Imagination is Needed in Religion

A blogging friend of mine from Australia keeps me informed about many interesting spiritual things in the culture of her country.  She sent me a Lent essay from noted Catholic priest and Benedictine Monk, Laurence Freeman, from which I clipped introductory thoughts re Shakespeare:

Shakespeare didn’t waste his energy inventing stories. The plots of his plays were already on his bookshelves. He had only to read them and by the power of his creative imagination to utterly transform them, lifting old tales and soap operas into the realm of timeless and unforgettable reflections of nature and the infinite, interactive shades of human character. In one scene he can show how a number of personalities respond differently to the same events

It is very interesting to note that it was Shakespeare’s imagination that is responsible for leaving us such a treasure trove of literary/spiritual wisdom.  He took stories from his day and employed that vivid imagination of his to transform them into literary master pieces which have so deeply enriched the life of many, certainly including this bloke from the sticks of Arkansas.

He and other marvelous writers have helped awaken and energize my imagination since I “discovered” literature, and the power of metaphor three decades ago.  My imagination had lain dormant since my very early years, possibly even early months, as I think being born into a linear thinking world stymies the imagination long before we learn to talk.  And in recent years I have begun to use this imagination in my approach to the Bible and the Christian tradition, discovering that comedian Bill Maher is not wrong, Jesus is “our imaginary friend” in some very important way.  Or at least He should be.  If we don’t find the courage to employ our imagination in approaching faith, our spiritual experience will be confined to a very rigid interpretation from the cultural dictates of our early years.  This will inevitably mean we re confined to “the letter of the law.”  By using the imagination we bring a “personal” dimension to our interpretation to religion, “personal” in the sense of an interpretation that is influenced from that rich domain of our heart, that domain that is usually “crusted o’er” by habits of thought as Shakespeare noted in Hamlet.  The “spirit” that is employed with this imaginative hermeneutical enterprise can begin to flow when our faith is no longer the “canned variety” but one that is the result of dogma being invigorated by this deep-seated “spirit”, a phenomenon described by W. H. Auden as what happens when “flesh and mind are delivered from mistrust.”  I like to describe this as a work of God’s Spirit which might be described as the “enfleshment” of the Word, to use Christian terminology.

But a discourse like this is always fraught with the peril of having lapsed into Christian jargon.  Words like “Bible” and “God” and “Spirit” and “enfleshment” usually mean something totally removed from human experience.  That is not how I use them.  Approaching Holy Writ as literature, and thus capable of being spirit infused, is about human experience and I think that is what the teachings of Jesus were about.


6 thoughts on “Imagination is Needed in Religion”

  1. I have to say that I really found this part of your post particularly helpful…”Jesus is ‘our imaginary friend’ in some very important way. Or at least He should be.” I think sometimes we often feel bad if the Jesus we see in our mind’s eye doesn’t match the one that we think it should be (the one that we were led to believe was the correct and proper one). I like to thing that relationship, real relationship, enhances the imagination.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Thanks, and yeah, I think we are!

        I’ll tell you that post of yours got me thinking when I read it the first time and again now. I just didn’t have quite the right words for it…but it goes something like this…if we accept and preach the stern Jesus or even just any type of uniform Jesus like the picture most of us grew up with on the Sunday School classroom wall, have we turned Him into an idol? A fixed, non-moving, non-responsive, idol?

        I think Jesus is much much bigger than that. When we limit our imagination, then we limit Him. Personally I think that it will take millions of people each expressing a different part of who Jesus is, and a million voices each singing a different song to express who Jesus is.

        Can you imagine it?!?

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Oh my, bro! Amen, amen! Yes, we are guilty of the sin of “Jesus-olity.” Jesus is not a thing and can be known only in relationship. Relevant to your concluding thought, T. S. Eliot said,”Last years words are for last years season and next years words await another voice.” Each of us must be “another voice” articulating the Word of God in terms of our personal experience.

        Liked by 1 person

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