Saturday, 19 September 2015

Imagination: More Important than Knowledge

Last weekend my brother and his family finally managed to come "up north" for the weekend. It was the first time we had been able to see them for more than a year. Sadly due to ill health and other problems they had been unable to come for a couple of days at Christmas. So it was a little bizarre going through the whole process of giving and receiving Christmas present from nine months before.

It was a lovely day, in so many ways. What I enjoyed the most though was watching the cousins playing together. I especially delighted in watching the young and active imaginations of the youngest two Johhny and Sammy playing with what looked like mechanical insects, seeing their imaginations come alive and create little adventures and worlds together. I also loved watching and listening to the older two Joey and Scarlet as they went off into the other room with a guitar and began to write music together. They wrote a song which they would perform to each of us separately. It was beautiful witnessing their creative minds work together and them sharing their imaginations with us all. It is truly amazing what can be created when people come together in love. These two sets of children had not spent time together in over a year and yet the rapport they shared and the creativity that came from it, was a beautiful thing to behold. Just a wonderful example of the beautiful and creative thing that is the human imagination, especially in a child.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see life through the eyes of a child once again; wouldn’t it be wonderful to see the wonder and mystery of life once again; to see the things around us as fertile ground for adventure, rather than just mere objects to be used and discarded.

Lynda Sexson captures this feeling near perfectly, in “Ordinarily Sacred” she wrote:

“My son once found the hip-bone of a large cow. He wore it as a stately garment or as armor; he played the bone like a guitar or played himself in the bone like a dinosaur. He circulated his interest upon the bone back into his discovery of it in the woods, to the being who had walked if before abandoning it, to the shape and feel of it, to hanging it on the wall and looking at it and the shadows it cast. And the bone was transformed – quite beyond the original fragment of decay in the woods – into images of everything from death to art.”

It got me thinking of my own childhood and little adventures that I would create in my own mind. Memories that had at one time become lost in some many other things. I thought of times just going off alone and creating whole worlds in my imagination. I remembered Sunday mornings at my grandparent’s farm and waking very early in my pyjamas and getting my granddads broken no longer usable rifle and pretending I was John Wayne defending the Alamo and other such adventures and many other dreams and memories too. I remembered too the fascination with old animal skulls, especially the jaws and teeth. It brought back lots of lovely memories of innocent and happy days, memories which for years had become lost. I thought about all these things as I drove back to Altrincham to prepare myself to lead worship the next day. It created a beautiful space in the soul of me.

It brought to mind the following meditation...

“Magical Thinking” by Colin Bossen

"The sign in the windowpane of Kristin Baybar's toyshop in London reads "We do not exist but if you think we do, and would like to visit... please knock." Knock I have. In truth, I have more than knocked I have entered the sanctum of the toyshop itself. It is a strange and magical place, filled with curios, doll house furniture and hand carved toys. Every surface is covered, the cupboard display cases stacked high, with miniature flowers, snapping tin alligators, painted puzzles that move, penny whistles and cheap magic tricks. Several signs proclaiming "Do Not Touch" suggest that this might not be a shop for small children.

Yet some of my fondest childhood memories are of Kristin Baybar's. For three summers, while my father taught a study abroad course, my family rented a flat around the corner. Every chance I got I would wander over to the toy shop. The shop owner--Kristin Baybar herself--seemed to delight in entertaining small children. There were magic tricks, toys that made noises and puzzles. Within the walls of the shop the world seemed just a little more wonderful than outside.

The shop and its owner did much to teach me about the power of the imagination. Creative play, the ability to dream and discover new things helps make us human. Without them there would be no culture, no religion, no art and no science. They help us to define and redefine the world for, as William Shakespeare wrote, "We are such stuff / As dreams are made."

My friend Richard once defined magic as the act of imagining something and then creating it. “I think, I’m hungry. I want a sandwich,” he would say, “I imagine it and then I create it. That’s magic!” Open yourself to the marvellous that surrounds you, seek it out if only for a moment, and you never know what sort of magic you might create. So much of the world first began as a dream. So much of the world has yet to be dreamed."

...Colin Bosset captures beautiful the power and magic of the imagination, in this beautifully moving meditation...

