I recently participated in a think tank discussion during which someone raised concern about the crisis of imagination in the Catholic Church and the world. It made me remember an article by Franciscan Father Daniel Horan that I had read early on in the pandemic. Raising a similar concern, Father Horan reflects on the importance of imagination both in navigating a pandemic and for emerging into a post-pandemic world.
Just imagine for a moment where we would be without our capacity for imagination. Something within us seems to change when we contemplate what could have been or dream new possibilities. Imagination fuels creativity, expands our perspective, changes our view. From ancient spiritual traditions to contemporary doctrines like Catholic social teaching, humankind has attempted to imagine a world seen through God’s eyes. In our unique efforts to make the world a better place, imagination provides the spark often needed to share in this divine co-creative power.
It has indeed been a challenging 18 months. We are not yet in a post-pandemic world, despite the fact that among us privileged few living in areas with high vaccination rates, it is starting to feel that way. As many who have had the luxury of being vaccinated seemingly (and even understandably) rush to a return to “normal,” I grow concerned that we do so without much genuine reflection on the lessons and insights of the past year. It’s not just the pandemic; each of us can name numerous other challenges that need our re-imagining and subsequent stepping out in faith to discover a better way.
The story of our faith helps us to see that we exist in an in-between state — between the moment of new creation when Jesus rose from the tomb and the ultimate moment of new creation when God makes “all things new” (Rev 21:5). Of course, this existential in-between moment is filled with our many in-between moments in which the temptation may be to just idle through until we get to the next big event, until we get to the weekend, until we get back to normal.
What if, instead of idling, we approached all our moments — our lives — with unbridled imagination and creativity? Wouldn’t we live differently? Perhaps we could envision a new response to God’s invitation to love or deepen our response to mission? Might we see a new world in which COVID vaccines and health care are accessible to everyone? Poverty, climate, racism, harsh realities displacing people, human trafficking — these and other challenges still await our collective imagination for a new, more creative and unified response.
If we can imagine a better world, what then is required of each of us to make things new? Once we imagine it, can we combine our imagination with the will to effect change?
Father Horan states that the crisis of imagination “impedes the Holy Spirit’s working” in our lives. All the more reason, then — in the small and large in-between moments of our lives — to embrace a contemplative imagination in which we re-connect to God’s love and allow the Spirit to re-ignite the urge to love amidst the challenges we face.
Imagining that reality, I take inspiration from the beautifully crafted words of Episcopal Bishop Michael Curry in his royal wedding homily:
Just stop and imagine. Think and imagine a world where love is the way.
Imagine our homes and families where love is the way.
Imagine neighborhoods and communities where love is the way.
Imagine governments and nations where love is the way.
Imagine business and commerce where this love is the way.
Imagine this tired old world where love is the way.
When love is the way – unselfish, sacrificial, redemptive.
When love is the way, then no child will go to bed hungry in this world ever again.
When love is the way, we will let justice roll down like a mighty stream and righteousness like an ever-flowing brook.
When love is the way, poverty will become history.
When love is the way, the earth will be a sanctuary.
When love is the way, we will lay down our swords and shields, down by the riverside, to study war no more.
When love is the way, there’s plenty good room for all of God’s children.
Because when love is the way, we actually treat each other, well … like we are actually family.
When love is the way, we know that God is the source of us all, and we are brothers and sisters, children of God.
My brothers and sisters, that’s a new heaven, a new earth, a new world, a new human family.