In my experience, imagination is one portal into the spiritual journey. As a child, the idea of Jesus captured my imagination, and I held onto that idea as I slogged my way through fundamentalist confirmation classes. When I had been confirmed and had the time and the inclination to question what I had been taught, I realized that those narrow beliefs (add your own adjective) did not jive with the Jesus who had captured my imagination.
And I will say, also, that my inclination to question has not ended – it is as alive as it ever has been!
A few years later, I was lonely. I often pray for the lonely, because I have known loneliness, a deep, tearing loneliness. Alone in my small apartment, I spent many evenings turning the pages of my address book to find a friend to call. I wanted someone to relieve my loneliness, but that loneliness still tore at me. I soon discovered that a friend could not relieve that loneliness. Now, I see that even my loneliness has become a gift.
During those times, I began to search, and I looked to the Bible – since that was my own tradition – as a place to search. I read, again and again, the words of the Sermon on the Mount. We don’t know what words Jesus really spoke as he taught the crowds who were following him, in the story. We don’t know for sure whether he spoke those words at all. We are not even certain that anything written about Jesus is true or ever happened. We do know it’s a darn good story, and stories – including our own – have power, simply by being stories. There is more power in the story than in its historical fact, or not.
As I read those words, those blessings, again and again, Jesus re-captured my imagination. Now, he was there, with me, present with me. Jesus was there, present to my loneliness. I didn’t see him in the room with me, but I knew his presence, the beginning of a long walk with Jesus. This is not the Jesus who judges those who do not follow, no, this is the Jesus who loves, loves simply and completely. I knew that as a child, I know it now.
What has captured your imagination, what has lived just outside the limits of your conscious awareness? What lives, now?
A few months ago, I re-connected with a a friend who knew me in the years that followed. She reminded that I had spoken to her often about “jogging with Jesus.” The one who captured my imagination was with me, in the most ordinary moments of my life.
Maybe you are imagining a life different from the one you have. Maybe you are lonely, and your imagination takes you over long paths that magically bring an end to your loneliness. And when you take those long paths, you find out, again and again, that you are still lonely. Maybe your imagination cannot conjure up what life, what different life, you’d like to have. All you know is this: you are lonely. You are here. You don’t want to be here, but if not here, then where – and when?
A dear friend of mine told me that she married her high school sweetheart when they were both 20. Within a few years, they had a home together, and life was unfolding as it was meant to unfold. As it was meant to unfold, except for the days my friend spent in her kitchen, tears running down her face, something in her knowing that this was not the life she was meant to live. Something else was capturing her imagination, although she couldn’t name it, wouldn’t name it until years later. She did not know it until she lived it.
What captures your imagination, now, here, at this moment? What flickers on the edge of your awareness, what lights up deep inside you? Who – or what – fascinates you? Who comes to you, not with answers, but with complete acceptance of your questions? Who? What? What comes to you, not with answers, but with complete acceptance of your questions?
“Whoever you are, no matter how lonely, the world offers itself to your imagination, calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting – ” – Mary Oliver, “Wild Geese”
How interesting, that loneliness and imagination should so often walk together.
I can say this now: it is good that I had my loneliness. I call it mine; it was/is mine, mine to be named, mine to be felt, mine to be feared – and mine to be known, even to be loved. It is good that I had – and have -my loneliness. My loneliness allowed me to fall into the truth of who I was, of what life I had, and my loneliness allowed me to imagine, to imagine someone or something that could carry me out of that loneliness, even if I wasn’t sure where I was being led.
I still think that something that Jesus said may be exactly what the world needs. I still think that other prophets who spoke to peace, who speak to peace, are what is needed. What they say sounds so simple, too simple. Who are the prophets now, while wars rage, while refugees walk in search of a safe place, while children are dying, without food, in our cities and in far-off places? Who is speaking truth, simple, profound truth, now?
That which speaks to peace spoke also, to my loneliness, and to my imagination. It speaks to yours, also.
I still long for a just world, for all people – a safe place to live, food, for everyone, not a world where justice means getting what we want, but in the old, old, old sense, the dream of enough, for all. The possibility that there is enough captures my imagination, although everything else shouts that there is not enough to go around. Still, that possibility captures my imagination.