In college, my advisor called me “Jim” instead of “Tim.” He was an ancient curmudgeon, but looking back I really think he was trying to get me off his roster. I’ve not always been able to take a hint. We did share the same aversion to dewy-eyed sentimentality though. He called it “slop-silly-slop” and enjoyed me lampooning “Precious Moments” figurines (“You know what else is made of porcelain, and gushes?”). Now fatherhood has turned me into a sentimental fool, but I’ve held onto one lesson from days with my old professor: rather than stirring the imagination, bad art merely provides a place-holder for it.
Imagination has an important role, bringing us closer to reality. Imagination designs bridges, dreams-up iPads, and drafts treaties. Imagination, not just research, helps us discover cures for disease. C.S. Lewis wrote,
Reason is the natural organ of truth; but imagination is the organ of meaning.”
When it comes to how imagination boosts faith, I’m a bit more cautious. Imagination serves a key role in bringing us closer to ultimate reality, but it’s easier to confuse fantasy with reality when applying imagination beyond the five senses. Too often, we settle our thoughts upon “bad-art” when it comes to heaven, hell, and ultimate things.
That’s one criticism directed at Thomas Kindkaid. The “Artist of light,” as he is called, paints an idealized version of now rather casting vision to elevate the imagination. Some say his art is escapist, employing the imagination the way a lottery billboard uses big numbers—to tantalize rather than to ennoble.
Faith should not distract us from what is real, but drive us towards it. By imagination and faith, Christopher Columbus dismissed fears of “sea gods,” believing the world was created for us to explore and cultivate. With a faithful imagination, couples make lifetime commitments in which families flourish. Through imaginative faith, we invest in this world as meaningful and valuable, even though, as Robert Frost put it, “Nothing gold can stay.”
Einstein considered imagination to be more important than intelligence. Einstein discovered truths beyond the status quo because he had the same kind of hopeful and exuberant faith in the purpose of things as did Christopher Columbus. “My kingdom is not of this world,” Jesus said. Consider how often he stirred the imagination through vision and how that vision has influenced this world.
What is capturing your imagination these days?