To regard the imagination as metaphysics is to think of it as part of life, and to think of it as part of life is to realize the extent of artifice. We live in the mind.
- Wallace Stevens
These words make me both squirm and nod.
Imagination plays a huge part in life. It is imagination that finds beauty in the concrete, that reveals what could be in the dust and toil and grit of what is. It is imagination that gives life to words on a page, that expands the meaning of poetry, that works and reworks our understanding of the world every day, every time we are confronted with something new.
It is imagination that helps us know and be known,
It is my imagination that helps me dream. It is my imagination that allows me to picture myself doing things. It is my imagination that allows my perfectionism, and my imagination that helps me to receive grace.
Even Scripture is full of images and descriptions that appeal to the imagination. God will use anything it takes to describe Himself to us, to get our attention and give us a picture of His love.
We live in the mind.
And sometimes, we die in the mind too.
Every time it happens, I hope it will be the last.
The dark closes in on me. My head starts spinning, my stomach clenches, the fear rushes in. Often, it begins with the realization that I am not who I imagine myself to be. I stare hard and honest into my life, and I begin to loathe it. Gratitude goes out the window; I can't see God.
I spiral downward into depression intensified by my physical limitations. I feel as if I must literally blow apart in all directions.
My walls are stripped; my defenses are breached. Nothing I tell myself relieves the sensation that I must be what I do not want to be.
I'd rend my garments, toss my clothes, if I weren't concerned about physical modesty. My soul has been bared.
I am exposed.
I vomit words and honest; pretense is worthless.
There is no escape.
It is never the last time, because I fight. Because I am often like a cornered, wounded animal lashing out at its helper - it does not matter what compassion is meant.
I fight by trying to keep myself out of situations where I may be vulnerable. I fight by criticizing others for how far short they fall of what I have attained. I fight, justifying my position, validating my existence and work.
And I am always right.
Until I find out I am wrong.
But that is human nature.
That is not humility. Human nature leaves little room for transformation by the renewing of the mind.
We live in the mind.
When I was younger, I went to church looking for God.
You would think I could have found Him there.
By the time I figured out that all I needed to please God was Jesus - every single day - my heart had been kicked around, knocked up, beaten down, and strangled as Christians I knew attempted to make me conform to their idea of right.
The lies I swallowed about God were many.
And they don't leave easily.
The condemnation they carry for me is debilitating.
I barely trust other Christians now.
We live in the mind.
Perhaps I make too much of reality. Or rather, sincerity.
It is the excuse I use to dismiss others who would speak the truth. If their lives don't reflect what they are preaching, I write them off. It is safer that way.
Yet I write here at my blog things that I struggle to live every day. I write about loving my family, and I hold back the stories of the times that I deliberately choose to secret myself away from them. I tell of Pete's love for me, but I don't share how I know: he is still here, in spite of my frustrated ranting against the God I'm not so sure about as the One I share here. He knocks at my heart and tells me who I am with patience and kindness I don't deserve.
I write here about grace, but I sit in church and withhold it from others as I watch them worship and preach and pray. I am so cynical, nitpicking the things I know - and I know a lot - writing whole sections of sermons off, writing God's people off.
Because I was hurt. Because I am afraid.
If I am hard enough, perhaps I can escape.
Yet here I encounter His Spirit.
I have been in few churches where He has been so free to move. Omigoodness He is free to move here.
I cannot hold back my tears. I cannot help but be humbled.
I try to hold Him off, push Him back, but He is answering prayer, prayer that He would speak to us - to me - what He wishes to speak. It is not the words of the sermon echoing in my heart. It is His words, His Word. Jesus who is raising my eyes to His wounds and His Life. Jesus who is my justification.
Jesus who can judge me. Jesus who doesn't.
My confession comes with the tears.
I am naked before Him here. I cannot hide from Him. I must acknowledge Him.
I must reckon myself dead to my sin. Reckon myself alive to God.
I live in the mind.
My understanding of God is too often limited to who I imagine Him to be in relation to who I imagine I am.
Saul must have been ignoring some pretty obvious God-things before he became Paul on the road to Damascus, when God opened his eyes to behold Jesus, asking him why he was fighting Him.
He was so right - until he learned he was wrong.
God blinded him to open the eyes of his heart. How often does God blind me to open mine?
Sometimes, all I can see is two choices: endless darkness and despair, or talking to a God I am often not certain I trust.
I cannot spin past this God, obscure my face from Him, hide my fear.
His compassion for me is incredible.
It is so necessary.
He has shown you, O man, what is good;
And what does the LORD require of you
But to do justly,
To love mercy,
And to walk humbly with your God?
- Micah 6:8
I learn to love His mercy. To be humbled at my need for it.
It is one thing to say it; artifice demands that I do. Being "a Christian" demands the artifice.
But the Life I live by faith in the Son of God - it requires the real.
Nothing is inexorable but love. Love which will yield to prayer is imperfect and poor. Nor is it then the love that yields, but its alloy…. For love loves unto purity. Love has ever in view the absolute loveliness of that which it beholds. Where loveliness is incomplete, and love cannot love its fill of loving, it spends itself to make more lovely, that it may love more; it strives for perfection, even that itself may be perfected—not in itself, but in the object…. Therefore, all that is not beautiful in the beloved, all that comes between and is not of love’s kind, must be destroyed. And our God is a consuming fire.
- George MacDonald
It requires the naked. The rending of my heart.
Therefore if there is any consolation in Christ, if any comfort of love, if any fellowship of the Spirit, if any affection and mercy, fulfill my joy by being like-minded, having the same love, being of one accord, of one mind. Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself. Let each of you look out not only for his own interests, but also for the interests of others.
Let this mind be in you which was also in Christ Jesus, who, being in the form of God, did not consider it robbery to be equal with God, but made Himself of no reputation, taking the form of a bondservant, and coming in the likeness of men. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross. Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
- Phil 5:1-11
Reality confronts imagination, and my own ideas of God are rearranged as I behold Jesus.
In Him I live and move and have my being.
Crucified with Christ, this is how I present myself a living sacrifice. As I am laid bare before Him, He changes my idea of Him, changes my way of understanding. How can one help but be transformed when confronted with this chastening, refining Love?
If you made it to the end of this post, thanks for sticking with me.
I'm slowly digging through some things that have been happening in my heart recently, in between kids and meals and health and general survival stuff. The processing is landing here - I hope you don't mind. I'm not meaning to be a wet blanket; I just have to get this stuff out.
Somebody's praying for me. I'd ask you to quit, but His work is good, if uncomfortable, right?
Shallow-ish post coming soon. I promise. ;-)
(Image © Informal Moments Photography)