on the imagination

[Czeslaw Milosz, the Noble-prize-winning poet] sees the imagination – and especially the religious imagination, which is the developed capacity to be in reverence before whatever confronts us – as the shaping force of the world we really live in. ‘Imagination,’ he said, ‘can fashion the world into a homeland as well as into a prison or a place of battle. It is the invisibles that determine how you will view the world, whether as a homeland or as a prison or place of battle. Nobody lives in the ‘objective’ world, only in a world filtered through the imagination.’

A major and too-little-remarked evil in our time is the systematic degredation of the imagination. The imagination is among the chief glories of the human. When it is healthy and energetic, it ushers us into adoration and wonder, into the mysteries of God. When it is neurotic and sluggish, it turns people, millions of them, into parasites, copycats, and couch potatoes. The American imagination today is distressingly sluggish. Most of what is served up to us as the fruits of imagination is, in fact, the debasing of it into soap opera and pornography.

Right now, one of the essential Christian ministries in and to our ruined world is the recovery and exercise of the imagination. Ages of faith have always been ages rich in imagination. It is easy to see why: the materiality of the gospel (the seen, heard, and touched Jesus) is no less impressive than its spirituality (faith, hope, and love). Imagination is the mental tool we have for connecting material and spiritual, visible and invisible, earth and heaven.

– Eugene Peterson in Under the Unpredictable Plant: Explorations in Vocational Holiness

on “regular life”

My heart and head have been riveted by this quote from Rowan Williams, taken from my reading of Eugene Peterson’s Under the Unpredictable Plant for my course on Christian ministry this semester. (I’ve replaced “pastor” with “Christian” in my reading.)

What is useless and destructive is to imagine that enlightenment of virtue can be found in seeking for fresh stimulation. The [Christian] life is a refusal of any view that will make human maturity before God dependent on external stimulus, ‘good thoughts,’ good impressions, edifying influences and ideas. Instead, the [Christian] must learn to live with his or her own darkness, with the interior horror or temptation and fantasy. Salvation affects the whole of the psyche; to try to escape boredom, sexual frustration, restlessness, unsatisfied desires by searching for fresh tasks and fresh ideas is to attempt to seal off these areas from grace. Without the humiliating and wholly ‘unspiritual’ experiences of [regular life] – the limited routine of trivial tasks, the sheer tedium and loneliness – there would be no way of confronting much of human nature. It is a discipline to destroy illusions. The [Christian must commit to regular life] to escape the illusory […] identity proposed by the world; he and she now have to see the roots of illusion within, in the longing to be dramatically and satisfyingly in control of life, the old familiar imperialism of the self bolstered by the intellect.