S3:E8 – Redecorating the Imagination with Hope

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Af Matthew Clark. Opdaget af Player FM og vores brugere – copyright tilhører udgiveren, ikke Player FM, og lyden streames direkte fra deres servere. Tryk på Abonner-knappen for at få opdateringer i Player FM, eller kopier URL'en til en anden podcast-app.

There is a picture hanging on a certain wall in my house. It’s framed nicely and hung in a prominent place. It’s actually a fairly large photograph and it’s of a certain family I know, Steve and Terri Moon and their dog Chester. In the picture, I’m sitting with them on the bright red bench in the backyard by the woodpile under a tree. The sun is bright on our faces as we squint into the camera smiling together. That one photo reminds me of several others with the Moons – there’s one where we’re sitting by the fireplace having breakfast, another watching movies downstairs, and another cooking together in the kitchen listening to old Justin Wilson Cajun Comedy routines on Spotify. I stand in front of these pictures when I need to remember something that doesn’t seem possible to me.

But here’s the thing. The wall those pictures hang on isn’t a literal wall in my literal house – it’s a wall in my imagination. That wall is populated by images of good things that have happened as well as bad things. So imagine with me that you have a wall like this in one of the rooms of the house of your imagination.

Maybe this particular room in your imagination is where you put pictures of what it looks like to own a dog. In the “What it’s like to own a dog” room there are, say, fifty photos of all different sizes. There are photos of you nuzzling a little puppy, some of you happily throwing a frisbee with a dog, and so on. When you look at these photos you feel good about dog ownership in general. So, when your roommate or spouse mentions they’re thinking about getting a dog, you say, “Oh, that would be fun. I’ll dig my frisbee out of the closet.” Your imagination is populated with images of good possibility with regard to the specific arena of dog ownership.

Now, let’s say you get a new roommate and you bring up that you’ve been thinking of getting a dog. Your roommate goes into cold sweats, looks terrified, and runs out the door screaming. Later on, they’ve calmed down and returned and you’re sitting together talking at the kitchen table. You say, “Wow, I was surprised at your response to dogs. Can you tell me more about that?”

Your roommate takes you by the hand and says, “Come with me.” You walk into their room and the first thing you see is an enormous, hulking framed photograph. It takes up the entire wall, and it’s of a snarling, red-eyed, wolf-creature with its bloody teeth clamped around a child’s ankle.

“Wow, what is that?” you ask.

“That is what it’s like to own a dog,” replies your roommate. “When I was six years old I almost lost my foot to our dog one night. It just went berserk.”

Now you understand the intense repulsion your friend showed when you mentioned getting a dog. Her wall of images is populated by very different pictures, very different possibilities from yours. She doesn’t see dogs the same way you do. She may not know what dog ownership can be like, she only knows what it was like for her.

Back at the kitchen table, you say, “Wow, I’m sorry you had such a traumatic experience with that dog when you were little. I totally get that you’d be terrified of them.”

She says thanks and takes a drink of coffee, nodding.

You go on, “But that’s pretty unusual. I mean, most people have great experiences with dogs. They’re not called ‘man’s best friend’ for nothing, right?”

She laughs a little, but says, “Yeah, I get that – I mean, I intellectually understand that every dog is not guaranteed to bite my leg off.” You get the feeling that she’s had this conversation before. “It’s just that I can’t imagine having a dog being a good thing. I know better, but that doesn’t seem to make much difference in how I feel about it.”

Now’s probably a good time for a disclaimer – I’m not a trained psychologist or counselor. But this analogy that asks, “What images populate the walls of your imagination” helps me think about why I might feel a certain way about something even though I know better. Because that’s a common experience for me personally that is particularly frustrating. It makes me wonder whether changing a person’s mind isn’t enough, if the healing of a person’s imagination isn’t taken seriously. We need good information, of course, but we also need life-giving and beautiful experiences if there’s ever going to be any hope of redecorating the walls of our imagination with better photos. And we need to redecorate, because we go to those photos for a kind of knowing that is more than merely informational. This other kind of knowing is more intuitive and emotional, it works in league with rationality, but has its own rationale, that’s why Blaise Pascal can say, “The heart has its reasons which reason knows nothing of… We know the truth not only by the reason, but by the heart.”

Imagination speaks a kind of language of the heart. Epistemologist Esther Meek says there’s a kind of knowing that you get from a textbook, but there’s a different kind of knowing that has to do with real presence. When a certain person walks in the room, for some reason that reason knows nothing of, the room is suddenly different now that this person has entered it.

