Breaking It Down
Visualization is more than using imagination. It is a technique that exploits imagination in the belief that it can bring about a result merely through the imagination or some power accessed through the imagination, and through the belief that it will happen. Sometimes there are additional steps, such as writing down the goal or making a picture of it (a vision board). It may also be called Creative Visualization. If someone else is leading you through this process, it is Guided Visualization.
Visualization or creative visualization and guided visualization can be done for anything: to obtain a spouse, a house, a car, a promotion, a better job, good health, money, and more. It is usually done for something specific.
Guided imagery is a form of guided meditation when someone else (including a phone app) is guiding you by telling you to imagine or see something. Guided imagery is a form of relaxation. Just imagining yourself in a nice place is not guided imagery and is a normal use of the imagination. The problem with guided imagery is that it is a form of hypnosis.
The Law of Attraction, made popular by recent teachings, such as The Secret, is another name for Visualization. Manifesting, a term heard more in Christian circles than in New Age arenas, is just another term for Visualization.
Affirmations are linked to visualization because affirmations are often used in conjunction with visualization. Affirmations affirm the end result as already true and are usually done by writing down and/or speaking positive statements (sometimes repeatedly) that affirm these desired results, such as “I am living in my new four bedroom house” or “I am favored by my boss for a promotion” or “money is flowing to me.” These are often done as part of visualization or guided visualization.
Creative visualization and affirmations are based on the occult belief that by doing these practices, one can bring into reality that which is not in reality. This is sorcery, whether one thinks it is the “Universe” or God manifesting it. In a way, it is worse to think God is doing it because it is a manipulation of God and assumption that God is obligated to you. It is also an occult technique and contrary to God.
Imaginative Prayer is the use of imagination done in conjunction with the Bible or without it. For example, using it with the Bible might involve imagining Jesus as one reads a passage and then seeing Jesus say or do something not necessarily in Scripture, maybe even saying something to you. This is a fine line because it is not wrong to imagine a scenario with Jesus as you read the Bible. In fact, it is quite normal. It is when one imagines Jesus saying or doing something not in Scripture.
Guided Prayer is not the normative prayer when someone prays as you listen. It is when someone leads you through a prayer and suggests what to visualize. This is often done for healing and is a form of Inner Healing (also called healing of memories). Inner healing is used in Theophostic prayer, deliverance, some forms of healing prayer, and other modalities. Many who do this do not use the term “inner healing.”
It might be helpful to see visualization as the broader term, and all the other listed practices as forms of visualization.
Visualization, guided visualization, guided imagery, affirmations, imaginative prayer, and guided prayer all come from New Thought and are also done in the New Age (though the prayers are not usually done in the New Age since they typically do not pray).
The Contemplative Connection
Although these practices can be done outside of Contemplative practices, they can also be a part of them. In fact, it is typical for Contemplative advocates to undermine Scripture or Bible study as “dry” or being “too much in your head.” Intellect or thinking is contrasted with the heart, which is a false dichotomy. This makes the experience of doing Contemplative practices more appealing.
Imaginative Prayer is used in Contemplative teachings.
What Visualization Is Not
Visualization as discussed in this article is not the use of mere imagination for artistic reasons or for something practical, like wondering how a room will look with the walls painted a different color.
Nor is it picturing something merely to help you do it, such as visualizing yourself swimming across the pool in order to motivate yourself or to boost morale.
To visualize something in the normal meaning is merely to picture or imagine it. It only becomes visualization when one believes that certain goals can be achieved or objects obtained through the technique of visualizing them.
Most of these practices usually involve breathing a certain way, sitting still, and maybe having lowered lighting and/or closing one’s eyes. That is because these are forms of hypnosis. This guided imagery exercise done for relaxation is a good example (I strongly advise not to watch or listen more than a minute).
This one is a guided visualization to get something (she refers to a bank balance account, a big home, and a happy family; again, do not do what the person is telling you to do). Both of these are forms of hypnosis.
Those examples are on You Tube but there are thousands of phone apps that do the same thing as well as other YouTube videos.
Hypnosis and can become addictive. One may have experiences that seem peaceful or spiritual and believe that something real has happened when it has not. The more one does these practices, the less likely one will want to read Scripture or pray in a biblical manner. The reason is that experiences are powerful and seductive and make other things seem dry or boring.
Visualization is a method used in counseling, such as in Inner Healing and its offshoots (Theophostic Prayer, Healing Prayer, and others). It is typical for the counselor to ask the person to imagine Jesus in a past trauma. From there, it can go in many directions from visualizing Jesus holding the person to saying certain words to that person. Or one may “allow” Jesus to do or say something as though this is really Jesus. The term “inner healing” is probably not used so vulnerable clients in prayer or counseling sessions are unaware that inner healing is being done.
It is a method of seeing Jesus to experience something with him, such as imagining oneself in a biblical passage and then visualizing Jesus doing or saying something (this method is on the Abide app). Just imagining oneself in a biblical passage is not visualization. That is imagination.
