Is it important to have a good imagination? Or is it, as at first glance we might be inclined to think, perhaps a little trifling, maybe something important for children but not very necessary for adults? I guess that depends on what the imagination is. I fairly recently came across a very interesting definition of the imagination while listening to an interview of Stephen Prickett discussing George MacDonald, an influential Scottish writer of fantasy (and other genres) in the Victorian period, who had a particularly profound influence on C. S. Lewis. Lewis, in fact, described his initial encounter with MacDonald’s imaginative work as a conversion or baptism of his own imagination; “It did nothing to my intellect nor (at that time) to my conscience. Their turn came far later… The quality which had enchanted me in his imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic reality in which we all live”
She is an old woman. A double amputee with age spots and flaking skin. Would she attract your attention by that description? Would you seek her out? Probably not, yet millions travel to the Venus de Milo every year, sometimes crossing the world to view her at the Louvre. It’s interesting that though she is broken we consider her a masterpiece because of her beauty and antiquity. But also because her brokenness lends an air of mystery that leads us to want to engage with her. So we stand in front of her and silently wonder.
“Baseball, it is said, is only a game. True. And the Grand Canyon is only a hole in Arizona.”
― George F. Will
The dog days of summer are just around the corner, and I’m thinking about baseball. Anyone who’s been around the game knows that it has long been considered a metaphor for life, or a metaphor for America, or a metaphor for…something. The daily grind, the peaks and valleys of success and failure: the rhythms of baseball reflect our experience.
The painting you are looking at was completed in 1860 by the 19th-century Scottish artist William Dyce. It is called “Man of Sorrows.” I think it’s an odd painting, though on the surface it does not seem that odd. Without the title we might think it is a painting of Jesus in the wilderness or perhaps in the Garden of Gethsemane. But the title tells us something different. The phrase “Man of Sorrows” comes from Isaiah 53:3 (“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.”)
Tradition has it that after Christ raised Lazarus from the dead, the revived one never laughed again. Except once, while sitting in the marketplace watching a thief steal a clay pot. He found that hilarious. “Clay, stealing clay!” Ah, the philosophical bent of those whose souls have temporarily stepped out of time and hovered above their own decomposing bodies.
Time is unruly, an elusive commodity temporarily spliced into the DNA of the universe. Whether we’re on time, out of time, or in the nick of time, we measure this invisible bafflement by simple things; the ticking of a clock, our breath, the movements of celestial bodies. Theoretical physicists like Sean Carroll offer visuals like his “arrow of time” that slices through a vast multiverse, where defining terms we recognize—causality, memory, progress, aging, metabolism—are attached to puny time’s events as they hang onto the arrow for dear life.
Yet here we are, mostly non-physicists, shuffling through the present, racking up piles of the past like old sales receipts, anxious about the future, and wasting time like crazy. So few of our recollections seem to inspire the sense that that event/obsession/outlay of energy was worth investing in, back then, when that was the now. We feel as wretched as Shakespeare’s Richard II: I wasted time, and now time doth waste me. If anything in life requires faith, it is the conviction that a worthy tapestry is somehow being woven from it all.
Think back to the night of your senior prom. You were supple and stunning in ecru muslin and pearls, he pressed a red rose into your hand, you danced to “Colour My World,” then slept within a stand of quivering aspen while sparks from your campfire wafted into open space, where Dr. Carroll’s “progress” or “causality” might or might not be relevant. Question: If sparks from a teenager’s campfire drift across the border from time into non-time territory, and no one is there to notice, is the power of young love strong enough to give the sparks causality?