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Christian Imagination

July 16, 2010

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.

  1. Craig Baker permalink
    July 16, 2010 10:59 pm

    I agree completely! I’ve been doing some thinking/reading on this topic as well this summer: Richard Gula’s The Call to Holiness and John Dear’s Mary of Nazareth, Prophet of Peace. The lack of a Christ centered imagination is I think one of the main reasons why Christians are quick to dismiss nonviolence outright. Often the response is geared towards not being able to imagine a nonviolent response, therefore it won’t work or be possible. And of course without the development of our moral imaginations it is impossible. Dear uses the following example for one way to approach the nonviolent life:

    “Each morning take thirty or sixty minutes sitting in silent meditation. Light a candle, read a scripture verse, and offer an opening prayer for God’s blessing upon you and the world. Then, place yourself before Jesus or God as you imagine the gentle, loving God. Call to mind the person toward whom you hold a deep grudge, whoever stirs up feelings of anger, resentment, bitterness, or hatred. For some of us, there may be a long list of people who cause such feelings. We feel hurt by them, angry toward them, and bitter and resentful. Just pick one person. Tell Jesus about your anger, hatred, violence and resentment toward that person. Give those feelings to Jesus. Watch Jesus as he interacts with that person. Notice how he looks on that person with compassion, love, kindness, and truth. Why does Jesus show such deep compassion and kindness? Because that is that is the nature of God. Jesus is the love of God personified. He is the face of the God of nonviolence. He only knows compassion and nonviolence love. No matter how much violence, anger, resentment, or hatred we send his way, Jesus always responds with loving kindness, forgiveness, nonviolence, and compassion. In the process, he transforms us all. He saves us from our nonviolence. “

  2. Veronica permalink
    July 20, 2010 9:01 pm

    I think you have touched on something really important here. I think it is what is lacking from the Christian experience. It is one thing to memorize the entire Bible and thank God for salvation, but another to realize that peace starts with us.
    I heard an excellent line when I was 17 that has made all of the difference for me, it is from a Buddhist teacher called Swami Satchidananda. He said,
    “If your companion says he hates you, ask: “Why do you want to hate me? Does it make you happy? Okay, if you can be happy hating me, do so, because I love you.” It takes courage to do that. Hatred will not eliminate hatred. You can never make someone love you by hating them. Don’t retaliate. Just let your nature be giving and loving. That’s God’s love, an outpouring with no expectation for anything back. Love knows no barriers – it only gives and gives and gives. ”

    (ok I made the quote longer than needed, but its so good. I mainly set to memory and practice the quote within the quote. When angry, I visualize, imagine, the quote within the quote.” Christian imagination needs to be open to the teachings and writings of the mystics, many of whom have found the root of living correctly, to give and give and give, to love and love and love. This is what God does, this is what we must do.)

  3. July 31, 2010 8:14 am

    I Believe life is realistic so we have to think like that. well nice post god bless you

  4. John Mack permalink
    January 20, 2011 4:37 am

    You might want to look into the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius Loyola. They involve visualizing yourself at various scenes in the life of Christ, emotionally engaged. These exercises can be taught. Try Googling to learn more.

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