Monday, September 24, 2012

Imagining God

One of my favorite things to do in life is to watch and listen to my four year old daughter, Haley, play.  Haley can spend hours enacting dialogue with her stuffed animals, rubber duckies, or whatever toy she is working with at the time.  The dialogue usually goes something like this, "You're a very nice little kitty," "Oh, thank you Mr. Dog, I like you too," "Do you want to go out and play Mr Dog?"  "No, I think I will stay inside here where it's warm,"  "Oh, ok, I'll stay with you..." "Ok, let's stay together," and so on and so on.  What is fascinating to me is the thin line that is created, in Haley's mind, during these imaginary conversations, between reality and fiction.  Haley actually believes there is some dynamic of life in her stuffed animals, above and beyond their cotton filling and fabric shapes.  The actual act of play brings animation to objects which were once only soft pillowy toys.

One of the most important Christian writers of the past 100 years is C.S. Lewis.  Lewis, a one time agnostic on all things religious, would become one of the greatest apologists of his time, writing some of the most significant defenses of the Christian faith; "Mere Christianity", "The Great Divorce," "Surprised by Joy," and "Screwtape Letters," - to name a few.  However, Lewis' greatest and most impressionable contribution to the faith is in his fictional children's stories, "The Narnia Tales."  These symbolic tableau's which include characters like Aslan the lion, Tumnus the fawn, Ent trees and Centaurs (half men, half horses), are a tapestry of imagination.  When once asked what the deeper meaning of these metaphorical sojourns was, Lewis said, "They're just stories, pure and simple."  But Lewis knew what he was doing.  Lewis knew that a very important key to our faith, and certainly from our development at an early age, is the process of:

Imagining God

Essential to our faith is the ability to, as Lewis might say, "close our eyes, and think about a time and a place, a land which is just within grasp of our own, and yet, millions of miles away.  To paint pictures with our thoughts about snowy winters, and white witches and lamp posts on the edges of wooded areas, and castles called Cair Paravel, and deserts like Turkish delight."  Lewis knew that children have a profound ability to suspend reality, and therefore contemplate new realities, through the medium of imagination.  That children have the ability to begin:

Imagining God

Now, right off the bat I must clarify what I am saying here.  When I say that we must "Imagine God," I do not mean that God does not exist in a very real and concrete way.  God does, to be sure.  God is not an imagined being, but a real one.  God exists in the here and now, and the way back then, and the eternal future.  However, the process of thinking about a reality that exists beyond our reality, a heaven that is above our hearts, a kingdom that is beyond our grasp - and yet exists in actuality, is an essential dynamic of a person's faith journey.

Jesus himself tapped into this human ability to imagine heaven, the kingdom of God, through many of his stories and parables.  Some of my favorite imaginations of Jesus are; "The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed."  When Jesus said that the kingdom was LIKE a mustard seed, he wasn't using a literal comparison, but an imaginary one.  He was literally asking his audience, and us, to close our eyes, and to think about a kingdom that is LIKE a seed.  Another image of the kingdom was a coin.  Jesus said, "the kingdom of God is like a little coin that a woman lost, and spent all day, cleaning the house so she could find it."  Again, Jesus is asking his audience, and us, to imagine a place or a state of reality that is LIKE a woman looking for a coin.

Imagining God

Jesus also knew that for some strange reason, as people grow older, they begin to lose their ability to imagine, and therefore sometimes lose their ability to BELIEVE in a reality that is above and beyond the reality of our own time and place.  This is why Jesus said, "to such as these (children) is the kingdom of heaven."

So, have you imagined God today?  What does He look like?  What wooded ravine, covered with snow and lampposts is He waiting for you to meet with him in the middle of?

All For Now,


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