Imagination: The Shaping of Reality

Trying to get to Narnia

“This must be a simply enormous wardrobe!” thought Lucy, going still further in and pushing the soft folds of the coats aside to make room for her. Then she noticed that there was something crunching under her feet. “I wonder is that more mothballs?” she thought, stopping down to feel it with her hand. But instead of feeling the hard, smooth wood of the floor of the wardrobe, she felt something soft and powdery and extremely cold. “This is very queer,” she said, and went on a step or two further.

C.S. Lewis, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe

I can be faulted for having a vivid imagination. As a child, I would have no problems reading stories about magical worlds late into the night. Dragons? Fairies? UNICORNS?!! These other-worldly creatures beckoned me to venture into a place that was incomparable to the usual trek to school with standard workbooks and bullies. That place was in my mind and yet, it wasn’t. The words I read painted images that were beyond anything I could normally experience as an Asian girl growing up in a small prairie city. Those words took me into worlds where misfits could be heroes and children could be powerful.

Of course those worlds also included evil and sinister motives. But good seemed to always triumph after a long perilous journey. These stories tended to involve a group of characters that were unlikely to cooperate if not for a common purpose or enemy. And because these characters were a hodgepodge of personalities, I could be one of them on this adventure. These stories took me in because I could see it, I could picture it in my mind as though it was happening to me.

Remarkably, it all began with a picture, according to C.S. Lewis, author of one of the most beloved children’s stories in western literature. Not a painted picture, but an imagined one of a faun bearing umbrellas and parcels in a snowy woods. That image launched an exploration that resulted in a series of books, which in turn invited countless readers – including yours truly – into the world of Narnia. This imagined story was so powerful that even after all these years Narnia has never left me. Last spring I placed my palm at the back of an old wardrobe in The Kilns, Lewis Close. I pushed – half expecting the slates of wood to give way to a forest. My friend and I laughed with mirth and a tinge of disappointment. Who wouldn’t want Narnia to be real?

That’s the drawback of imagination. Reality is never as beautiful or fulfilling as we imagine it could be. Reality is chaos and random, or mundane and pedestrian. Reality punches one in the gut from time to time, and leaves you gasping. Reality can drain you of energy with its demands and responsibilities. In these moments, my imagination can easily slip into fantasy when I want control or an escape. Fantasy is seductive and sweet, but leaves one feeling hungry and perhaps even angry when the illusion fades.

Without my imagination though, my faith and capacity for growth would have died long ago. Certainty would have ruled my thinking and would have told me that this is it. Life is just a series of happenstances that mean nothing and will never mean anything. Close the door and move on; run with the rest of the children.

Imagination makes me pause and consider another interpretation. With my imagination I can see reality being shaped or fitted into the arch of a larger story yet to be completed. Imagination is the ability to visualize a different view of things. Or perhaps it’s not ability at all but a divine grace because who can see beyond this world without the aide of something or someone outside of us? Perhaps this is what is meant by the “Christian imagination.” Christian imagination is hope-filled and generative. It’s looking beyond what the natural senses say are the boundaries to real life and believing that there is more. There is more grace, more joy, more love. Faith is being sure of what we hope for. It is being certain of what we do not see. I have found that prayer is the means to access that divine imaging. Prayer is that doorway where we are invited to step further into God’s reality that is far grander than our own.

Therefore, I’ll always keep reading and keep imagining the possibilities. Maybe there is a purpose. Maybe there is a hopeful future. Maybe there is a goodness that will win in the end. And maybe, should I ever come across another wardrobe, I’ll take a step in.

This was a contribution to Asian American Women on Leadership, a gathering of Asian American Women for leadership renewal and development.

Praying with the Pope

I watched the unveiling of the of the new Pope just a moment ago, mostly out of curiosity. I haven’t been following the coverage much… but I was strangely drawn into the excitement. Just a few years ago, I would have judged the Catholic Church harshly for venerating one human being so highly (and usually a white, european male). Understanding a little more about the Church’s history helps…

What I like about Jorge Mario Bergoglio from the descriptions I’ve heard is that he is a real pastor and strove to live a simple life. He was a child of immigrant parents, worked with the poor, washed the feet of HIV/AIDS patients, cooks his own food and takes the bus. He’s a Jesuit and has taken on the name Francis (a first for the history of Popes).

I loved how they picked someone who wasn’t even considered in the running according to the media. And he’s the first non-European Pope. Thank God.

When he finally addressed the crowd I was disarmed by his humor, and was impressed by his request to prayer for his predecessor (again, unheard of since this hasn’t happened in 600 yrs). 

And so I found myself praying along the prayer of Our Father. And moved again as this humble man asked for the Church to pray for him. There’s a lot on his plate and I certainly don’t envy his position. But I pray because what is good for the Catholic Church is good for the Universal Church… and ultimately the world.

