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Filtering by Tag: imagination


William Coleman

27 Dragonfly

One autumn in the seventeenth century, the haiku master Basho was walking near a pond with a student. Observing dragonflies in the tall grass, the young man was seized by the surge of perception, composed a poem, and eagerly recited it to his master:

Red dragonflies! Take off their wings, and they are pepper pods!

Basho was not pleased. He shook his head. (Some accounts even have the man who made “Deep autumn— / my neighbor, / how does he live, I wonder?” flare with indignation.)

There is nothing of haiku in that, he said. To make haiku, you must say instead,

Red pepper pods! Add wings to them, and they are dragonflies!

Descent and ascension; destruction and the elevation of life. The samurai wear the dragonfly on their swords and arrows in hopes their weapons’ flight will be as swift as the insects that rose to the mind of the land’s first divine emperor, Jimmu Tenno, when he reached a mountain’s summit: “The shape of my country is like two dragonflies mating,” he said in one version of the story that gave Japan its ancient name, Akitsu-shimu—Dragonfly Island. Twice in the thirteenth century, it is said, dragonflies were heralds of divine victory, arriving just before the kamikazes that wrecked the Mongols’ fleets. On the evening of the summer feast for the dead, souls ride the dragonflies’ backs, returning to their beloveds. Each of its four gauzy wings has a life of its own: a mature dragonfly can hover for a full minute, dart in six directions, and then skim the tips of vegetation at a rate of one-hundred body lengths per second. Its vision is panoramic; its eyes comprise 30,000 lenses.

And for all this, they enter our sight when their lives are nearly spent. For years, they struggle beneath the water’s surface. One in ten survives to climb a shaft of grass at dawn and cling for half a day, waiting for wings.

Art is a measure of compassion. How often I have been that student—seduced by my own eyes, in love with perceptions because they’re mine, indifferent to life beyond the flush of pride that comes of my imagining. How often I’ve clipped the wings of the present moment.

“You must leave your subjective preoccupation with yourself,” says Basho. “Learn about pines from the pine. Learn about bamboo from bamboo.”

Cruelty, I see now, is a failure of imagination.

The Battle in Public and Heavenly Places

Ross Gale

History-Mythology-Oil-Painting-0034 Matthew Fox tells the story in his book Creativity, about a group of fundamentalists who became the majority on a New Hampshire county school board. Their first decree was to not allow the use of the word "imagination" in the classroom. When Mr. Fox inquired what they were afraid of they said, "Satan. Satan lives in the imagination."

I assume much of this spiritual sentiment comes from poor interpretation of verses like Ephesians 6:12, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places."

Ephesians 6:12 aside, what a strange ethereal battle to fight within a school: invisible forces and the thoughts of others. It’s difficult enough fighting battles against enemies we can see, how much more against ones we cannot. Who is to gauge whether we’re winning or not? When is the battle over?

Ephesians 6:12 places this ongoing battle in the heavenly places, epouraniois. A curious word Paul creates out of his imagination just for the purpose of this letter. It’s a place above the sky, a place where Christ sits, but also a place with enemies. Satan is in epouraniois.

The late painter Thomas Kinkade called himself the Painter of Light and preferred to portray the world without the fall, without evil or the possibility of Satan. In speaking of a mural he painted for the Billy Graham Library, he said painting it was "a moment of divine inspiration" and that the painting offers viewers "a glimpse of a heavenly realm."

Should we be creating canvasses full of light without a hint of darkness? Can violence and evil have a purpose in our art, in our imaginations?

As Gregory Wolfe comments about Kinkade's art: “If faith teaches us anything, it should be that our nostalgia is for an ideal we can only find after accepting, and passing through, the brokenness of a fallen world. Any other approach, in art or in life, is a form of denial."

If evil is here to stay, in our high places, in our low places, in our heavenly places, and if imagination is to play a vital role in schools and in our lives, then our fight isn’t against the power of these places — whether heavenly or imaginative — our fight is for unqualified truth. In that truth we begin to see the invisible. Only then do we know what we’re up against.

What is the imagination?

Justin Ryals


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” (George MacDonald: An Anthology, xxxviii). So here we already see the great, potentially even transformative, power of one imagination upon another. It altered the way Lewis saw the world and the realm of the possible. And it’s perhaps telling that his imaginative transformation was more basic for him than other aspects of his nature; it set the groundwork for the rest of him to follow. It was Lewis, I believe, who first made me step back and consider what imagination is, before which I, perhaps naively, conceived of it (based upon the root word) simply as the power of the mind to contain and produce images. But Lewis, in the weirdly titled essay “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” intriguingly referred to the imagination as “the organ of meaning,” whereas reason is the “organ of truth,” the former being the more basic. These points certainly present the imagination as something far beyond a trifling affair, and rather something that is at the very heart of the human person.

Similarly, I came across a description of the imagination in an essay by David Bentley Hart (for my money perhaps one of the most insightful minds currently writing) titled “The Pornography Culture,” in which he speaks of the central importance of the imagination, and by implication the need to guard it from depraving influences. There he writes (reminiscent of Pr 4:23), “the imagination is, after all, the wellspring of desire, of personality, of character.” Here, again, we have the imagination described as of profound central importance to the human person, such that how one’s imagination is formed will determine the possible range of meaning that one can perceive, and the possible ways in which one may view the world.

On yet another note, also striking is Mary Midgley’s statement, “Facts will never appear to us as brute and meaningless; they will always organize themselves into some sort of story, some drama,” pointing to the inevitably “storied” nature of the way we see the world (Evolution as Religion, 4). The form which that story takes will naturally depend on the character of our imagination.

Similar to these perspectives, I think, is the one Prickett recounts of George MacDonald’s view (via Samuel Coleridge) of the imagination. As he explains,

It was [conceived of as] a great integrating faculty that brought all our sense impressions, all our thoughts, all our understanding, together into a single package. And of course each of us has a different imagination because each of us has been through different experiences. I once went for a walk in a very beautiful part of the country with a friend of mine who is an expert on birdsong, and he said, “How many birds can you hear?” And I listened and I very boldly said, “Five or six.” And he said, “I can hear forty.” He had a trained ear, and that was, if you like, the difference between our imaginations at that stage. He could form and integrate what was coming into him into a far more profound pattern of sound than I could.

Here imagination is the central, integrating faculty of the whole person, involved in a dynamic relationship with the world, ever expanding as it interacts with reality (that is, ultimately, God); or, no doubt, diminishing as it entertains false reality. These accounts approach the nature of the imagination from different angles--seemingly not irreconcilably so--but in every case the imagination is something connected to the deepest part of ourselves, forming the range of possibility of what we can and cannot see of reality. One is reminded of Goethe’s commonly quoted line, “Few people have the imagination for reality.” It perhaps informs the fabric or framework of our whole inner world, through which we interpret everything else, having to do with “the power that underlies thoughts,” as MacDonald said in The Fantastic Imagination. Do we give enough attendance to these truths? Do we seek ways in which to enrich or even “baptize” our imaginations, thereby renewing our minds and our vision of the “divine, magical, terrifying, and ecstatic reality in which we all live”? Indeed, how might we do that? If Lewis is a guide, encountering those with rich and profound imaginations embodying deep (perhaps even pre-cognitive) truths is one way. In any case, these, I think, are questions worthy of reflection.