Hold these words in your mind: “painful”; “frozen”; and “Christmas”.

Was your first response to deliver a dictionary definition? What about a scientific, medical explanation? Probably not.

These three words evoke an image in your mind, maybe a memory or experience – and then stir up a sensation or emotion. Through these words we can share our experiences of life, listen to each other’s memories or experiences of a painful, frozen Christmas. And in the sharing, we connect.

I was recently struck by an article reporting on Ai-Da – the first robot to produce and perform poetry written by its own AL algorithms. Ai-Da is scheduled to perform on Friday nights at Oxford’s Ashmolean Museum. Yes, this is impressive technology, but an increasingly technified, digitalised world we must insist that the image-bearing quality of human beings offers the world more than robotics ever will. 


Being human involves more than a sophisticated series of 2D transactions of words, definitions and propositions. As image-bearing creatures, we are gifted with imagination to experience life in 3D, to perceive life beyond words and to glimpse and grasp the truest, fullest, deepest meaning and experiences of life in our world.

Word of words

In our daily lives, we are faced with a multitude of words and stories that shape our imagination and experiences. Every day we must determine and resolve which and whose words unlock meaning for our human existence, in our world and for our world.

We are people of faith, so amid this melting pot of words and stories, meaning and experiences we are resolved: Lord, to whom shall we go, you alone have the words of eternal life.”

The Word became flesh and lived among us. He did not just utter or discard words of life into the chaos, He was the Word of life embodied.

Jesus brought meaning and revealed understanding to us, not in a collection of words – doctrines to sign or dogma to learn – but in His incarnate human person, an embodied life, embedded in a place.

Jesus did not give us a thesis on love, grace and truth to study – but became all these, and more – in our midst. It is in reading the life of Jesus that we can know the word love” in the fullest way; we understand the word grace” in the deepest way; and we comprehend the word truth” in the truest way. Our imaginations are flooded with images of the person of Jesus being love, grace and truth in action.

The Word becomes real in our flesh

The Word of words does not just offer us information about who He was, but He invites us to participate in Him. The Word of life draws us into an alternative vision, a possible reality in which my human reality becomes fuller, truer and deeper in and for my world.

As we perform our image-bearing role, to find and share meaning in our world, for our world, we read the Word of words, and we let it read us, and read into us an alternative way to be human.

Not solely to understand the living God, but in understanding to encounter Him, and become like Him.

Not only to discover what God did back then, but through that to discern what God might be doing today, and how we might join Him.

Not to find pre-packaged answers, but to participate in the process by which the heavenly reality invades our earthly realities through us.

As we engage our image-bearing imagination, prepared to eat this book” (Revelation 10.9, Ezekiel 3.3), the word of words transcends the 2D transaction of words and information. The word becomes the deeper place of revelation and meaning and enables the transformation of our human experience in our world.

More than words

There are times when words are not enough to fully express or connect our lived human experiences. There are chapters of our lives when words cannot stretch to express or to reach into such profound grief, when we can only groan with the Spirit and creation.

Words are not enough when they become overfamiliar. Although meaning is not lost from the words, the sharpness of imagining and stirring of our experience that they once provoked has been made blunt in familiarity. The joke isn’t funny the fourth time. The song does not arrest us after we play it on repeat.

Image-ing and imagining advent 

Several years ago, I was in search for a new set of advent readings. After 40 years of rehearsing the ancient words and story of incarnation, the blunt familiarity failed to cut where I needed. My advent imagination was fading.

I asked my friend for a new book – more words, by a different wordsmith. Instead, I received advice to find new avenues into the word of words that would revitalise my imagination. Specifically, to use images as I engaged with scripture.

I am a wordy, word-loving, Word-based kind of woman – it is how I am built and it’s how I function. So, I was dubious.

But, that same day another friend sent me this resource for advent daily immersion. Each daily reflection explores the ancient words and story of scripture by weaving together a robust reflection of text through an image by a diversity of imaginations by Christian artists, an extract of poetry and a portion of music.

As I ventured into the ancient words and stories of advent through a new image-based avenue, I met with God in a new way. The silent spaces reflecting on the word through images quietened the plethora of words within me. His silent voice became strong to me in the inner sanctum.

My image-bearing imagination was enlarged and awakened; the Word plumbed the depths of my experience, releasing in me and through me a full, deep and true existence in my world, for my world.

Jesus-soaked imagination

Image-bearing is an endowed identity bestowed on creatures. But image-bearing is a task that requires intentional resolve.

As we fulfil our humanly role in this world, to imagine the deeper possible reality for human existence, and to shape and speak meaning into our human experiences, Eugene Peterson says, we need an incarnational imagination, a Jesus-soaked imagination”. 

In an image-based world, chaotic with a multitude of meanings and words, with a diversity of meaning-makers we are called and gifted to be bear God’s image in our world, and for our world.

We have been given an imagination, so, rooted in the word, we must imagine more deeply. We have been given eyes to see, so through the lens of His word, we must perceive more clearly.

I wonder if you, like me, might find this resource or others like it a helpful exploration of word, meaning and experience as you journey through advent. May He open your eyes that you might see wonderful things in His Law.” (Psalm 119:18)