Thursday, May 21, 2020

Imagination


Recently I listened to "The Habit" podcast where Jonathan Rogers talks with Leif Enger. I love Leif Enger's books -- Peace Like A River, Virgil Wander, and So Brave, Young, and Handsome. In the interview, Leif describes seeing a fox near a creek in a park he and his wife walk to (starts at 10:47). He says the creek has a muddy section where you can see tracks of different animals who come to the creek, but the fox never leaves any footprints. He says, after seeing the fox, he walks down to the muddy spot to look for fox prints and there are none. Then he imagines the fox floating to that part of the shore, just a few inches above the ground. And that delights him.

What a good story, and image, isn't it? It reminds me of a scene in his book Peace Like a River where one of the characters walks off the end of a truck bed, if I remember correctly. When I read that scene, I pictured the cartoons where someone like Wile E. Coyote would run off a cliff, first continuing to run straight in the air, then suddenly, usually with a look of surprise and desperation directly to the camera, whooshes down to the ground. But the scene in the book was much more gentle. There was no sudden fall.

Leif Enger spoke at one of the Faith & Writing Festivals I attended. I remember him talking about his process of writing Peace Like a River. He said he started the book planning to tell the story of a dad and his two sons. Then at one point in the story the family was getting into their station wagon, one of the boys opened a door, and there was a little sister. She just showed up! Enger and Rogers talked about that a bit in this interview, too. Both of them said that they write outlines and invariably the plot turns out very different from what they had planned.

This is one of the reasons I like to listen to and read about writers and their process -- the way imagination works. And imagination also is the main thing that attracted me to the Ignatian Spiritual Exercises. Ignatian contemplation is all about the imagination.

It's amazing to me that this ethereal thing, our imagination, produces, seemingly independent of our own will, new stories, characters, images, and more. Some writers' imaginations produce a whole world, even new languages the people in that world speak, like Tolkien's Elvish.

Imagine God's imagination! I can't even.

I am so glad we can tap into the gift of imagination. One way we all tap into it is we live in a world, a universe, a cosmos created by God's imagination. There is no end to what we can learn from this creation -- from the tiniest, invisible atoms and parts of atoms to the huge expanse of space, from infrared to ultraviolet and rays beyond both ends of that spectrum, the sounds we hear and the "un-hear-able" sounds below and above that range, and on and on and on.

And we tap into "our own" imagination -- in quotes because somehow our imagination is from outside us, although it's inside us. Writers tap into it, and all of us do as we read and picture what is written. In our prayers we use our imagination to connect with God. Even if we're not practicing Ignatian contemplation, where we imagine ourselves in a Biblical story or with Biblical people, even with memorized prayers like the Lord's Prayer we are using our imagination. We imagine God is listening as we ask for our daily bread, and for his kingdom to come. That's not to say God is a figment of imagination, it's that we use our imagination to picture him, and sometimes even to hear him.

Praise God for our imagination.

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