Genesis 1: 26a, 27 and 31: “Then God said, ‘Let us make humankind in our image, according to our likeness;’ So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good.”
As a kid I remember living half of my life in a fantasy world. If I wasn’t on my back staring into the wild blue yonder seeing clouds morphing into unendingly fascinating scenes, I was announcing imaginary baseball games while mowing the lawn.
Somewhere along the line, I received the message, either directly or indirectly, that this was not the way to live or to survive in the “real” world. “Get real,” we tell each other, as if our imaginations are not real.
Unfortunately, our educational institutions are some of the biggest culprits in squeezing our imaginations out of us. I say this after spending 25 years teaching at the college level. During my studies, I learned how to critique everything that I saw in public, everything that I read in private, or everything that I ate with friends. I learned how to deconstruct, to tear apart, to analyze and to scrutinize. My overall attitude, like so many of my fellow students, was that nothing was ever good enough. And that uncovering and picking apart the vulnerable places in everything was the sign of a true intellectual. An intellectual who was above experiencing the emotions of joy and ecstasy or one’s imagination.
Why would anyone want to create anything and be exposed to such hostility? John O’Donohue in his book Eternal Echoes, wrote this: “When the embrace and depth of creativity are absent, analysis becomes destruction. It can break things apart, but there is nothing now to put them back together again” (p. 130).
The problem as I see it, is a lack of imagination. Imagination and creativity go hand in hand. Imagination helps us to “embrace . . . [the] depth of creativity.” Too often analysis and destruction go hand in hand, leaving one without imagination. God created us to imagine. He created us in his image. God imagined us and imaged us and we came into being. When we imagine we create. And it is very good. Using our imagination is at the very core of our being made in God’s image.
I am not against analysis and breaking things apart. What I am against, is not supplying anything “to put [the pieces] back together again,” which so often happens in the process of “education.” I earlier wrote about picking apart everything as part of being an intellectual. But this deconstruction shows up in more personal ways as well. When I went to Latin America, my naive worldview was ripped apart, and I was given nothing to put a new worldview back together. My education helped me to understand and analyse what had happened to me, but without helping me to put the pieces back together again left me hanging in the air and cynical. Another piece of my worldview that got obliterated was my Sunday school faith in God. My education helped me to understand and analyse what happened to my religious views, but without helping me to put the pieces back together again left me hanging in the air and cynical. I would think that my experience was unique if I hadn’t worked with many other young adults in my classes over the years who have experienced similar things.
It has taken me years to bring my imagination back into play again. Through my imagination, I have been able to reconnect with my God-likeness and image. I have been able to read scripture and nature through my imagination rather that through an analytical lens. I have been able to enjoy public performance of all the arts without having to tear it apart; to enjoy the God-likeness evident through the creation of others. I have been able to use my imagination to create my own “works of art,” if not on paper, in my head. This rediscovery of my boyhood imagination has enabled me to “put back together” the broken pieces that had formerly made me bitter and cynical. It has given me a healthier spirituality.
Use your imagination. Use your God image. Create rather than destroy.