Human imagination is the space where faith is either starved or nourished. The American poet Emily Dickinson expressed it with typical concision: ‘The possible’s slow fuse is lit by imagination’. In colder words imagination is our faculty of possibility, and if God is the greatest of possibilities, the light of faith needs to explode…not in our minds but in our imaginations. Michael Paul Gallagher, Into Extra Time
Each day offers us a new opportunity, a new poem.
I confess I’ve been enjoying hearing friends talk about what went well for them. So many people are getting a taste of the way we live embraced by rich silence. God gave everyone a long Advent, a time to strip down and see things more as they really are. For those enclosed with family, lots to learn there too. Seeing our own flaws spelled out in our impatience with others. We are mirrored by the others for better or worse.
I wonder whether those who got more alone time picked up some of the pearls of solitude. Less distraction from the superfluousness of the culture. A growing taste for silence. Long walks, the beauty of nature, awareness of the present moment, the value of emptying the mind, and of paying attention. Finding creativity and communion. Welcoming and entering into the darkness of this season with a deeper longing for a more abundant life.
How do we become mature enough to seek the answers to life’s deepest questions? The philosopher Jacob Needleman says we need openness and vulnerability, consciousness– feeling, presence, focussed attention. And we need to desire to broach the boundaries of the inner world. We need a single eye, a taste for the right things.
Needleman perceptively claims: “Your only freedom consists in where to place your attention, how much of it to give in the moment to the outer world and how much, in the same moment, to the inner world. Remember the outer world… is also your reactions of likes and dislikes, and your thoughts, and your sensations, such as pain and tension, which channel energy outward. (Lost Christianity, p. 206) You can simply get swamped by all the sensations of the outer world and never even grow curious about the inner world.
“If your eye is single your whole body will be full of light” Mt. 6:22. Another translation. “The eye is the lamp of the body. So if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness.” NRSV “What is this single eye of which the Master speaks? asks Elizabeth of the Trinity, “but this ‘simplicity of intention’ which gathers into unity all the scattered forces of the soul and unites the spirit itself to God.” One way of collecting all our concerns into one is by naming them and lifting them into the fire of our prayer—be it a cry for deliverance, or of wonder, of gratitude or of longing.
To what do I pay most attention in my own free time? Am I cultivating a single eye? What deserves my attention most? Am I thoroughly engaged? We notice that as we become more discriminating, our tastes change, we have less patience for the superficial and that’s good! In fact, developing a wise filter might be our best asset as we move around the internet.
So much about this season has to do with being more personally responsible– for my soul and its attentions, for my family and what directions I am taking, for my civic community. From the Pope on down so many have taken time to plan out new strategies for meeting the challenge of engaging in the best way possible with the world of our time.
“We should not,” Pope Francis says, suggesting a way to uplift the culture, “expect everything from those who govern us, for that would be childish. We have the space we need for co-responsibility in creating and putting into place new processes and changes. Let us take an active part in renewing and supporting our troubled societies…We need only have a pure and simple desire to be a people, a community, constant and tireless in the effort to include, integrate and lift up the fallen. We may often find ourselves succumbing to the mentality of the violent, the blindly ambitious, those who spread mistrust and lies. …For our part, let us foster what is good and place ourselves at its service…Let us seek out others and embrace the world as it is, without fear of pain or a sense of inadequacy, because there we will discover all the goodness that God has planted in human hearts. Difficulties that seem overwhelming are opportunities for growth, not excuses for a glum resignation that can lead only to acquiescence.” Fratelli Tutti, #77, 78.
Perhaps this long season of deprivation has opened up a new quality of hope as we realize that each day and each moment is new and how it turns out has a lot to do with how I imagine. Notice how the tears of things breaks up the ground for new seed to grow. Without the waiting, the fasting, the doing without, we can’t really appreciate the gift. The gift that is supernatural, more than merely natural. Michael Paul Gallagher believed that the light of faith needs to explode in our imagination. Imagination points beyond itself to embrace a sense of wonder. It can dive deep to penetrate the veil that separates the visible from the invisible leading to a vision of what we can’t see but which is real, and mysteriously present.
“In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people…The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world” John 1:1-4,9.
“Then He called the archangel Gabriel
And sent him to the virgin Mary,
At whose consent the mystery was wrought,
In whom the Trinity clothed the Word with flesh…
From her own flesh He received his flesh,
So He is called Son of God and of man.”
John of the Cross, Romances, 8.