Visualization with Jesus is not simply picturing Jesus as you listen to or read a Bible passage. That is a normal reaction that arises spontaneously. Visualization with Jesus has to do with imagining him in a certain place and/or time and imagining Jesus speaking certain words not recorded in Scripture, or speaking in an extra-biblical setting and time. It can also involve visualizing Jesus doing something.
This method is found in many so-called healing sessions, contemplative practices, and imaginary prayer.
Problems With Visualizing Jesus
People experiencing grief, pain, anxiety, depression may find it comforting to picture Jesus holding them or speaking to them. Again, just picturing Jesus is not the issue. It is visualizing Jesus into action and/or speech.
- This is imagining a false Jesus since what one is visualizing is not Jesus; it is a conjuration of a Jesus from the imagination (like hugging you at a bad moment in childhood).
- It is assuming that by imagining Jesus, Jesus will respond, so it is a prideful presumption.
- This method is an occult technique that is part of sorcery.
- Why do people think Jesus will appear or respond when one imagines him? This is blatant hubris.
If anything, the Christian faith is one that deals with reality. It does not deny reality or try to conjure up a false one to get a result. Those concepts belong to the New Age and the occult.
I was astonished to find numerous websites on Imaginative Prayer (this was a few years ago when I first started looking into it). This one from Ignatian Spirituliaty explained it this way:
My first exposure to imaginative prayer came during high school religion classes. Several times a year, one of my religion teachers would guide us through an imaginative prayer experience. She’d invite us to imagine meeting Jesus on the beach or at the dinner table. The prayer experience I remember most was the time she invited us to close our eyes and imagine following a ball of red string as it unwound. The teacher guided us on a journey following the string up and down stairs, through forests, houses, and meadows, until we were ultimately led to an intimate encounter with Jesus. – From “Listening For God Through Our Imagination” by Becky Eldredge
In the exercise, the students were led not to a real encounter with Jesus, but to a pretend encounter. However, I am sure they thought this was real. How many will think they met Jesus? This is the danger, that one conjures up an experience or encounter and takes it as the actual thing.
One cannot evoke the real Jesus with imagination. Encounters with Jesus are through God’s word and in prayer, two of the methods that God has clearly given us as the way to know and follow him, and through which the Holy Spirit works. (I also believe we can encounter God in worship but the focus here is on God’s word and biblical prayer).
The website continues:
- Select a Scripture. Pick a passage from one of the four Gospels: Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John.
- Read. Read the passage several times slowly, so that you almost know the story well enough to share with another person.
- Imagine the scene. Close your eyes, and imagine the scene. Who is there? What are they doing? Where are they? What do you notice about the environment? What smells are there? What sounds? Let the Holy Spirit guide this unfolding in your mind.
- Put yourself in the scene. As the scene begins to take shape in your mind, put yourself in the scene. Notice where you are.
- Notice what happens. Let the story unfold in your mind. Stay with it until you feel nudged to move to reflection.
- Respond and rest. Share with God what you noticed and experienced. Then rest in God, and let God speak to you.
- Reflect. Reflect on what you experienced in prayer. What did you learn about Jesus? About another character in the Scripture? About yourself?
Notice that what results is not from reading, studying, or pondering the text but from a technique similar to a guided visualization which is based entirely on something imagined or conjured in the mind. All sorts of ideas might pop up in one’s head as you “put yourself in the scene” that may arise from desires, memories, expectations, things you’ve heard or read, but not from the text itself.
It is purely subjective and is not reading the text as intended. The imagination is not sanctified (contrary to Richard Foster); the mind and imagination are being renewed but only the soul/spirit has been utterly saved.
Reading a passage and imagining the scene is natural and not an issue. But to go beyond that, trying to imagine things not given in the biblical text, especially about Jesus, is a misuse of imagination and of the text. If one imagines something not in the text, what is the point? Some people doing this may believe what they imagine is real because they will think it came from God.
The Pretend Jesus
God-given creativity and imagination is certainly enjoyable and effective for many good things in life. However, there is a difference between what we encounter in our imagination versus what we encounter in reality. We might feel good thinking about being on the beach but it is not the same as actually being on the beach.
This distinction between imagination and reality is especially important when it comes to the spiritual life, which needs to be rooted in reality. Guided prayers and guided visualization treat the resulting experiences as though they are genuine.
Imagining Jesus looking at you in a Bible story and imagining what Jesus would say to you is not factual. You were not in that Bible story nor did Jesus really say whatever you imagined he said. Yet this is the type of exercise increasingly being advocated; this site is only one example. (Interestingly, David G. Benner, a colleague of Richard Rohr, whose books are read by Christians, promotes similar exercises in his books).
Terms for forms of Visualization:
The Law of Attraction
Hypnotic Methods for Relaxing:
Guided Meditation (may also be used for visualization)
God wants those who believe in him to feed on his word, not on their imaginations.
“How sweet are Your words to my taste!
Yes, sweeter than honey to my mouth!
From Your precepts I get understanding;
Therefore I hate every false way.” Psalm 118: 103-104
“For the word of God is living and active, and sharper than any two-edged sword, even penetrating as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
Short link: http://tinyurl.com/yjv4a4tj