In “The Wizard of Oz,” as Dorothy, the Tin Man and the Scarecrow spring through the forest finding their way to Oz, their imaginations get the best of them. Fearfully, they begin to chant the mantra “Lions, tigers and bears, oh my!” thus exposing the fright that has captured their imagination. Our ability to use our imagination is a remarkable gift. This unique human capacity, to imagine, is a bit of a mystery and yet a powerful tool.
Being drawn into timeless stories enhances our imagination and can stir our thoughts about vocation in life. As a student in sixth grade, I remember reading “A Wrinkle in Time.” The powerful effect of choosing to love in the face of hatred and evil stretched my heart to want to do the same against the evil forces in the world that we saw in the news each day.
Reading “The Chronicles of Narnia” opened my eyes and heart to experience Jesus through the character of Aslan the Lion, as I never did before. As a fifth-grade student, I remember thinking, “This Jesus isn’t boring like I thought he was. He is wild!”
I was attracted to the wonderful possibilities to which Jesus invites his followers and to the fact that he desires and needs our participation. The stories revealed that our choices do matter and have a ripple effect in the lives of many.
In seventh grade, while watching the Star Wars movie, “The Empire Strikes Back,” the galactic battle of good versus evil captured my attention. I found myself stifling a tear as the handsome Han Solo was captured by the evil storm troopers. Without even realizing that I was praying, I found myself inwardly professing, “O God, I just want to help you in the battle of good versus evil in the world.” Although I refrained from drawing out a light saber at that moment, I realized that the story captured my imagination.
When we invite God to use our imagination in our prayer and vocational discernment, we begin to realize that we are part of a much bigger picture and story. Father Mark Thibodeaux, in his book on discernment, “God’s Voice Within,” describes the role of prayer in discernment and the role of paying attention to periods of consolation and desolation.
Applying his analogy, our imagination is an avenue that allows God to dream in us. The love, hope, mercy, peace and joy that may be revealed to us are realities that God wants us to experience. Likewise, when not opening our imagination to God, our imagination can become an avenue for the false or evil spirit to nightmare in us, causing us to fall into undue fear, anxiety, confusion and a sense of not being good enough.
For almost a dozen years, I have had the privilege of ministering in vocations for our IHM congregation. Currently, I teach chemistry at Immaculata University while serving in vocations. As one sister quipped about my two roles, “It is like going from chemistry to alchemy.” I like to think of the vocation aspect of my ministry as working with the “chemistry of the soul” and searching for “golden hearts” who are called to share God’s love in a special way in our church and in our world.
When a young woman (or man) in vocational discernment says “yes” to whatever God may be inviting her to, she allows God to act in and through her life in many wonderful ways that may only be revealed in the next life.
In this month of November as we celebrate National Vocation Awareness Week, Nov. 4-10, we are reminded of how important it is to stir the imaginations of young people in helping them in their vocational discernment to either the consecrated life, priesthood, married or single life.
On Oct. 28, the nearly month-long Synod on Young People, the Faith, and Vocational Discernment, held at the Vatican, ended. In a closing letter to young people, the Synod Fathers alluded to the use of God-centered imagination. They encouraged young people to show Christ’s presence in the world with the challenge, “When the world that God so loved, that he gave us his only Son, Jesus, is focused on material things, on short-term successes, on pleasures, and when the world crushes the weakest, you must help it to rise up again and to turn its gaze towards love, beauty, truth and justice once more.”
During this month of November, as we also remember loved ones who have gone before us, we are invited to imagine what words of wisdom, love and grace they would impart to us in our daily life decisions and in the larger vocational choices we may be making.
Allow your imagination to run free as you listen to the popular song, “I Can Only Imagine” from the group Mercy Me. May we be bold enough to imagine the love, joy, peace, mercy that God wants to bring to our lives, and then in turn to extend this to others.
Sister Rose Bernadette Mulligan, I.H.M., is a Ph.D. associate professor of chemistry at Immaculata University and directress of vocation discernment for the I.H.M. sisters.
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