Thursday, March 15, 2018

Imagination: Creative Power, Curiosity, Vision

I do not think that the opposite of imagination is reality.  Far from it.  The opposite of imagination is cynicism and boredom; they are influences that deny reality (cynicism) or escape it (boredom).  They blind us to the beauty of human experience or lead us to distract ourselves with shallow, unsatisfying elements of it.  We need strong words.  We need strong images.  We need our minds shaken from time to time, if not all the time, to keep us from drowning in the swamps of cynicism or boredom.  And that’s what imagination does.

. . . when I speak of imagination, I mean the ability of our hearts and minds to create images and stories that express truths greater than can be expressed in a philosophical essay.  A failure to imagine is simply a failure to hope: in myself, in others, in God.

- Eric Ramirez, SJ

Imagination: (n) the act or power of forming a mental image of something not present to the senses or never before wholly perceived in reality; creative power.  

Last night, I led a brief Imaginative Prayer session at a local church.  Imaginative Prayer is a method invented and taught by St. Ignatius of Loyola in which individuals or groups spend an extended period of time reflecting on one of the many gospel stories featuring Jesus.  The aim of this type of prayer is a direct experience of God's presence.  

In preparation for my class, I spent some time noodling around on Ignatian Spirituality .com and was delighted to discover these downloadable Imaginative Prayer Guides published by Pray As You Go .org.  I thought about the role of imagination in my own life, my experiences as a child and young adult, and times when I've stifled or encouraged imagination in myself and my children.  I learned that imagination is the capacity to form ideas and images of that which is beyond the senses, which sounds an awful lot like faith, to me.  And I discovered that the Latin root for the word 'imagination' means 'to picture oneself.' 

I listened to the Imaginative Prayer Guide on the Healing of Blind Bartimaeus three times yesterday.  Each time, I found something new and, like an athlete doing reps at the gym, I felt my imagination grow stronger with use.  I noticed, as I cooked, how my dog imagined I might drop the chicken carcass, dripping broth on the cutting board.  She knelt at my feet in anticipation of a world where miracles like that happen.  I watched the House Finches imagining the nest they'll build in my daughter's window, eyeing every angle of the ledge on which their future will rest.  I realized the church is called to be the imagination of the world in which we live - to be the link between that which can and cannot be seen.  

Today, I'm wondering what it is you imagine.  Maybe it's something big or something small or something silly beyond belief.  When is the last time you let your holy imagination run wild?  I'd love to hear about it.       

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Just Beyond (on Spring Snow and the Kingdom of God)

Photo by Annie Spratt on Unsplash

If the weather-watchers are correct, we’re due for snow tomorrow and possibly more on Sunday.  Snow in March isn’t unusual, but it’s definitely unwelcome.  Arriving just as the world starts to sing its wake-up song, spring snow often feels like the last straw. 

I’m doing my best not to check and double-check my weather app, though I’m anxious to know how the snowfall will impact my work-life and the kids’ school schedule.  Friends online are sharing weather predictions with accompanying proclamations of despair and dismay.  The more time I spend online, the easier it is to believe spring will never arrive.

But the songbirds, the ones who now make daily inspections of potential nesting places sheltered beneath our window awnings, tell a different story.  Something in them seems certain of spring’s promise, despite the cold-again nights, the frost-filled mornings.  Intrigued by their perseverance, I’ve been listening to them almost as much as I’ve been looking online.  I wonder what it is the birds sense, something just a hairsbreadth away from my bumbling human perception.

The songbirds, of course, are not alone.  The hens are laying like gangbusters, the dog and cat have begun they’re annual shedding extravaganza (Lord have mercy), and the tree branches bear red buds ready to burst at the slightest provocation. 

This week I remembered something my Spiritual Director told me several years back, when my kids were much younger and we were cramped in a small apartment together all the dark winter long.  There was snow on the ground then too, spring seemed like a fairytale – a nice idea, but nothing to stake your hopes on. 

“Do you hear the birds?” she asked, as we sat together in her sunlit meeting space.  “They only start to sing when they’re getting ready to build nests and mate.”

I took her word for it.  I allowed the birds to sing hope into my weary-with-waiting heart and I too started to live like spring was just around the corner. 

Maybe it shouldn’t be news to me that our hope, our faith, our love, are so easily influenced by the voices around us.  But most years I need reminders, just the same. 

Being a person of faith means living in light of a reality that may be just a hairsbreadth beyond our bumbling human perception and allowing that reality to shape the songs we sing, the nests we build, the future we work to bring to fruition.  And when we grow weary in faith it helps to tune into the lives and voices of those around us who seem to hear and live a bit more clearly.  

This week, Father Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries, was one of those voices for me.  Quoting from the prophet Habakkuk, regarding the coming kingdom of God, Boyle says, “The vision still has its time, presses on to fulfillment, and it will not disappoint; and if it delays, wait for it.  What we all want to create and form is a community of kinship such that God might recognize it . . .  It shouldn’t surprise us that God’s own dream come true for us – that we be one – just happens to be our own deepest longing for ourselves.  It turns out, it’s mutual.”

If you find yourself also near despair - due to snow or otherwise - why not take 20 minutes to hear what Boyle has to say.  His words point to realities just beyond perception and his life's work continues to bring the kingdom into fulfillment.