To know me is to know that I struggle with life as it is.
I am constantly frustrated.
Not with other people as much as with myself and my own life. My good friend Greg calls it dissonance between the internal and external; that is to say, there is a tension between what I feel and see on the inside and what actually happens in the external world.
This too often leads to deconstruction of the external. But there is only so long that the deconstruction piece can go on – it has to lead somewhere else, otherwise there is nothing left to deconstruct.
And the truth is there is somewhere else to go, even if we haven’t seen it. But of course very few of us have ever been taught to use our imaginations. Knowing that there is something bigger and better is a torturous experience when your imagination has been slowly sucked from the self by a sterile-but-seductive social system.
In the preface of his amazing book The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann, quoting Frederick Asals (who in turn is analysing Flannery O’Connor – complicated I know), writes;
The imagination, O’Connor discovered, might accomplish much more; it might become the channel of visionary awareness … For O’Connor, as for Aquinas, it is the imagination, with its roots deep in the human unconscious, that is the link between the depths of the self and the unseen reaches of the universe, that can reveal to finite man his apocalyptic destiny … the imagination for her is as dangerous a force as any named by Freud, for what it opens to, in those shattering climaxes when it achieves release, are the unwanted visions that ravage the lives of her protagonists.
… Far from denying the body and the senses, the asceticism in the later fiction (of O’Connor) works consistently to affirm them, to release them from the false consciousness of her protagonists in order to experience reality. But reality, to the prophetic mind, is always double: “This world, no more shadow of ideas in an upper sphere, is real, but not absolute; the world’s reality is contingent upon compatibility with God.” For O’Connor’s sacramentalism, it is the natural world that becomes the vehicle for the supernatural, and her characters’ literal return to their senses becomes the means of opening their imaginations to receive it.
Suffering is central to the prophetic consciousness. “The prophet is prepared for pain. One of the effects of his presence is to intensify the people’s capacity for suffering, to rend the veil that lies between life and pain.” … This ascetic imperative in O’Connor is a part of that prophetic consciousness….
As a writer of fiction, Flannery O’Connor simply had no interest in – no imagination for – “a socially desirable Christianity.”
Concrete, passionate, and imaginative, prophetic in its form, prophetic speech is nonetheless “a sharp sword,” conveying a vision “designed to shock rather than edify.”
Moderation is a delusion, and only extremists are in touch with reality.
It has been a long time since I read anything that made my heart jump as much as those words, but reading them is like a much needed breath of air. My desire is that God would give to me and others the courage to use our imaginations in a way that bridges the deepest parts of the self and the outermost reaches of the universe, to have the Spirit of God working in us to prophetically imagine something different, bigger, greater.
And before anyone becomes concerned that I am advocating extremism, know well that such extremism is that of love and imagination, not violent action.
The truth is that I desperately want to be inspired, and to let my imagination run in freedom to create a world in which I and others want to live. I know that others feel the same. Perhaps together we can imagine a different reality.
May stars flood your dreams, and may we see something beyond what we ‘know’. May we breathe deep breaths and feel the beauty of the universe. May we become in touch with reality. May we become compatible with God.