Guiding Imagery

Guided imagery is actually a tool used by spiritual practitioners.  A chaplain in a hospital might use it to help patients who have intractable pain find some measure of comfort that medicines can’t provide.  Properly used it is a good thing.

We have imagery that guides us in our thinking all the time.  The concept also goes by the names of paradigms, mindsets, controlling metaphors or frames of reference. The basic idea is that we give meaning to experiences by placing them into some kind of relationship with other experience or knowledge based on this guiding image.

In my experience, one of the most damaging guiding images I have had to change is that of the office of the keys.  It includes the picture of a gate to heaven that is guarded by someone, usually St. Peter. Entrance into this place of eternal happiness can only be gained by conforming to certain standards of behavior and belief.  Failure to conform to these standards means eternal pain and suffering in hell.

When I read the passages of our sacred texts on which this image is based, I realized that it has been reversed.  Heaven is not a confined place with a narrow passageway.  When heaven is described as having gates, they are described as being wide open and facing in four directions for entrance from many places.

The imagery of keys to a gate actually should be applied to the gates of prisons.  The keys Jesus describes in Matthew 16 are the keys OF the kingdom, not TO the kingdom.  They give the power to release people from burdens so that they have the freedom to grow and develop the full power that lies within them.

I believe that when Jesus talked about the keys of the kingdom he was talking about the power we have when we connect with the divine power available within us.  Once the connection is made we are no longer prisoner to self-made prisons, hurtful family systems, economic and political oppression or religious demands for conformity.  We may still have to battle against them, but we are not helpless prisoners of them.

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