One of my all time favourite quotes is by Albert Einstein who said “Imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited to all we now know and understand, while imagination embraces the entire world, and all there ever will be to know and understand.” Without imagination there is no way that he could have developed his theory of relativity; without it there is no way he could have stepped beyond the perceived wisdom of the time. Without imagination there is no way that Beethoven could have created the Ninth Symphony, ground breaking in so many ways and composed while he himself had become deaf. Beethoven never heard his own masterpiece. Without imagination there is no way that Shakespeare could have created his masterpiece Hamlet. Without imagination JRR Tolkein would not have created the works “The Lord of the Rings” and without imagination Peter Jackson would not have been able to create the cinematic masterpieces that were the motion pictures. Without imagination so much of what brings pleasure to our lives, that makes life life, would never have come to pass. It is imagination, as an expression of our creativity, that enables us to boldly explore our world and envision worlds and reality beyond prosaic fact. I agree with Einsten “Imagination is more important than knowledge”

It is imagination that allows us to see beyond the confines of the understanding of the day. In the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew’s Gospel chapter 5 Jesus begins his ministry with his vision of how a good person a holy person should be. He begins by telling the people that they are the light of the world, that it is through them that the Kingdom will come about and then in the final verses he once again turns the wisdom of the day right around by rejecting the eye for an eye concept of justice and tells those who will listen that they must love their enemies. This new thinking, this new way of being grows from that very same place of imagination, from which all creativity flows.

Yes all creativity flows from the imagination, but so do many of our troubles too. Our imaginations can project all kinds of fears onto our psyches. Throughout history this has been exploited. Aspects of the media both feed and feed on this. Politics and religion has often operated here too. They have preyed on our fears and this sense that there is something fundamentally wrong with us. Advertising does similar things, especially the beauty industry. They sell us an imagined ideal of what we can be and thus we dream of reaching perfection. When the truth is that the only perfection we are capable of attaining is perfect love, which means acceptance of all no matter who they are or where they have been.

Fear can really tap into that place deep within us, the same place that all creativity grows from. Imagination is a double edged sword. The same thing that creates all that is beautiful, wonderful, moving and deeply spiritual in life is also the same thing that creates all that is destructive, hateful and dehumanising too. It all stems from that place deep in the marrow of our being. From what I call our soul. Fear and love are two sides of the same coin and the one that wins out is the one that we feed, as the old Cherokee chief taught his grandson.

An old Cherokee is teaching his grandson about life.

“A fight is going on inside me,” he said to the boy.

“It’s a terrible fight and it is between two wolves. One is evil - he is anger, envy, sorrow, regret, greed, arrogance, self-pity, guilt, resentment, inferiority, lies, false pride, superiority, ego and it makes me cynical about life.” He continued, “The other is good – he is joy, peace, love, hope, serenity, humility, kindness, benevolence, empathy, generosity, truth, compassion, faith and it fills me with enthusiasm for life. The same fight is going on inside you – and inside every other person, too.”

The grandson thought about it for a minute and then asked his grandfather, “Which wolf will win?”

The old Cherokee simply replied, “The one you feed.”

The key, it would seem, is how we feed our souls. In the same way the food that we eat effects our bodies, so too the stimulus we feed our hearts and minds effects our souls.

Now we feed our souls in many ways, art is one but it is just as easily fed by the ordinary. I noticed this last weekend as I enjoyed my nieces and nephews imaginations come alive. My soul was beautifully enriched by the whole experience. As I drove back alone that night I wept at the beauty of it all and the space that it had created within my soul to awaken my own imagination and give birth to my own creativity, my own gift to share with the world.

It brought to mind the following extract by Graziano Marcheschi’s in “Wheat and Winds and the Wolf of Gubbio

"You hear an old song and the face of a lost loved one suddenly appears, and in the space of the song the loved one grabs your loneliness by the collar and sends it out the door.

"You stand before a painting and the peaceful landscape calls you in — or a scene of violent pain holds you in thrall — and for a minute that's longer than eternity you enter the serenity, or you rage and grieve along with the picture's tortured souls.

"You read a piece of poetry and for the span of a minute — or an hour — you find a space to sit and listen to the sound of naked joy, or to stare into the face of unfathomable grief.

"More than anything else, that's what good art does: not answer questions or set agendas, but create space — space to laugh, to mourn, and to wonder who and how and why we are."

Marcheschi captures the transformative nature of imagination. He honours it and sees it as a vehicle of love and service. Service to humanity and service God. He is so right.

Everything that we do begins in the imagination, which is so much more than our individual thoughts. We are fed from everything and that little bit more than everything too. It is imagination that leads to action. You see what we imagine we live. And how we live really matters because everything that we do and everything that we do not do matters. Why you may well ask? Well because everything that we do impacts on those around us, in who we live and breathe and share our being. We are constantly feeding one another and life itself just as everyone we come into contact with, and the whole of life is feeding us, even if we aren’t consciously aware of it. There is still so much that we don’t know and may never know. This is why the imagination is, in the words of Einstein, “more important than knowledge.” Imagination enables us to become all that we are meant to be, it creates our destiny it allows us to explore new routes and even carve ones that were not there before, weren’t even dreamed of. This is the real beauty of imagination. For with it there is always something new to be seen, felt, experienced, to fall in love with. It is imagination that brings our world alive.

Just be careful how you feed it and how you feed life with it…

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