I came across an interesting quote from Oswald Chambers this past week. In his classic devotional book, My Utmost for His Highest, he wrote: “Nature to a saint is sacramental. If we are children of God, we have a tremendous treasure in Nature. In every wind that blows, in every night and day of the year, in every sign of the sky, in every blossoming and in every withering of the earth, there is a real coming of God to us if we will simply use our starved imagination to realize it.” What I found interesting about this passage is not Chamber’s recognition that nature is sacramental or that God comes to us through His Creation but that what often hinders us from experiencing this is our lack of imagination.
I have to admit that early in my life I did not consider imagination to be very important. I felt I should focus on what is “real” or “factual.” For this reason I even refused to read anything that was considered fiction. I really don’t know what led me in that direction but eventually I learned that the imagination is very important, even in the spiritual realm. In his Spiritual Exercises St. Ignatius encourages people to use their imagination in visualizations of biblical stories to grasp better their meaning. C. S. Lewis, one of my favorite Christian writers, once said “Reason is the natural order of truth, but imagination is the organ of meaning.” Today I cannot deny or minimize the value of imagination in many areas of life.
If you and I are going to experience God in nature then we must learn to exercise our imagination or, to follow up on what Chambers said, feed it. If we starve our imagination we won’t recognize God’s Spirit in the wind that blows across our face. We won’t see signs of God’s faithfulness in the changing of the seasons or even the passing of one day to the next. Without the use of our imagination we might miss the expressions of divine love that can be found in the birds at our feeders, the flowers along the side of the road, or the gentle cascades of a stream.
Mark Twain, who certainly had a way with words, once said, “You can’t depend on your eyes when your imagination is out of focus.” When it comes to seeing God in Creation that is unquestionably true so go feed your imagination; do whatever it takes to get your imagination in focus. So much depends upon it. It really does.
(I took the abstract water reflection at Jenny Wiley State Park in Kentucky. The middle image shows a pattern formed by lichen on a granite stone in Acadia National Park. The bottom image shows a magnolia blossom in my yard.)