Poet Mal­colm Gui­te says, From the first moment that he pro­claims the King­dom of God, Jesus appeals to our imag­i­na­tion …”1 Dur­ing his earth­ly min­istry Jesus told fic­tion­al tales — para­bles — to trans­port his audi­ence from their cur­rent real­i­ty into an imag­i­na­tive space that side­stepped their assump­tions and helped them have ears to hear.” Abstract con­cepts came to life in the sto­ries Jesus told, illus­trat­ing how God’s will can be done on Earth, as it is in heaven.”

Still today, the para­bles of Jesus invite us to align our sto­ries with his, to step away from what we know, or think we know, and into what he wants to show us. And this is true of all good sto­ries. Fic­tion ignites our imag­i­na­tion. It invites us to see pos­si­bil­i­ties. By awak­en­ing our sens­es, sto­ry cre­ates a thin space” where we can see beyond the vis­i­ble to the invisible.

We may think fic­tion and fairy tales will make real life seem dull by com­par­i­son, but these sto­ries actu­al­ly viv­i­fy God’s glo­ry in our ordi­nary lives, help­ing us see our sto­ry entwined with God’s mys­te­ri­ous, mys­ti­cal, and mar­velous meta­nar­ra­tive. We are born into God’s ongo­ing love sto­ry — the cir­cum­in­ces­sion2 of the Father, Son, and Holy Spir­it — where the Trin­i­ty is the pro­tag­o­nist. Jesus helps us dis­cov­er our unique place in this sto­ry as we fol­low him, and some­times the best way to envi­sion our­selves there is with the help of a good fic­tion­al story.

Fic­tion whisks us away from our cur­rent life and loca­tion into an imag­i­nary sto­ry­world, where we become either a watch­ful bystander or one of the char­ac­ters. As we read, whether we expe­ri­ence life with or as the char­ac­ter, we are immersed in the sto­ry expe­ri­ence. Here, we can reflect on the good and bad, much like review­ing our con­so­la­tions and des­o­la­tions in the clas­si­cal prayer prac­tice known as Exa­m­en. Igna­t­ian Exa­m­en is a reflec­tive way to dis­cern with God at day’s end where we were open to the Holy Spirit’s pres­ence in our lives (con­so­la­tion) and where we were not (des­o­la­tion) in what­ev­er we were doing, whether eat­ing, exer­cis­ing, inter­act­ing with some­one, think­ing, rest­ing, or reading.

Three invi­ta­tions of the Exa­m­en are to notice, under­stand, and respond. In The Exa­m­en Prayer: Igna­t­ian Wis­dom for Our Lives Today, Tim­o­thy M. Gal­lagher, OMV says that this notic­ing, under­stand­ing, and respond­ing to the dif­fer­ent spir­i­tu­al stir­rings of our hearts … leads solid­ly toward God in dai­ly liv­ing.”3 In oth­er words, through the habit of night­ly reflec­tion we begin to bring this rhythm into our every­day moments, so we can dis­cern, and con­scious­ly choose to accept, God’s invi­ta­tions. Just as the Exa­m­en helps us notice and respond to God’s move­ment in our lives, fic­tion­al sto­ries help us ana­lyze long­ings, moti­va­tions, and actions — first in the char­ac­ters, then in our­selves. Even though the dra­ma is fic­tion­al, we long for dif­fi­cul­ties to resolve and good­ness to pre­vail. We learn from the way char­ac­ters respond to inter­nal and exter­nal con­flict, and char­ac­ters who echo King­dom qual­i­ties or who grow in that direc­tion draw us to them. What is their vision? What moti­vates them? Do they work through their cir­cum­stances or buck against them? Do they mag­i­cal­ly grow in good­ness, or do they enter into prac­ti­cal strate­gies or means” that help that change come about?

Vision, Inten­tion, and Means — Dal­las Willard said that these three ele­ments make up the gen­er­al pat­tern of per­son­al trans­for­ma­tion, which also applies to spir­i­tu­al for­ma­tion in the Chris­t­ian tra­di­tion” and is the pat­tern of all human accom­plish­ment.”4 V‑I-M” shows us how spir­i­tu­al growth occurs. When we are immersed in a sto­ry­world and inspired by a character’s trans­for­ma­tion, we can gain a vision for a dif­fer­ent kind of life, and if we are deter­mined to have that dif­fer­ent kind of life, we can take hold of means such as spir­i­tu­al dis­ci­plines and prac­tices that open us to God’s trans­form­ing work in our lives.

If we believe God can form us through fic­tion, engag­ing with sto­ries in this man­ner will become intu­itive. As we observe the char­ac­ters, we will begin to observe our­selves. The next time you read a work of fic­tion involv­ing char­ac­ter trans­for­ma­tion, think about the following:

  • How does the character’s growth ignite with­in me a vision for a bet­ter way of life?

  • What is the character’s long­ing or moti­va­tion, and how can it spark my deter­mi­na­tion to work, with God, toward transformation?

  • What influ­ences, cir­cum­stances, and process­es shape the char­ac­ter, and are there sim­i­lar (or oth­er) means that I can, with God’s grace, imple­ment in my own jour­ney into Christlikeness?

Sto­ry is all around us. With God’s grace, it can ignite our desire to become more like Christ, show us how to arrange our life in such a way that would give us space for change, and lead us to means that help us yield our­selves to God’s trans­form­ing work. Whether it is the glo­ri­ous and heart­break­ing dra­ma of our own sto­ry or that of oth­ers, real or fic­tion­al, sto­ry is a vehi­cle God can use for our trans­for­ma­tion when we watch for the Spirit’s invi­ta­tions and make a con­scious choice to join in what God is doing. After all, we were cre­at­ed to live our per­son­al sto­ry with­in the grand Story.

  1. Mal­colm Gui­te, Lift­ing the Veil: Imag­i­na­tion and the King­dom of God (Bal­ti­more: Square Halo Books, 2021), 26. ↩︎
  2. Mer​ri​am​-Web​ster​.com defines this as the the­o­log­i­cal doc­trine of the rec­i­p­ro­cal exis­tence in each oth­er of the three per­sons of the Trinity.” ↩︎
  3. Tim­o­thy M. Gal­lagher, OMV, The Exa­m­en Prayer: Igna­t­ian Wis­dom for Our Lives Today (New York: The Cross­road Pub­lish­ing Com­pa­ny, 2006), loc 387, Kindle. ↩︎
  4. Dal­las Willard, Ren­o­va­tion of the Heart: Putting on the Char­ac­ter of Christ (Col­orado Springs: Nav­Press, 2002), 85. ↩︎

Pho­to by Jr Kor­pa on Unsplash

Text First Published November 2022 · Last Featured on Renovare.org November 2022

📚 The 2022 – 23 Ren­o­varé Book Club

This year’s nine-month, soul-shap­ing jour­ney fea­tures four books, old and new, prayer­ful­ly curat­ed by Ren­o­varé. Now under­way and there’s still time to join.

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