Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Spiritual Rhythms of Life for Today


These lines are part of the Introduction to my new book Living Imagination.


Meanwhile, the Moon look’d down upon this shew

In single glory, and we stood, the mist

Touching our very feet; and from the shore

At a distance not the third part of a mile

Was a blue chasm; a fracture in the vapour,

A deep and gloomy breathing-place through which

Mounted the roar of waters, torrents, streams

Innumerable, roaring with one voice.

The Prelude, Book XIII, 1805

by William Wordsworth

These splendid words from Wordsworth depict a myriad of images that have inspired imaginations for generations. A friend once told me that imagining will lead you nowhere. Imagination is for kids, not for grown ups. What, she asked, could it possibly have to do with being an adult? Seems to me our parents tend to tell us something similar – quit imagining so much and get with the program. Part of growing up, at least as they would see it, means letting go of imagining. This perspective, so prevalent in our times, would have been non-sense in Wordsworth’s era. If you’re anything like Wordsworth or me, you’ll have a hard time accepting this outlook. Imagination is, well, just part of us – an important and perhaps neglected part of us.

When I was young I spent plenty of time imagining, as most of us do. We’re curious. We want to know what’s behind the clouds, under the ground, and why the world is like it is. Big questions are unavoidable, at least in our youth. But what happens? So often our curiosity and our tendency to question and imagine becomes immersed and sterilized in a vat of facts. We’re closed off from imagining. It’s almost as if we’ve undergone a lobotomy and that a crucial part of us is severed from having anything valuable to contribute to understanding life. Answers to important questions start to rely on merely what we think and what we see and this, it is claimed, is all part of growing up. If that’s the case, may we remain forever young.

For many Christians imagination tends to remain beneath the surface submersed under reason, logic, or sense observation. Someone recently made the argument that Christianity was rational to the core, when I suggested that imagination was necessary for belief in God and following Christ. Contesting my proposal went something like: reasoning and truth has to do with the facts, not imagination? Christians can sometimes even go further. Imagination, they suggest, is all about make believe and pretending, not what’s real. Don’t do it. Certainly, they affirm, it has nothing to do with reading the Bible or the Christian faith and will end up leading you away from God. Beware of imagination and focus on the real.

One of the shocking things that arises when discussing imagination with Christians is that they often see imagination as merely something to be avoided, or are almost oblivious to its existence all together. This perspective is not only unfortunate, but unrealistic and stifling. One-sided and false portrayals of imagination like this, I suggest, hold us captive. My wager is that when imagination is devalued or seldom noticed as a feature of being human, embodying a legitimate faith in God and experiencing living spirituality will be severely impoverished. If imagination has no relevant significance for the knowledge of God, an engagement with Scripture, and a perception of the natural world, we are failing to embrace what is true; knowledge, engagement, and perception are imagination dependent.


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Greg said...

Thanks for your visit and comment. Welcome to Living Spirituality.