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Imagine That...: Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion Paperback – February 25, 2009
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Catholics will appreciate that the author does not hold up one strain of western piety as being the only one, and pit "the whole west" versus "the whole east," instead realizing that what he discusses here is focused on particular trends and movements. But I do wish that the author cast a wider net in his sources, both Catholic and Orthodox.
The subject itself - whether or not, and to what degree, that it is appropriate to use one's imagination during prayer - is both so immense and yet intimate that it is difficult for a layman with limited time to get his mind around it. In short, the author posits that Catholics of more recent centuries look favorably on using the imagination during prayer - such as the Ignatian method, while the Orthodox do not, and that the latter have the more solid tradition of the Church Fathers on their side. The Fathers, says the author, are largely silent about imaginings at prayer, or explicitly reject it.
As one who practices in an Eastern Catholic Church, I read this book with an open mind and found that the Fr. Sveshnikov makes several solid points, although my understanding of Tradition makes it hard to fully dismiss the prayer experience of so large a segment of the universal church (that is, most of the modern West for several hundred years). For that reason, this entree in the discussion deserves a book in reply from a suitably studied Catholic who can elucidate a "theology of imagery at prayer" that incorporates the Fathers and the totality of Catholic experience. I am unaware of such a work.
If you are a Catholic who is trying to understand the Orthodox view of this issue, "Imagine That" is a worthy introduction.
the place of images in the prayer life of both traditions. The most important takeaway is that
the Orthodox tradition teaches stilling the mind in the heart rather than the use of mental imagery
in prayer. The best exemplars of these traditions are the saints themselves, and the author names
many of them. However, he fails us a bit when he postulates that these traditions indicate different
understandings of Christ between East and West -- without explaining exactly what he means by that.
Nevertheless, this book is definitely recommended if you would like to increase your general
understanding of essential differences between prayer traditions in the Eastern and Western Church.