“We will sense you
like a fragrance from a nearby garden
and watch you move through our days
like a shaft of sunlight in a sickroom.”
-Rainer Maria Rilke
Christ came to bring abundant life (John 10:10). What does that mean imaginatively? The abundant life is the imaginatively captivated life, the full life, the good life. The captivated life is the Godward life where God is the fixed point of the healthy imaginative vision. Meister Eckhart (c. 1260-1328) made this claim quite clear when he wrote, “What one grows to know and come to love and remember, his soul follows after…If the soul were to know the goodness of God, as it is and without interruption, it would never turn away…” (Sermon on the Eternal Birth). When we fix our spiritual vision, our imagination, on God then we see everything around us with new eyes. Everything is subsequently colored by the radiance of God. This kind of sight improves with practice and for this reason we can call it the sanctified imagination.
Meister Eckhart wrote, when you have your focus on the true abundant life, “everything stands for God and you see only God in all the world. It is just as when one looks straight at the sun for awhile: afterward, everything he looks at has the image of the sun in it. If this is lacking, if you are not looking for God and expecting him everywhere, and in everything, you lack the birth” (Sermon on the Eternal Birth).
The birth of which Eckhart speaks is the spiritual rebirth found by reclaiming the imagination: the ability to see what is not literally before the eyes. When we have new birth and new eyes, then our energies are spent pursuing more of that light found only in God. Shall we slip the bonds of selfish preoccupation? Can we actually jettison our self-induced life-ruptures and look for the light with new eyes? The answer is yes. How is it possible for us to leave the old ruptures and press toward the new birth since we are estranged from God? Christ’s parable of the prodigal son reflects not only the fracture and estrangement that characterize our lives, but also the fact that God has bridged the divide between our mortality and His divinity. He is our Life and he calls to us with the vigor of both a father and a hunter. He desires imaginations captivated by him and so he entered his creation to ensure that captivation.
Augustine says it well: “But our very life came down to earth and bore our death, and slew it with the very abundance of his own life. And, thundering, he called us to return to him into that secret place from which he came for us…For he did not delay, but ran through the world, crying out by word, deeds, death, life, descent, ascension—crying aloud to us to return to him. And he departed from our sight that we might return to our hearts and find him there. For he left us, and behold, he is here” (Confessions, Book Four, chapter 13).
Because he bridged the divide first, we are able to cross it. Although all the faculties of the mind aid us in this crossing, the imagination is the means by which we finally come face to face and see eye to eye with our maker. We are not home yet, but our pilgrim journey leads us toward that destination. Healthy imaginative eyes give us the ability to see the entire world, in all its complexity and pain and joy, as it really is: charged with the fingerprint of God.
If we see ourselves with imaginative eyes, then we see purpose-ridden characters in a master story. If we see others with imaginative eyes, then we see bright eternal souls bursting with the image of God. If we see creation with imaginative eyes, then we see as the poets have seen: a world charged with the grandeur of God. His face presses in upon his creation and we need the imagination to see the indentation. Let’s use the imagination to trace his shape and to journey toward him.