This spring the Spirituality Program will be offering a course, The Life of Christ in Art and Poetry.
The course was originally designed by Dr. Israel Galindo, Associate Dean for Lifelong Learning at Columbia Theological Seminary. It features his original artwork, is self-paced, and provides participants with a structure to engage the creative mind through the annunciation, birth, life, passion, and resurrection of Jesus.
Accompanying each of the scripture passages are original pieces of Dr. Galindo’s art and a poem by writers like Rainer Maria Rilke and Denise Levertov on the theme of the text.
The invitation of this course is to take a slow creative and contemplative walk through the life of Christ and enjoy times of expressive integration and imaginative participation in the sacred moments that compose his life.
Liz Forney is a Presbyterian pastor, Hospice chaplain, artist, and spiritual director. She is co-author with Norvene Vest of What is Your Practice: Lifelong Growth in the Spirit.