Those pictures that populate the walls of our imaginations are connected to presence and experience, and one God-given power of the imagination is remembrance – to make past presence felt in the present. That’s why when we are loved well, we hang a picture on the wall and it becomes a very real part of what makes us us. But the same is true for hurt, for trauma. How much real-estate do the painful pictures occupy? Any one of those pictures on the wall can either shrink or grow. But they never go away entirely do they? However, they can be resized to make room for other pictures that supply a hopeful contrast.

That’s part of the exercise of gratitude, as well, I think. Gratitude is like hanging pictures of good things on the wall. Or say, I’m stuck in front of a particularly discouraging image, I can decide to step a few feet to over and revisit a picture of something good. I can revisit that beautiful picture hanging on that same wall with the ugly one and it helps me realize that the beautiful one is just as real and present and the ugly one. I’ve got options, good things have happened to me before; they can happen again.

Two things got me thinking about all this. One is that yesterday, for no reason apparent to me, I felt very sad and discouraged. Though I didn’t feel like it, I made myself go for a walk, list things I’m thankful for, and go watch “The Princess Bride” over tacos with friends. Maybe it was that simple, I needed movement, gratitude, and quality time with friends. Those are a few ways to make the good pictures on the wall bigger.

The second thing was an article by James K.A. Smith that I read. He mentions how he discovered that He couldn’t think himself out of depression intellectually, he needed a healed imagination. Smith says,

“None of my analytical skills helped me claw my way out of the lonely trench in which I found myself, alienated from those right next to me. I won’t adequately capture the despair of realizing that my intellectual strengths were powerless to dispel the black sun that oppressed me. It was a profound experience of puzzlement and bewilderment…

My therapist helped me find the way out. But it took a while. I think that’s because I brought my philosophical prejudices to our first meetings, expecting he’d give me the information I needed to figure out my problem.

Eventually, through his patience and compassion, through a remarkable ability to be with me in a way that embodied grace, I realized what we were doing: he ­wasn’t going to teach me or instruct me. Our conversation wasn’t a way to exchange ideas. It was an exercise in re-narration. If I was going to be restored to health, it was because my imagination was “restoried.” My depression brought me to the limits of my intellect… I didn’t need to refine my knowledge. I needed to carry a different story in my bones.” (Read the full article here)

As I began today, I mentioned looking at a photo of myself with the Moon family in their backyard. That particular photo on the wall reminds me how God has given me many “mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, and homes” in this world where I often feel homeless and without a family. Pictures like that one change the way I feel about what’s possible for me. Through remembered experience of being loved, not just more information.

Each of us, by loving our neighbors well in our ordinary lives and engaging in and creating excellent art (since art manifests real presence), we can help populate those walls with photos of good possibilities. Especially if you take this analogy beyond the merely visual realm and apply it, not just to sight, but to all the senses – taste, touch, smell, and sound as well. We can go into the rooms of the imagination and remember a moment of genuine life-giving affection, we can smell again the beautiful smell of a favorite meal cooked for us, hear again the gentle words like music that helped us feel safe once, and so on.

At some point, this kind of remembering becomes a way into God’s presence in prayer. The Lord longs to help us redecorate those sad photo galleries, to “re-story” our lives like Smith mentioned. How does Jesus, just before he’s crucified, prepare his friends for the grief, rejection, and suffering coming their way? He makes a beautiful memory with them around a dinner table, and he commands them to remember it. It’s like he’s saying, “When you feel hopeless, come back here again and do this to remember me – to see me, taste the bread, drink in this moment again, smell it, and do not let your hearts be troubled.”

It’s no wonder then, that when Da Vinci painted “The Last Supper” he made that one image big enough to cover an entire wall.

A Sudden Golfinch

by Holly Ordway

The branch is bare and black against the fog;

Cold droplets bead along the twigs, and fall.

The hours are passing, ready to be gone,

And now they’re past, dissolved, beyond recall,

Beyond my reach. A sudden goldfinch clings

And bends the twig so slightly with its weight

It seems as if it’s painted on: its wings

In motion are a glimpse of summer, bright,

Quick, and now already gone. This moment,

So brief but still so clear against the blur

Of unattended time, in memory

Connects the things that are, the things that were.

Fleeting as it is, almost a ghost,

It may be time is never truly lost.

The post S3:E8 – Redecorating the Imagination with Hope appeared first on Matthew Clark.

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