Imagination is probably more important than we realize. Scholars in the theory of communications have argued that a person’s ability to successfully navigate various interpersonal situations depends largely on her ability to imagine herself in such situations. Such imagined conversations and interactions prepare her for successful interactions in reality.
Similarly, many successful athletes have spoken of envisioning their performance prior to the game or a key shot. Jack Nicklaus has said that he has never made a shot which he didn’t first see. Thus it seems that one’s ability to imagine how he will respond in certain situations can be an important indicator of how successfully he will interact with the world.
Unfortunately, many, myself included, seem to have significant difficulties imagining themselves living a holy life. The imagination may be well-developed and powerful or weak and sparsely used, but either way, few seem to have what I would term a Christian imagination. We know what is true and good and beautiful, but we can’t imagine what it would look like to live accordingly. We may have been raised in Catholic families and Catholic schools, but we have been formed largely by the images of society. It is sometimes far easier to imagine committing evil acts, even acts we have no intention of ever commiting, than it is to imagine, in a concrete way, living a saintly life. We have few images for that.
If Christians hope to live a life which witnesses more to Christ than to their political or cultural ideologies their imaginations must be formed by Christ. Our formative texts ought to be the Sacred Scriptures and the Liturgy and hagiographies, even those whose facticity may be questionable can be powerful stimulants for a Christian imagination. They can teach us to respond to the situations of life in a way that images Christ.
In a society of individualism and relativism in which words no longer effectively signify, a life lived in radical witness to Christ is absolutely essential to living out the mandates of the Gospel, to living an evangelical Catholicism. A Christian imagination is equally essential to completing this task faithfully.