The sanctified imagination will serve us well along this pilgrim way because it will see correspondences—in nature and everywhere else. It will pay attention to a world—a universe—pregnant with metaphors, each of which is a bread crumb, a pointer further up and further in. As Eudora Welty wrote, “connections slowly emerge. Like distant landmarks you are approaching, cause and effect begin to align themselves, draw closer together…And suddenly a light is thrown back, as when your train makes a curve, showing that there has been a mountain of meaning rising behind you on the way you’ve come, is rising there still, proven now through retrospect” (One Writer’s Beginnings).
The imagination of the world is pocked, palsied, and bent double by the weight of personal pleasure and misdirected pursuits. It cannot see the connections because connections require more than one thing and there is room for only thing in the unsanctified imagination: the self. What if my stodgy pedestrian imagination discarded the self and was given free reign to gallop after God, to see the world as he sees it?
Here’s a thought experiment: the self loves a system built to satisfy a myriad of desires and there is no doubt that such a system must be highly complex and readily flexible. What if we shed the complexity for a life more simple? Would our imaginations have room to breath and, therefore, less distraction from the face of God? I have a propensity to allow the complexities of life to dictate the story my imagination perceives. Instead of seeing as God sees, instead of seeing a story colored by the transcendent spiritual freedom found in pursuing God, I am habitually bound by the difficulties inherent in a system of self-satisfaction. This system has made life more difficult, not easier, and I seem intent on maintaining that system. The poem “The Fascination of What’s Difficult” echoes this propensity:
The fascination of what’s difficult
Has dried the sap out of my veins, and rent
Spontaneous joy and natural content
Out of my heart. There’s something ails our colt
That must, as if it had not holy blood
Nor on Olympus leaped from cloud to cloud,
Shiver under the lash, strain, sweat and jolt
As though it dragged road-metal. My curse on plays
That have to be set up in fifty ways,
On the day’s war with every knave and dolt,
Theater business, management of men.
I swear before the dawn comes round again
I’ll find the stable and pull out the bolt.
–William Butler Yeats
Our imaginations have stayed too long in the stall of empty, self pleasure and misdirected pursuits.
Maybe its time to imagine like children again, to be captivated by the glory of God.
Maybe it’s time to slip the bolt.
My three-year-old, Sammi, is named after my dad. They are alike in many ways: both of them are animated and engaged with people, both of them are enchanted by the world.
Sammi runs through the wild grasses on an August evening, with her dress slapping against her small legs. She bounces, goat-like, when she runs.
“Daddy! Daddy! The snow turned pink!”
“What snow, honey?”
She spreads her arms and raises them toward the heavens as if to hold the wonder of the world in her embrace. I follow her eyes to see the piled clouds touched by the sun’s setting finger: salmon and rose hues set against azure deeps. My daughter smiles, knowing she has someone with whom to share her ecstasy.
“Imagine that!” I cry out. “It has turned pink. How spectacular!”
This is the sanctified imagination, the simple imagination, for which I long.