The Imagination: Seeing the Unseen

“Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things”—Philippians 4:8

I’m a sucker for Christmas. It’s always been the case. I look forward to climbing the stairs to the attic the day after Thanksgiving to retrieve the Christmas decorations. I love picking out a tree, tacking up the garland, hanging the stockings by the chimney with care all while listening to Bing Crosby sing “White Christmas.”

I’ve tried to figure out why I’m so smitten with Christmas. I used to think it was just the buzz and sparkle of it all. To be sure, that’s part of it. I’ve come to realize, however, that something deeper, purer is at work—something childlike and innocent. It seems, more than any other time of the year, Christmas wakes up my imagination to the reality of the truth of things.

The phrase “wakes up my imagination to the reality of the truth of things” may seem like a strange way to put it, because we don’t usually think of the imagination as the vehicle for communicating what is true. Fairy tales, fiction, child’s play – that’s the stuff of imagination, right? Well, yes, it is, but the imagination is much more than that, too. It’s endowed with a deeper magic we might say—that is, the ability of mind to see the unseen, to visualize the real but invisible.

This may be surprising to hear but the capacity to imagine lies at the very core of Christianity, for faith is the “…substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). The capacity for faith requires the ability to envision what we can’t see, and the ability to envision what can’t be seen is the very work of the imagination. If you think about it, it makes perfect sense. How else could we know and love a God who no one has or can see (1 Timothy 6:16) if we don’t have the capacity to see with our “mind’s eye” what is true and real but hidden from sight?

What this means is that tending our imaginations is an important spiritual practice for a strong and vibrant faith. God wants our imaginations to be healthy and holy, and for that to happen, we must learn to care for them. For the next few weeks in the Pastoral Notes, I want to reflect with you about what it means to tend our imaginations for the living of the Christian life. That with the Spirit’s help we might pluck up the weeds of cynicism, unbelief, and despair that chokes out the holy enchantment that comes when our hearts swept away by the story of the gospel.

The imagination is one of the greatest gifts God has given to us. Let’s learn how to take good care of it.

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