"When the imagination is choked, so also is our theological knowledge.”
~ Thomas Aquinas (Opusc. 16, de Trinitate 6.2, ad. 5).
It's hard to think of something more fundamental to human flourishing and as squirrely to pin down as the imagination. It's had a hard history, too. Descartes warned against the "misleading judgment that proceeds from the blundering constructions of imagination,” and I've lost track of the number of times that Protestants have wielded, KJV-style, 2 Corinthians 10:5 ("Casting down imaginations") or Romans 1:21 ("they became vain in their imaginations, ") as a kind of self-evident indictment of the faculty itself.
More positively, Stanley Hauerwas maintains that a baptized imagination “is morally required because we refuse to allow the ‘necessities’ of the world, which are often but stale habits, to go unchanged or unchallenged when they are in fact susceptible to the power of imagination.” Trevor Hart and Richard Bauckham argue something similar in their joint work, Hope against Hope: Christian Eschatology at the Turn of the Millennium. A basic function of the imagination, they suggest, is to enable us to see the world otherwise. It is the capacity to live beyond the givens of this world. In their words:
At our Laity Lodge retreat for ministers to artists in March 7-10, 2013, we'll be unpacking what it means for artists (of all sorts) to be caretakers of the imagination. Jamie Smith will give two talks, I'll give one, and we'll all be talking about it together the whole weekend long. If you haven't signed up, I'd encourage you to do so earlier because this retreat will fill up fast. Here is info to register (scroll down to the March dates). Here is info that I've written about the retreat already.
To whet your appetite for our time together, I've included here two observations by Jamie, a poem by the Brit Malcolm Guite, whom we shall endeavor to bring to the retreat sooner than later, and an award-winning melancholy and rather ridiculous (but genius) movie about a cat's life.
James K. A. Smith:
"Our action emerges from how we imagine the world. What we do is driven by who we are, by the kind of person we have become. And that shaping of our character is, to a great extent, the effect of stories that have captivated us, that have sunk into our bones—stories that “picture” what we think life is about, what constitutes “the good life.” We live into the stories we’ve absorbed; we become characters in the drama that has captivated us."
"At the heart of a liturgical anthropology is a recognition of not just the centrality of desire but also the centrality of the imagination. It is because I imagine the world (and my place in it) in certain ways that I am oriented by fundamental loves and longings. It is because I “picture” the world as this kind of place, this kind of “environment,” that I then picture “the good life” in a certain way that draws me toward it and thus construe my obligations and responsibilities accordingly."
Malcolm Guite, "O Sapientia"
Nor can I speak unless I have been spoken;
I cannot teach except as I am taught,
Or break the bread except as I am broken.
O Mind behind the mind through which I seek,
O Light within the light by which I see,
O Word beneath the words with which I speak,
O founding, unfound Wisdom, finding me,
O sounding Song whose depth is sounding me,
O Memory of time, reminding me,
My Ground of Being, always grounding me,
My Maker’s bounding line, defining me:
Come, hidden Wisdom, come with all you bring,
Come to me now, disguised as everything.
Henri 2, Paw de Deux