Imagination and Theology
Ponderings of the Spiritual Life Director
Where the Sidewalk Ends by Shel Silverstein
There is a place where the sidewalk ends
And before the street begins,
And there the grass grows soft and white,
And there the sun burns crimson bright,
And there the moon-bird rests from his flight
To cool in the peppermint wind.
Let us leave this place where the smoke blows black
And the dark street winds and bends.
Past the pits where the asphalt flowers grow
We shall walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And watch where the chalk-white arrows go
To the place where the sidewalk ends.
Yes we’ll walk with a walk that is measured and slow,
And we’ll go where the chalk-white arrows go,
For the children, they mark, and the children, they know
The place where the sidewalk ends.
My theme for this month is “Imagination”. Often times, we attribute imagination to children, as Shel Silverstein implies in his poem above- “the children, they know”. And because imagination is attributed to children, wonderful, outside of the box thoughts too often get dismissed as “silly” or “untrue” or even “unruly” (some folks even banned his poetry because they thought it taught children to be rebellious).
But the thing is, imagination, especially a prophetic imagination, is required of us as we continue to uncover truth and form our theologies. In a liberal theology, revelation is continuous, and as adults, we are still using our imagination to encode and make sense of revealed truths in our brains whether we are aware of it or not. As UUs, our tendencies are to try to get to know the mysteries of love and life with our intellect. Certainly, there’s nothing wrong with that and we don’t want to get into the dangerous territory of “alternative facts” that tend to bring more harm than good to the world. But, what imagination can do for us is to help us realize the potential that love has to transform the world.
St. Ignatius, founder of the Jesuits, wrote, “It is not knowing a lot but grasping things intimately and savoring them that fills and satisfies the soul.” When we find the holy (love, the Spirit of Life, however you define it) in our lives and grasp it and know it as an essential part of our experience, then our lives become shaped by it. We can then begin to understand the power that love holds for transformation and we can use our imagination to move that power outward to others and forward into the future.
When we are a child, imagining that place where the sidewalk ends, we imagine a place where love prevails, peace is found, and joy is plentiful because our senses are fully awakened to the mystery. As adults, it’s easy to become tainted with the woes of this world and lose sight of this place. I’m asking you to find it again, and to infuse it with the knowledge and wisdom that you have gained from your life experiences. We can then grasp it and know it and together create possibilities for a loving and just world through our prophetic imagination.
I look forward to exploring the theology of prophetic imagination with you this month. I will sermonize about it on our first Sunday together, we will share experiences with it on the second Sunday, and on the third Sunday, we will develop spiritual practices to help us bring it into our lives. We will have our children and youth beside us, and as we send them into a new school year, they will be watching and learning from us. Furthermore, they will be gathering hope from us. How will we help to build a better tomorrow for them?
Years From Now by Shel Silverstein
Although I cannot see your face
As you flip these poems awhile,
Somewhere from some far-off place
I hear you laughing—and I smile.