On Imagination

Some of the work I am doing these days focuses on imagination.  And with so many things in which I get involved, I do not have that much background in dealing with the topic.  I have never taken a class on imagination.  I have never done a workshop on imagination.  And sometimes I doubt that I have any imagination!  But I am dauntless; I move ahead.

One does not need to be a linguist to know that the key word hiding in the term, imagination, is image.  To have imagination is to have images.  But more specifically, imagination is having an image of something not available to the senses.  Or imagination can be an image of something in the future…something which has not yet come to be.  It is in these two senses that we talk of kids having “great imaginations.”

I remember very well the imaginary playmate I had when I was a little boy.  Typically, this imaginary playmate was an ideal objectification of what I thought the model boy/adolescent would be.  Of course, that imaginary playmate was incredibly talented.  He was an adept worker.  He was an amazing athlete.  He was handsome, debonair, etc.  In my imagination I was just like him.

Too often, we hear adults say things like “I grew out of my imagination.”  Or we hear phrases like, “you’ve gotta be realistic.”  Many would contend there is “real life” and there is imagination.  The two never intersect.

This is where I feel pangs of sadness.  If we lose our ability to be imaginative, we lose touch with a center of creativity, potentiality, and vitality.  I am not for a minute suggesting we can live and function solely in our imagination.  But our imaginations should affect our lives and how we function.

It is easy to pile up examples.  It is pretty normal for kids to imagine what they might do when they grow up.  They will be firefighters, doctors, etc.  Often we smile knowing full well the likelihood is that they will do none of the above.  But that is not the important part.  The important part is the imaginative process.  To imagine is to have a vision of the future and perhaps some budding sense of how we might begin to craft that future.

This is where I am today.  If I can cultivate my capacity to imagine, I am still able to “see” a possible future and give myself a chance to shape that future.  Of course in my theology, the future is not predestined nor foreordained.  Even if God has a hand in my future (and I do believe this is true in some form), God does not have me on a string like a puppet.

So I do not think imagination is just kid-stuff.  It can be seen as person-stuff.  And I do believe it is important spiritual-stuff.  For example, when Jesus proclaimed the coming of the kingdom, I believe he was talking imagination.  He could image a future which was unlike the present Roman society into which he was born.  He could imagine a situation where there was justice, where love prevailed, where there was communism in the best sense of the word…effective sharing.  I have already signed on to this same kingdom-imagination stuff in my own life.

Kingdom imagination is big stuff.  I also involve myself in smaller, more incremental spiritual imaginings.  Each day I try to imagine how I might be centered as I live through the unfolding day.  I imagine myself listening to those who want to talk.  I imagine that I can respond in a caring, loving way to those who come into my presence.  I imagine that I will be fair in my dealings with others.

I realize this is pretty simplistic stuff.  But I am also realistic enough about myself to know that if I don’t imagine and intend this kind of life, I will fall back into a more ego-driven, selfish, churlish way of life.

So if you aspire to be the best you can be today, imagine it!

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