Sunday night as I was gathering with friends, their two-year-old son was arranging and rearranging coasters on the coffee table.
“Mickey Mouse,” he said.
Were I talking to him on the phone, I would never have understood. But when I looked down, sure enough, the coasters looked like Walt’s favorite rodent, plain as day.
“Good job, buddy,” I told him. “Way to use your imagination.”
And I marveled. Imagination at age two! Huh?
The greater miracle, though, is when at age 40, I still use my imagination. Kids have no problem seeing a box and thinking car or the arm of the couch and thinking horse.
Me? I see a box and think recycle bin. The arm of the couch – don’t sit on that or it will break.
When I was a child, there was nothing I couldn’t do with a little imagination. I played school with imaginary students; I set up an imaginary news set on my parents’ balcony and played weather girl for days. Cubby holes became caves or houses or stores or whatever I needed to fulfill the lusts of my innocent imagination.
Though I can’t prove it, I suspect my imagination became more, not less, active when I learned to read. Words added texture and depth to an imagination that was limited only by what I could invent. And dreams – they were the practice field where my mind could try on shapes and colors. Without even thinking, I could draw pictures or write stories of places I had never been, people I had never met.
But somewhere along the way, my imagination stopped working so well. I dreamed of being a journalist instead of a novelist, and I exchanged sketch pencils for a camera.
I’m sure there is evidence that my shrinking imagination was due in part to my growing older. But I have no doubt that it was also a result of my growing faith. The Bible, after all, is not a book of fairy stories, I was taught. The Bible is a book of truth.
As if the two couldn’t possibly be connected.
Funny thing about imaginations: if you don’t use them for good, they are surrendered to the dark side.
At work, when faced with a problem, I can’t come up with one creative solution. But my imagination works overtime thinking up every possible way the problem can only get worse. When worry sets in, worst possible scenarios play like horror movies in my mind with little effort. Conflict in relationships is played out in exaggerated arguments and brawls in my nightmares. Scenes from movies I had no business watching are recast and expanded upon in day dreams, leaving me victimized or terrorized.
Am I sinning, there in my mind, letting my imagination get the best of me? Or is the real sin a failure of imagination? Letting darkness inform my creativity rather than light, being carried away by my thoughts rather than letting the Spirit carry me away?
To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted. Titus 1:15
In my very best moments, I am lying in bed, it’s morning, and I have been praying. I’m not speaking in sentences to the Lord anymore; I’m praying in pictures and poetry and possibilities. My mind is telling Jesus what my heart feels through a redeemed imagination.
That’s me in my very best moments – creative, spiritual, whole.
Below are song lyrics I wrote several years ago, wrestling with this idea of imagination and faith – where one ends and the other begins. The accompanying music is even more simplistic than the poetry, but maybe that’s part of the mystery of spiritual creativity.
I read a story ‘bout a girl down a hole
And a bedknob full of magic and a grouchy old troll
I knew it wasn’t real, but I didn’t know what was
So when I made up stories they were full of that stuff.
The colors, the sounds, and the wonderful smells
That were all a part of my childhood
Were not from the world that my parents could see
They were my own creative reality.
When we’re five there’s no doubt there’s a realm of this life
That’s beyond what we see but we still want to try
A man dressed in red bringing gifts to our house
Was easier to believe than that milk came from cows.
Angels and fairies and dragons and wizards
Were as real in my life at the ’78 blizzard
But as I kept progressing and maturing in thought
I gave up pretending as a big girl ought.
You tell me ‘bout a God in a spiritual realm
You ask me to believe and come out on your limb
But how can I trust in the things I can’t see
That’s not the way a big girl succeeds.
Childlike faith, a childlike faith
You must believe with a childlike faith
To enter the kingdom you must be like these
Awaken that childlike faith
Photo by akshay moon, via Flickr, used with permission under the Creative Commons License.