Monday, August 22, 2005

Fields of Discovery: The Spirituality of the Human Imagination

A recent article on Christian History quotes George MacDonald (one of C. S. Lewis' key influences) in his attempt to understand human creativity in light of our having been created in the Image of God:

"Everything of man," he insists, "must have been of God first." So what the poet "creates" he really only "finds." The patterns are already present in the mind of God, awaiting our discovery. Indeed, we, too, are the products of God's own imagination, and whenever we have a genuinely "creative" insight, there is an important sense in which we are "rather being thought than thinking." The ideas are God's first, and ours only by grace. It's as though God has hidden a rich store of secrets in the world he has made, and leaves us to find them out. "The man, then, who, in harmony with nature, attempts the discovery of more of her meanings, is just searching out the things of God." And it is our imaginative capacity that enables us to do this.

This isn't the first time I've run across this concept. I've got The Mind of the Maker (Sayers), Music Through the Eyes of Faith (Best), and Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art (L'Engle) on my bookshelf, all of which explore a biblical theology of creativity.

I am fascinated by MacDonald's idea that we are discoverers, rather than makers, of ideas; that there is a rich trove of creative treasure to be uncovered, hidden carefully by a loving and mysterious God throughout His creation. When an artist succeeds in rendering into form some angular reflection of God's magnificent imagination, a note is sounded in our hearts, "This is Beauty!"

This is an increasingly prominent theme on the leading edge of Christian practice these days. As a friend recently put it, the church is experiencing a sort of second Renaissance, in which the once-suspect streams of art and creative expression are being woven together again with the streams of logic and rational thought celebrated throughout the last several centuries. Systematic, three-point sermons have given way to artists who stand beside the preacher. While one renders with words God's gracious acts, the artist renders to canvas the same message.

Without question, the rendering to canvas brings a greater richness to a world that respects art and the visual media as evocative and meaningful. But, in a culture that is taught by its highest institutions that art is beyond ethical or moral considerations, it is worth considering the nature and value of the creative mind.

The human imagination (and thus all its products) is corrupt, a churning amalgam of God's goodness and our own sinful passions. But so is every other aspect of our being, including our reason and logic. Indeed, the notion that reason is somehow a pure entity accessible to humanity is one of the perverse idolatries of the late modern era. I am thankful for this "second Renaissance" in which the whole person is seen for what it is: created by and for God and infinitely valuable to Him, but at the same time fallen, broken, and corrupted by sin.

That the creative, imaginative Maker came here to re-make His creation, offering a way for it to be restored beyond its original beauty, is the Gift of gifts and a wonder that can sustain a man for all his days on this earth and beyond. I am glad to see the imagination being embraced again as a legitimate avenue through which we can make sense of this world, experience God, and participate in His renewing work.


Jake Shore said...

This notion that reason is free from human trappings is an interesting one, if not comical.

Reason is defined as the capacity for logical, rational, and analytic thought.

Is reason independent of humanity? Where does reason take place if not the human mind, where it is nestled along side anger, sorrow, fear, hatred, love, envy, ambition, and pride?

I see reason as a tool, a quality peculiar to each of us, even a gift; but no more or less corrupt than our other qualities.

na said...

I read that article also and found his Views and take on life to be refreshing and centeral to how Christians should view life.

I lived this quote esp the last paragraph. Romanticism began in the 1780s and 90s as a reaction against the rationalistic universe of the Enlightenment. The German Romantic poet Novalis complained that the Enlightenment thinkers "were tirelessly busy cleaning the poetry off Nature, the earth, the human soul, and the branches of learning—obliterating every trace of the holy, discrediting by sarcasm the memory of all ennobling events and persons, and stripping the world of all colorful ornament."

Rather than being a movement with a common code of beliefs, Romanticism was a mood, a way of looking at the world, a broad range of common concerns about how to understand knowledge and art. What unified all these new ideas was a fundamental shift in the climate of feeling and in attitudes toward emotion.


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Alien Shaman said...

If God created all ideas, and it is up to us to interpret them and present them through music, art, and writing... then why is there so much contrary creativity out there? Jesus painted w/ feces, influenced by God?

I once had an interesting conversation, which the conversation was with regard to fate. If you believe in fate, then really you give up believing in self destiny, the freedom to make your own decisions, etc... Everything is pre-determined. If you don't believe in fate, than do you really think random luck leads to the coincidences that shape your life?

Or, is there a cross road - does God influence some ideas, some acts of fate, but really he stays hands off in most cases and leaves it up to us?