Imagination and Entertainment

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.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    my favs are Raphael, Donatello and Michaelangelo…they're trad

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/04843514873861242426 Howard

    I'm not sure I agree. The fascination with the occult, which in your classification involves "higher imagination", seems as widespread today as ever before — and more than is typically true. Maybe it would be more accurate to say that the "lower imagination" is disused (since we tend to listen to songs more than sing them now) and the higher imagination is misused.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11086068884134493993 love the girls

    Imagination or Appetite?Do you mean imagination? Or are you using imagination as a metaphor for the appetites because you think it somehow clarifies?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/08383178253798427977 Anthony Brett Dawe

    imagine there's no beatlesonly rollin stones…we know it's only smoke and incense but we like it like it yes we do…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09992011209844007299 Brennan

    "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."Well Yea and Amen! Beautifully put. I am also reminded of a quote from Fr. George Rutler which essentially says something similar, but in a different way:This quote is from "A Crisis of Saints" (Ignatius Press).A Liturgical ParableThe Hard Truth….We seem to slip out of that golden sense of ultimate truth in two ways. The first is by losing any real awareness of the holy. The second is by denying that it has been lost. Without lapsing into criticism that would be out of place, suffice it to say that the worship of holiness is weak in our culture, and the beauty of holiness has been smudged in transmission through the revised liturgy. For without impugning its objective authenticity in any degree, its bouleversement [Complete overthrow; a reversal; a turning upside down] of the traditional Roman rite marks the first time in history that the Church has been an agent, however unintentionally, in the deprivation of culture, from the uprooting of classical language and sensibility to wanton depreciation of the arts….It is immensely saddening to see so many elements of the Church, in her capacity as Mother of Western Culture, compliant in the promotion of ugliness. There may be no deterrent more formidable to countless potential converts than the low estate of the Church's liturgical life, for the liturgy is the Church's prime means of evangelism. Gone as into a primeval mist are the days not long ago when apologists regularly had to warn against being distracted by, or superficially attracted to, the beauty of the Church's rites. And the plodding and static nature of the revised rites could not have been more ill-timed for a media culture so attuned to color and form and action.(pp. 107-108)


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