“Alice laughed: ‘There’s no use trying,’ she said; ‘one can’t believe impossible things.’
“‘I daresay you haven’t had much practice,’ said the Queen. ‘When I was younger, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.’”
(Through the Looking Glass)
I’ve been thinking a lot about imagination and play lately. Last week on The12, Jason Lief posted a blog entry titled “The Hobbit can Save us,” telling about reading The Hobbit to his son, wondering if perhaps he should be reading the Bible instead, and deciding not.
Lief writes, “[M]ore and more I’m convinced that myths and fantasy like The Hobbit prepare our hearts to receive the gospel. More than learn facts, figures, and morals I want my kids to strengthen their imaginations.” For it is these imaginations that allow us to creatively consider the big, deep questions. Imagination allows us to get outside of ourselves, out of our own heads and perspectives and worldviews—indeed it is what draws us out into the world of empathic relationship with the Other. As Lief says, “I’m convinced it’s through our imagination we develop the ability to question the way things are so we might cast visions that point to how things could be.”
I’ve been working, lately, on composing a spiritual autobiography. I’ve been doing this in some form for EfM, of course, but actually writing it out in an all-text form is a first, and surprisingly challenging for a verbose lover of language like myself. It is also an interesting exercise because I’ve found that I have actually learned things about myself in the process of this composition (I always talk to my students about writing-to-learn; here is yet another example of it happening).
As I reflected on my childhood faith, I realized that it was my imagination that brought me closest to God. This is not to say that being brought up in the church, with the flannelboards and Bible verses and silly songs, was a negative thing—it was simply not the most prominent or important thing. What shaped my theology and spirituality most profoundly were the imagined or invented worlds of beloved authors (I not infrequently blame Madeleine L’Engle for my Episcopalianism) or of my own.
I had a vibrant imagination as a child, and I never really lost that gift—I write, after all—but it was a long time before I allowed imagination and creativity back into a faith that had become heavily intellectual. Imagination seemed too childish, too subjective, too untrustworthy.
Thought, faith without imagination are destitute indeed, though. Allowing imagination back into my spirituality has provided a revival and a way forward, a way slightly less hidden in shadow than before. It is with this creativity that I can imagine a future for the church, and imagine my future ministry and role in that church. It is through playful imagination that I can approach an understanding of metaphor and story, which are integral to understanding and living into Christianity.
How does imagination play into your spirituality (or how has it in the past)? What futures can you imagine for the church?