Glory be to the Father. Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end.

Green with Envy and the Evil Eye

As usual with sermon writing, the first person you preach to is yourself. It’s hard to circumvent looking at the inner life when the scriptural text seems to be boring holes into your heart. Time to excavate. Time to dig a little deeper and reveal the things within that I would rather leave buried.

The interesting thing is that the passage I’ve been given doesn’t directly speak to what I feel/think is what God is wanting to say to His people. And given that I’ll be speaking to a bunch of people that I don’t know, the doubts certainly has surfaced. Is this really what You want me to address? Or is this more of Your word to me? Or maybe it’s both?

The passage is Matthew 7:1-12, and I feel lead to speak on envy. I don’t think “envy” is completely out of context here even though it’s not directly mentioned. The instruction to “Do not judge, or you too will be judged” follows directly on how to relate to material possessions, and is followed by the imperatives to ask, seek, and knock, in other words, to pray to a generous God. What does judging someone have to do with material provision, unless it’s possibly about critiquing another for the gifts (be it material or spiritual) that they’ve been given? I guess I’m suggesting that envy may be the context of the passage…. and it’s definitely part of the context of the society we’re living in.

I always thought “evil eye” was reference to a general, malicious disposition one would have towards another. But it also refers to jealousy. St. Basil aptly describes envy as the pain that arises from another’s good fortune.

Me, envious? Of whom? Of what? Of those who I think possess an imagined ideal… a so-called idyllic life: a husband, two kids and house with a porch, over-looking a grassy field and flower garden. I actually don’t know anyone who currently has this.. but I can be envious of those who I think are on their way of getting there. Of course, that’s just it.. it’s still about what I perceive is good. What I see.

Time to take that plank out.

Envy is a form of judgement… I’m judging God for what He gives and to whom He gives. I’m not above admitting that I question God a fair bit. But rarely would I (publicly) confess to judging and accusing Him of unfairness.

God, if you’re so good at giving good gifts to your children, you have a funny way of showing it sometimes. I know we’re undeserving, and often unappreciative, but please have mercy. Remember your promises when we mess up and hurt each other. Remember that we’re often just grappling with the cards that have been dealt to us… and some of us fail at just holding them. Forgive me for thinking that I can make better decisions than you; forgive me for doubting your goodness… especially to me.

Pause

Sacred Pause
Sacred Pause

 

Went on a bike ride in the sunshine today. Short of going up to UBC, I followed the beach path along NW Marine Dr and stopped at the far western point. There’s a little roundabout which over the years I’ve notice people try to make it their own. Names engraved in logs, flowers planted in a tree stump…marks to show that someone was here, someone with a story.

A little ways away I saw a lone single rose placed on a park bench situated back from the beach line and against a sparse row of spindly trees. Another story. Another heart.

I’ve been learning that its easy to sit back and judge a person by their cover. Life is too easy for them. Why don’t they care about others? But one of the privileges I have is to listen to people’s stories and learn how they’ve been shaped and why they react the way they do. Honestly, I don’t always understand. I only have to look at my own heart to know how strange we are as humans.

Yet where is the balance between compassion and calling people to a deeper truth? The truth that we’re all dimmer shades of who we really ought to be. Sometimes we need the right filters to see ourselves correctly, full of rich colours and capable of beauty even in our ordinariness.

Of course we like to dress ourselves up to look better than we feel. Like showcasing our lives with Facebook or Instagram, it’s easy to hide behind manufactured lenses.

Who will take the time to hear my story? Or will they simply settle for the image that they have of me?

Ash Wednesday

So the season of Lent begins, and my attempt to breath life back into blogging. I’m toying with the idea of writing something, anything, once a day for the next 40 or so days until Easter. The only way that this will happen is if I throw away any concerns about grammar and bad sentence structure and simply write what comes to mind.

Even the concerns about whether or not this is of interest to anyone, even the 3 readers that I have left. Or 2. Including myself.

I’m off Facebook. I did the FB fast couple years ago during a time of deep grieving. Lent helped me to process those emotions with God. This year I hope that the Lenton season will point me to life in Christ. While I had eschewed all those platitudes of my Christian youth to “give my all to Jesus” or to “surrender all” and “go to the ends of the earth”… I’m trying to redeem those good intentions and heartfelt sentiments. I must go back to the heart of this sacred journey that I’ve decided to take so many years ago: the passion and love of Christ.

Note it is not MY passion or MY love of Christ, but His. His suffering poured out for the lives of many. His love which commands all my affections and attention.

I can sound saintly, but Lord knows my divided devotion. I am human through and through… and it’s ok. But I fear the times when I forget my responsibilities and duties. I fear resenting the choice of the “religious life.” I long for the day when the battles cease and I can be truly Whole. That day may be near or far, in the meantime I am learning the practice of faithfulness.

Here’s the first step on the road to Easter.