Richard Rohr – Art. Imagination

The imagination retains a passion for freedom. There are no rules for the imagination. It never wants to stay trapped in the expected territories. The old maps never satisfy it. It wants to press ahead beyond the accepted frontiers and bring back reports of regions no mapmaker has yet visited. —John O’Donohue [1]
Being made in the image and likeness of the Creator isn’t about “getting it right” or rationally understanding God. Jesus taught us that being “perfect even as our heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48) is more about loving than having correct beliefs or following the rules. How do we grow into such loving likeness?
Each of us has our own unique imaginarium, an unconscious worldview constructed by our individual and group’s experiences, symbols, archetypes, and memories. For example, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Catholics, and Protestants live in quite different imaginaria. God comes to us in images that we can trust and believe, that have the inherent power to open our hearts. Spirituality tries to move beyond words to evoke our imaginaria at the unconscious level, where real change must first happen.

If your inner imaginarium is rich, intelligent, and not overly defended, you will never stop growing spiritually. My advice? Read more poetry and literature; watch movies; listen to music; visit museums. The artist is a prophet, someone who helps us be self-critical and creative so we don’t stay stuck in the status quo. The prophet models and embodies a new way of thinking and being that allows us to imagine a larger, more inclusive way to live.
You cannot even imagine something or do something until you first have an image of it inside you, which is surely why Einstein said, “I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. [It] encircles the world.” [2] In Art and Physics, Leonard Shlain (1937-2009)—an author, surgeon, and inventor—made the case that images come before our capacity to verbalize or name what we see:

Whether for an infant or a society on the verge of change, a new way to think about reality begins with the assimilation of unfamiliar images. . . . Because the erosion of images by words occurs at such an early age, we forget that in order to learn something radically new, we need first to imagine it. “Imagine” literally means to “make an image.” Witness the expression we use when struggling with a new idea: “I can’t picture it,” “Let me make a mental model,” and “I am trying to envision it.” If, as I propose, this function of imagination, so crucial to the development of an infant, is also present in the civilization at large, who then creates the new images that precede abstract ideas and descriptive language? It is the artist. . . . Revolutionary art in all times has served this function of preparing the future. [3]

Perhaps, like the prophetic mystics of all traditions, the great artists of each generation can help us transcend our dualisms and move us beyond the exclusionary frameworks that are comfortable for us . . . if we have the ears to hear or the eyes to see and the willingness to engage!

Gateway to Presence:
If you want to go deeper with today’s meditation, take note of what word or phrase stands out to you. Come back to that word or phrase throughout the day, being present to its impact and invitation.

[1] John O’Donohue, Beauty: The Invisible Embrace (HarperCollins: 2004), 145.
[2] Albert Einstein, “What Life Means to Einstein,” The Saturday Evening Post (October 26, 1929). Page view available at http://www.saturdayeveningpost.com/wp-content/uploads/satevepost/what_life_means_to_einstein.pdf.
[3] Leonard Shlain, Art and Physics: Parallel Visions in Space, Time, and Light (William Morrow Paperbacks: 2007), 17-19.
Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 87, 252-253, 255-256, 258-259, 261, 263.

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