If imagination is the capability of making images, where is the imagination in our society and in our church? In one sense our society thrives on powerful image making as never before. With screen based entertainment in our hands, in our homes, in our cinemas we are bombarded with powerful, subtle imagery on every turn. So much so that the printed word seems to be giving way to visual, symbolic image based communication.
On the other hand, those images which are so abundant and captivating, are most often shallow, commercialized and eroticized. We make images, but they are to get us to buy something or indulge ourselves either with increased consumption, pleasure or entertainment. If the images are not totally commercialized, then they are mostly for entertainment. Few of them attempt to engage us in thought, and even fewer open the doors to the wider Imagination. Instead they distract us from anything so troublesome and difficult as thought, and they certainly distract us from growth of the greater Imagination.
For there are two levels of imagination. The lower which we might call ‘imagination’ is concerned with being creative and inventive. Thus we devise the plot for a story, a picture for an illustration, a piece of advertisisng or a piece of music. We imagine and therefore we create and invent. This ‘lower’ form of imagination is most often practical in its aim and in its outcome. From this lower form of imagination we create something or we perform an existing creation or we participate as a spectator in what someone else has imagined.
The higher imagination, however is something different. This we might call ‘Imagination’ this higher form of human thought is our capability to participate in the supernatural realm. Through this Imagination we pray, we dream, we contemplate, we experience spiritual gifts, we have mystical experiences, we see the deeper meanings of all things, we understand and ‘know’ with a deeper knowledge, we connect with the greater power of God in the world. It is also through this Imagination that we experience the paranormal, have ‘psychic’ experiences, engage with ‘other gods’ and entertain or experience the dark side.
What we are missing in our image crazed society is the natural and healthy link between imagination and Imagination. Involvement in the arts should engage our lower imagination sparking a healthy link with the higher Imagination. So, for example, we should educate and train our children in classical music because the beauty and structure and transformative power should open their hearts and minds to the greater Imagination and the world beyond. We should engage with the visual arts, drama, architecture and poetry and literature to engage the imagination in order to move from there to Imagination and spirituality.
Instead, in American culture, we have done exactly the opposite. We have pulled Imagination down into imagination. In other words, we have allowed vulgar, popular culture to be the determining factor. We have allowed our lust for entertainment to be the goal of all things. So not only our everyday lives, but also our liturgy is swamped with sentimental popular styles of music. Preaching and worship becomes entertainment centered–catering for the lowest common denominator in all things. In our love for the common man we have denigrated the best and the most beautiful–and have cut ourselves off from the higher Imagination–suspecting it and demonizing it as something strange and unnatural.
The Catholic Church should be the one place where imagination leads naturally and beautifully to Imagination. Through a beautifully celebrated ligurgy, through awesome and beautiful architecture, through sublime and transcendent music, through adoration, contemplation and prayer we should be drawn into the deeper mystery that leads us into the Great Mystery.
This is why the liturgy is important. This is why contemplative prayer is important. This is why Eucharistic Adoration is important. This is why architecture matters, why music matters, why literature matters and why education matters. Through all these means we actually evangelize, for through them we open the door, in a harsh, vulgar and utilitarian society, to a world that is beyond this one–a world that we wish to forget–a world that is our destiny and our final rest.