Last Sunday, I watched a toddler racing his daddy. It wasn’t, of course, much of a race. In fact, as daddy said, “ready, set, go,” to the toddler, he was busy holding his youngest in his arms.
The toddler, of course, oblivious to everything EXCEPT the fact that his daddy was racing him – playing with him – took off as fast as his feet could carry him.
Ten yards later, his daddy announced, “You win.” The toddler beamed with joy. An infectious laugh rippled through the air.
He was, no doubt, excited he had won this race. Yet, I have a hunch that the joyful laugh and ear-to-ear grin beamed from the fact that his daddy was playing with him. Though busy caring for another child and trying to accomplish other things, his daddy took time to play with him.
I imagine our heavenly father in much the same way! Though caring for his other children, always willing and able – even desiring – to spend time with me.
I imagine that God is like a playful Father. A father who is filled with delight and who enjoys saying, “ready, set, go,” celebrating with me as I cross the finish line.
Perhaps most of us have difficulty imagining our Father as a busy yet attentive, playful, and loving father who desires to spend time with his children.
Yet, as I read the Scriptures, this is exactly the Father I see.
I hope to assist others in seeing – imagining – our Father in this way. That’s why I am going to begin a summer experience called Cultivating a Sacramental Imagination.
I intend to lean on imaginative writings to help me. Primarily (though not exclusively) the writings of C.S. Lewis. Before I spend too much time in this post on the “how,” let me consider the “why.”
I will consider the why by answering three questions:
- Why cultivation?
- What is so important about imagination? Why not focus on reason, theory, world-view-thinking, or logic?
- Why a sacramental imagination?
I grew up helping my father tend his garden. In my childhood memory, dad’s garden was enormous. Truthfully, it was probably a little less than an acre. Every spring, I recall dad tilling and fertilizing the soil. He had a small walk-behind plow that he used to begin his yearly labor of love.
This process was vital. The land became weary and hardened from the long winter months. In order to soften the land and prepare it to receive the seeds yet to come, Dad needed to run his plow.
Work like this is difficult but necessary! Months later, the rewards were worth all the effort. In our case, the fruit of a sacramental imagination is going to require significant preparatory work. That’s why I am calling this an effort of cultivation. My hope is simply to prepare the ground to receive the seedlings in a way that they will grow into full bloom.
C.S. Lewis stated it well when he said, “While reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning.”
Mike Metzger of Clapham Institute further notes that Lewis “wrote fantasy literature, basing it on the belief that reason and imagination have distinct roles: reason has to do with gauging truths; imagination has to do with the very conditions of truth. Imagination prepares the mind to receive truth as meaning-full, explaining why, according to Lewis, imagination precedes reason.”
Metzger’s commentary helps contextualize the quote. He helps us see that Lewis isn’t diminishing the role of reason as much as he is properly aligning reason with imagination.
In the modern world, particularly in the church, imagination is viewed with suspicion. Sadly, such suspicion has lead to an anemic faith.
Metzger, quoted above, further reminds us that “While reason is important, imagination is fundamental.” That’s why we will focus on cultivating the imagination this summer.
Lewis was a member of an informal literary group known as The Inklings. The other three members were J.R.R. Tolkien, Charles Williams, and Owen Barfield. Together, they have produced some of the most widely read imagination literature available today.
I hope that the church can be the birthplace of a new generation of authors who help us experience the faith through our imagination.
Sacramental may be the most confusing – even alarming – word in this trio, especially within the Protestant wing of the church. To view the world sacramentally is in my mind, to become aware of and responsive to the presence of God within and among us. To view the world this way is to see it as God sees it.
A sacramental view of the world sees the world rightly. Cultivating a sacramental imagination will provide the framework from which we can order our thought life! A sacramental view of the world is – in its essence – a thoroughly biblical worldview. Cultivating a sacramental imagination is also a far more comprehensive methodology than merely developing a biblical worldview.
In his book, For the Life of the World, Alexander Schmemann illustrates the power of a sacramental imagination when he writes, “All that exists is God’s gift to man, and it all exists to make God known to man, to make man’s life communion with God. It is divine love made food, made life for man. God blesses everything He creates, and in biblical language, this means that He makes all creation the sign and means of His presence and wisdom, love and revelation: ‘O taste and see that the Lord is good.‘”
The Methodology Behind the Madness
Finally, how will we attempt to cultivate a sacramental imagination?
We will begin by reading some imaginative literature. Our first book will be C.S. Lewis’s The Great Divorce. This particular work is a gripping and accessible tale of a group of travelers heading for a Valley, the entrance to eternity.
During our weekly gathering, participants will interact with the material. We will explore questions, discoveries, concerns, confusion, etc.
As we dive deeper into The Great Divorce, we will begin to explore biblical passages Lewis might be drawing from as well as begin an exploration of Genesis 1 – 11, a highly and beautifully imaginative portion of Scripture.
Finally, I will offer a host of extra reading materials for the most dedicated among us. These materials will be a combination of books and essays related to Cultivating a Sacramental Imagination.
I am thankful to shepherd a community of faith like Pillar Community Church. One that not only allows for gatherings such as this, but actually longs for opportunities to explore the rich heritage of our faith and mine the depths of biblical images, words, and pictures as we – together seek to – grow into the fullness of Christ!
Grace and peace,