talkin’ ‘bout your imagination

To know me is to know that I struggle with life as it is.

I am constantly frustrated.

Not with other people as much as with myself and my own life. My good friend Greg calls it dissonance between the internal and external; that is to say, there is a tension between what I feel and see on the inside and what actually happens in the external world.

This too often leads to deconstruction of the external. But there is only so long that the deconstruction piece can go on – it has to lead somewhere else, otherwise there is nothing left to deconstruct.

And the truth is there is somewhere else to go, even if we haven’t seen it. But of course very few of us have ever been taught to use our imaginations. Knowing that there is something bigger and better is a torturous experience when your imagination has been slowly sucked from the self by a sterile-but-seductive social system.

In the preface of his amazing book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann, quoting Frederick Asals (who in turn is analysing Flannery O’Connor – complicated I know), writes;

The imagination, O’Connor discovered, might accomplish much more; it might become the channel of visionary awareness … For O’Connor, as for Aquinas, it is the imagination, with its roots deep in the human unconscious, that is the link between the depths of the self and the unseen reaches of the universe, that can reveal to finite man his apocalyptic destiny … the imagination for her is as dangerous a force as any named by Freud, for what it opens to, in those shattering climaxes when it achieves release, are the unwanted visions that ravage the lives of her protagonists.

… as the institutional guardian of the prophetic Word, the church has hardly been hospitable to the individual voice crying, “Thus sayeth the Lord.”

… Far from denying the body and the senses, the asceticism in the later fiction (of O’Connor) works consistently to affirm them, to release them from the false consciousness of her protagonists in order to experience reality. But reality, to the prophetic mind, is always double: “This world, no more shadow of ideas in an upper sphere, is real, but not absolute; the world’s reality is contingent upon compatibility with God.” For O’Connor’s sacramentalism, it is the natural world that becomes the vehicle for the supernatural, and her characters’ literal return to their senses becomes the means of opening their imaginations to receive it.

Suffering is central to the prophetic consciousness. “The prophet is prepared for pain. One of the effects of his presence is to intensify the people’s capacity for suffering, to rend the veil that lies between life and pain.” … This ascetic imperative in O’Connor is a part of that prophetic consciousness….

As a writer of fiction, Flannery O’Connor simply had no interest in – no imagination for – “a socially desirable Christianity.”

Concrete, passionate, and imaginative, prophetic in its form, prophetic speech is nonetheless “a sharp sword,” conveying a vision “designed to shock rather than edify.”

Moderation is a delusion, and only extremists are in touch with reality.

It has been a long time since I read anything that made my heart jump as much as those words, but reading them is like a much needed breath of air. My desire is that God would give to me and others the courage to use our imaginations in a way that bridges the deepest parts of the self and the outermost reaches of the universe, to have the Spirit of God working in us to prophetically imagine something different, bigger, greater.

And before anyone becomes concerned that I am advocating extremism, know well that such extremism is that of love and imagination, not violent action.

The truth is that I desperately want to be inspired, and to let my imagination run in freedom to create a world in which I and others want to live. I know that others feel the same. Perhaps together we can imagine a different reality.

May stars flood your dreams, and may we see something beyond what we ‘know’. May we breathe deep breaths and feel the beauty of the universe. May we become in touch with reality. May we become compatible with God.


Posted on January 28, 2010, in Theology and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. livinginreality

    Hmm, interesting stuff Matt..
    You say you would like to become in touch with reality through the use of your imagination, but how can this be possible when imagination and reality are no doubt polar opposites?
    I, for one, find that those who are, as we like to call it, ‘lost in their imagination’, have lost all touch with reality..

  2. I suppose I would have to disagree. Initially I would say I don’t see how imagination and reality are *polar* opposites. For most people all their imagination can conjure up is the way things are anyway…

    But more importantly, an objective reality (as you allude to) is existent, but is not fully knowable by a person. The way we perceive reality is, necessarily, through the inner-subjective.

    And so it is only the divine that perceives reality “as it really is”. Does not then my imagination, if it is being inspired by the Spirit of the divine, begins to see a reality that is far more than what I or others comprehend?

    Or, more abstractly, is not reality constituted by the eschatological as well as the temporal? Isn’t what we hope for equally as real as what we experience currently in the mind of God?

    If my imagination causes me to dream a greater vision than what exists, and I am therefore inspired to work toward it with God, doesn’t that make it a more potent reality than that with which I am now in touch?

  3. we get our ability to imagine from our creator….
    He imagined our existitense then spoke it into reality!!
    God has the ultimate imagination it has no bounds and is limitless,
    therefore if we are made in his likeness ought we not have boundless imaginations also… able to see, percieve fathom what may seem to some the immpossible.. not reality .. a fantasy, yet in Gods Kingdom may be a reality,

    does not prophetic imagination enable people to share the dream the vision where they have lost sight of what is possible.. what can be

    without imagination how do we learn? invent? create? discover? percieve? hope?wish? dream?

    When we prohesy does not imagination help explain the vision and therefore bring understanding?

    When we seperate imagination from reality we lose sight of what can be and stop living to our full capacity, just accepting things as they are and give up on our dreams ….

    I had a realisation about 12mths ago that after years of abuse negativity and so forth I had forgotten how to dream…. how to imagine……
    I was asked what I thought it would be like in heaven… I burst into tears because I had no idea and could not even imagine what a wonderous place it may be… I could not imagine a place with no oppression.. no poverty .. no pain, no disease or illness and no abuse, no war.. I had given up on the idea that there may be such a place..

    I realised without imagination I had lost sight of Gods heart, his goodness and the hope we have in him how truly amazing creation is….

    Imagination has no limits, with God all things are possible, you just have to look at the intricate pattern of a flower or leaf… watch the sun rise each morning and set each night, think about how the human body works how each part is made up of cells etc or look at the stars in the dark of night… this is imagination at it’s finest.. yet it was just the beginning…..

    how do you even explain the relativity and importance of imagination and apply it to prohecy,
    but how does anything exist without it

    Since allowing myself to imagine again I have found beauty, peace hope victory……

    I may not be explaining this very well, I am no scholar or theologian but I do understand the importance of imagination… and I to wish to expand my ability to dream and have greater vision and understanding

  4. Isabella,

    Your response here is truly amazing. Clearly you do not need to be a scholar to have a depth of understanding about the kingdom of God, because you have articulated brilliantly. I am excited by what God has done in your life, and the way in which he is obviously continually awakening your imagination.

    Thank you so much for your comment. Sorry I took so long to approve it, it got lost in my emails.


  5. I so agree (and you’ve inspired me that I must read Brueggemann (that book is actually in my waiting pile). The scripture tells us that the things that are unseen are greater than the things that are seen, but without imagination we are trapped in the seen, and faith ceases to be exercised. In one sense the whole Christian life is a walk away from settling for what seems to be into what truly is, the reality that is only possible in God. Every hunger for something more is ultimately a hunger for Him. And pain of some sort is inevitable, for what we truly desire is the resurrection life, and to experience that we need to die

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