Whatʼs at stake in your art? How important is your imagination? Whatʼs on the line when you put paint to canvas or put pen to paper? When you pick up an instrument or project images on a screen or engage in whatever other creative discipline you use to bring your imagination to life, whatʼs at stake?
How important is the work of imagination, really? What are the consequences of quitting? If you lay down your pen or guitar and walk away, paper blank, are those consequences simply personal or are others affected as well?
Does it really matter?
Over the past number of years Iʼve experienced something of a personal awakening around the critical importance of what Iʼll call imagination work and those who do it, imaginators. Iʼve come to believe that this work is as much a part of Kingdom labour as praying for the sick or feeding the poor.
What we believe about the importance of our work as imaginators has a significant influence on the quantity, quality and direction of our work.
What kind of work will we do and how hard will we contend for it if we believe that our work can deeply influence culture, extend the Kingdom and broaden our knowledge of God? What if thereʼs even more on the line? What happens to our work ethic if the work weʼre called to produce could actually mean life or death for somebody?
Several years ago I had the opportunity to spend a couple of weeks in India. During that trip I took part in an event that affected me profoundly. It shook my underlying assumptions about the work we do as imaginators and helped me get my head in the game.
Imagine hundreds of people gathered for an outdoor worship celebration on an undeveloped, garbage-strewn lot in the heart of Vizag, a city largely populated by Hindus and Muslims. A local worship band fronted by a young worship leader/songwriter led the event. Most of the songs they sang that night were original songs heʼd written, and we all sang and played our hearts out. We had a great time worshiping God and proclaiming Christ as King in Telugu (the predominant regional language). We returned back to our hotel that night satisfied that cool Kingdom stuff had taken place, but to be honest it didnʼt feel much different from the "post-event glow" so common in the aftermath of a particularly sweet worship gathering.
However, the next morning a text arrived to the main organizer of the event and everything changed for me. It was from a young woman who lived across the street from the lot weʼd been in the night before. She told the story of her plan the day before to take her own life. She had lost the will to live. Sheʼd become stuck in the inability to imagine a life worth staying around for.
As she was preparing her suicide, she described how earnest, God-filled music drifted into her apartment and pulled her ears. Drawn by this music, something happened as she listened. Captured, her imagination came to life again and she, in her own words, "found a reason to keep on living".
Hereʼs what I believe. Imagination matters. It matters more than most of us are prepared to it give credit for. A kind of miracle took place that night. The hopeful, God- full imaginations of those artists broke into the empty, destroyed imagination of that young woman and saved her life. What could matter more?
Honest imaginators are always contending for something. Something that perhaps others canʼt or wonʼt see on their own. Thatʼs what I think made the difference for that nameless girl whoʼs life was saved. Her despair was rooted in the loss of the thread of her own story. She could no longer recognize the wonder of God in her life, she could no longer make out the plot. It is tragic to look into the eyes of another human being and see that they have lost the sense of who they are meant to be. Thatʼs what those worship musicians gave back to her that night. Completely unaware they were doing it, they gave her back the plot of her own life.
The human soul is fuelled by love but that love is contained by the capacity to hope. I believe that she re-encountered the intentionality of Godʼs dreams for her life that night. As those musicians played, the dreams of God crept into her imagination. Think of the language she used "Listening... I found a reason to live". She got her love-container back.
We workers of imagination have important work to do indeed.
Imagining our way into the life we are meant for is the critical work of imagination. This, of course, is in direct conflict with the all-too-prevalent culture of imagination that attempts to seduce us out the life we have and into some escapist fantasy. Our imagination was never intended to be an escape but an invitation.
Imagination is our primary tool for seeing past the surface of things. Itʼs how we uncover dormant gifts and passions. Itʼs how we problem solve hopeless or impossible situations. It is how we recognize the holy in the profane and the wonder in the mundane. In effect, it is precisely a way INTO a situation rather than an escape FROM one.
Imagination matters. In its rightful place, imagination perceives what isnʼt yet as though it is and gives shape to possibility. It is, therefore, a deep Kingdom mandate. Itʼs Holy Spirit territory.The God-full Imagination
Imaginative work begets imagination. Creative workers tend the fire of Godʼs intentions in the imaginations of their listeners, viewers and readers. They can provide us a glimpse the world as God sees it.
The God-full imagination is an inexhaustible ocean of pure intention. Godʼs intentions are always beautiful, always good, never inescapably lost or irredeemable. The God-full imagination is permanently lodged in the present, not trapped in the past or locked in the future. Dulled or broken imaginations that lose access to those intentions become small, diminished. A gospel that fails to fire oneʼs imagination to life is no gospel at all. The God-full imagination re-imagines and restores that gospel into something expansive and breathtaking.
The God-full imagination is the antidote to fear. Because it always imagines what ought to be, and assumes that what ought to be will be, there is little room for fear. How could we be crippled by the fear of what might happen when weʼre compelled by the anticipation of what will be?
The God-full imagination leads us out into the great unknown. No matter how refined our understanding, no matter the scale of our knowledge, whether of science, philosophy, art or even of God Himself, the God-full imagination is constantly stretching the tent pegs.
In other words, the God-full imagination changes EVERYTHING.
In an interview for "
", Eugene Peterson (author of "The Message") says that he wishes the Church would ordain writers the way it ordains pastors. In a world filled with LOLs and BFFs, 140 character-sized news feeds and emoticons, that sentiment resonates more and more deeply, not just for writers, but for all those who labour in the work of imagination.
How might it look for us to recognize and cultivate our many storytellers, pouring out purpose, releasing calling, development, and resources into their lives and their work? What happens when film makers and painters and musicians and authors and physicists and inventors and graphic designers and web developers find themselves supported, commissioned, prayed for and embraced by the family of God? Letʼs find out.