Reflection 2 – No imagination, no growing
(These reflections are offered to encourage you, God’s people, full of the Holy Spirit, to ‘do theology’ with your ‘sensus fidelium’ – that is with your own innate and graced wisdom. They focus on some theological intuitions and spiritual explorations to help you form a truer foundation for falling in love with God all over again. And to prepare us for the shape of tomorrow’s faith. In the light of a healing theology of nature and grace, and as scientific revelations bless the earth each day, this exercise of exploring and speculating will have huge and illuminating implications for the future heart of our Church, our faith, our children and ourselves. Daniel O’Leary 2018)
The blessed capacity to see and recognise the divine features in all our experiences belongs to a revealed way of perceiving daily life also called ‘the sacramental vision’.
This arises from the unique revelation of the real meaning of the Incarnation. We have never been really told that our incarnate God is utterly and non-negotiably apprehended and embraced only through our humanity – our experiences, our senses, our very lives. This opens the door to a whole new possibility for intimacy with God –a God who out of love, from the very beginning, desired to actually become one of us, indeed all of us. This good news works wonders too for our often struggling self-esteem. Without the divine imagination in our hearts it is impossible to grasp this saving revelation. It transforms our understanding of everything
We are talking about the practical use of our God-given imagination. This imagination is an amazing grace because without it we could not say the Creed or believe anything at all. We tend to forget that imagination is not about fantasy; it is about faith. It is a gift of the Holy Spirit that has been well and truly forgotten by the Church. It cannot flourish in an institution that loves things to be black or white, right or wrong, certain or sinful – and boxes! A denial of the central place of the imagination in Christian faith, in the running of the Church and in the saving of our souls may well be the ‘sin against the Holy Ghost’.
The use of imagination is particularly essential in understanding the meaning of the Incarnation. Every page of this book, in one way or another, is devoted to revealing how God is made accessible to us as a result of the divine enfleshment. Without imagination this enterprise becomes impossible. The goal is to be able to read our lives, to interpret our experiences though the lens of Incarnation. This holy work, this spiritual skill, this awareness of our senses as sacred carries the power to utterly transform our lives, our self-understanding, our blessed glimpses of the face and heart of God in this world. Carl Jung catches the spirit of this enterprise:
To comprehend the visibility of the invisible is a life’s work.
Who looks outside dreams;
who looks inside awakens.
Your vision will become clear only when
you look with the heart.
By balancing outer world with inner, by
looking into our heart, we become
explorers, and the boundaries of our perception
leap from continents to angels and galaxies.
It helps to remember also that there are two kinds of knowledge, two ways of understanding, two uses of words. One is more like information; the other is more like invitation. One is grasped immediately; the other does not surrender its wisdom without a struggle. One is known cerebrally; the other is known by heart. One is memorised and set aside to be used again; the other takes up residence in our hearts and changes our lives. It is comfortable with imagination. Blessed John Henry Newman wrote about the kind of knowledge that excites the heart, one which ‘is commonly reached, not through reason, but through the imagination’.