E M I L Y I S A A C S O N, M E D I C I N E W O M A N
Imagination is the creative task of making symbols, joining things together in such a way that they throw new light on each other and on everything around them. The imagination is a discovering faculty, a faculty for seeing relationships, for seeing meanings that are special and even quite new. The imagination is something which enables us to discover unique present meaning in a given moment of our life. Without imagination the contemplative life can be extremely dull and fruitless.
Pain is unmasked, unmistakable evil; every man knows that something is wrong when he is being hurt... And pain is not only immediately recognizable evil, but evil impossible to ignore. But pain insists on being attended to. God whispers in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.
I did homage to Christ as one pledges his sword and his fealty to a king. In reality, I suspect, it was not like that at all: I did not choose, I was chosen. The loving prayers of Davy and the rest--the prayers of C.S. Lewis, not just his books and letters--these did the work of the King. And yet there is much to be said for the pledged sword, even though it be so only in one's own mind: if in some future year faith should weaken, one cannot in honour forswear the fealty tendered in " I choose to believe."
Alleluiah all my gashes cry;
My woe springs up and flourishes from the tomb
In her lord's likeness terrible and fair;
Knowing her root, her blossom in the sky
She rears: now flocking to her branches come
The paradisal birds of upper air,
Which Alleluiah cry and cry again,
And death from out the grave replies
I love these last details of Fall
when past its prime;
the graying hills,
no longer color-crowded, climb
subdued to meet a brilliant sky;
when sunlight spills,
filtering through branches
to warm a newly covered ground,
and light the way
for tired leaves
still falling down.
Poems . . . could well be termed the footprints of a pilgrim.
I wrote because, at times, I had to. It was write, or develop an ulcer--or forget. I chose to write.
Ruth Bell Graham
I am forced to accept that my best work has been born from pain; I am forced to see that my own continuing development involves pain. It is pain and weakness and constant failure which keep me from pride and help me to grow...
Because I am a writer I live by symbol, and because I was born into the Western World my symbolism is largely Judaeo-Christian, and I find it valid, and the symbol which gives me most strength is that of bread and wine. Through the darkness of my uncomprehending, through my pain and weakness, only thus may I try to become open to God's love and I move to the altar to receive the body and blood, and accept with friend and neighbor, foe and stranger, the tangible assurance that this love is real.
We need more poets, artists, musicians and intuitive thinkers who will call us all to recognize, develop and properly exercise the imagination...
Many Christians look at the whole idea of imagination with suspicion and fear. It is too subjective, they feel; it leads us into emotionally based decisions and attitudes. Poets and artists are pretty unstable anyway--let's face it; all that counter culture business and free love and liberation theology and radical politics and living in those unhealthy garret studios or communes with no steady job to bring in the money--idealistic, quaint, but irresponsible! How much safer it seems to trust our lives to establishment and expectations, and to follow tried-and -true formulas and middle-class values and the security of rules and regulations. Imagination? Metaphor? Art? It's dangerous.
Contrary to prevailing attitudes, thinking with the imagination, with metaphors, is one thorough biblical way for us to peer at and recognize and comprehend God's truth.
There is a long tradition in the Christian life, most developed in Eastern Orthodoxy, of honoring beauty as a witness to God and a call to prayer. Beauty is never only what our senses report to us but always also a sign of what's just beyond our senses--an innerness and depth. There's more to beauty than we can account for empirically. In that more and beyond, we discern God. Artists who wake up our jaded senses and help us attend to these matters are gospel evangelists.
In the winter of 1947, Abbe Pierre, known as the modern apostle of mercy to the poor of Paris, found a young family almost frozen to death on the streets. He scooped them up and brought them back his own poor dwelling, already crowded with vagrants. Where could he house them? After some thought, he went to the chapel, removed the Blessed Sacrament, and placed it upstairs in a cold, unheated attic. Then he installed the family in the chapel to sleep for the night. When his Dominican confreres expressed shock at such irreverence to the Blessed Sacrament, Abbe Pierre replied, "Jesus Christ isn't cold in the Eucharist, but he is cold in the body of a little child."
We may think that we know ourselves yet we are often unaware of the essence that rests in the center of our beings. To discover our true self, we must cross the great abyss - a void in which we cram all sorts of things that we believe we need or want in our lives. The abyss becomes like a closet full of treasures that we feel somehow defines us, our lives, our very being. Instead of these things defining who we are, they serve to accentuate the illusion of our façade or our false self.
Navigating the Abyss
The journey across the abyss provides revelations about our selves. This can be a disconcerting and frightening journey if we do not have the tools and skills to navigate this great chasm. By what means do we clear the debris that prevents us from embracing our authentic self? What vessel can we use to navigate the abyss? The vessel that we use to cross the abyss and clear the debris is contemplative living - our being fine tuned by relationships that connect us to God, self, others and nature. Our ability to navigate the abyss is enhanced through contemplative living.
Contemplative living is a radical yet simple means of discovering who we truly are by entering into deep relationships with our selves, God, others, and nature. To live contemplatively is to be in the present moment while being aware of life unfolding.
Listening: The First Response
The Rule of St. Benedict is a tool used for centuries in the ancient monastic tradition of contemplative living. The first word in The Rule is listen. Listening is often our last response. We are so inundated with life's happenings that out of sheer exhaustion we tune out what is vital to our spiritual beings. A contemplative's commitment is to respond intentionally, consciously, and without judgment to what occurs in his/her life.
Contemplative living calls us to rest within the pockets of silence in our lives. These pockets are opportunities to listen to ourselves, God, others, and all of creation. When we listen first and then respond in both verbal and non-verbal ways, we are replenished. We find the strength to release the debris that forms the barrier to our true selves and that prevents our ability to enter into the deep, sustainable relationships with God, others, and nature.
Crossing the Abyss of Illusion
To cross the abyss seems a daunting task. Once in the abyss we are invited to release the illusions about our selves and gently embrace the beautiful essence that reside at the centers of our beings. In each moment that we navigate the abyss, it becomes more and more apparent that we cannot cross the abyss alone. It is within relationship with our selves, God, others and nature that we come to know ourselves on deeper levels and, in turn, reach out to others. And, they reach toward us.
The abyss that separates us from ourselves is only an illusion. The same is true of the abyss that separates us from God, others, and nature. Contemplative living calls us to a radical and bold move of stepping into the abyss, finding the pockets of silence, and listening with our hearts. Contemplative living calls us to enter into union with all by stripping the illusions from our lives. Contemplative living opens our eyes to the realization that there is no separation; God, ourselves, others, and nature live in unity.