Realizing the presence, promise, and power of the Kingdom of God.

Rise and Go - Where?

Art can move us to action.

The Mind of Christ in His World: Part 2 (7)

While Peter thought about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Behold, three men are seeking you. Arise therefore, go down and go with them, doubting nothing; for I have sent them.” Acts 10.19, 20 

One of the great powers of the mind is its ability to imagine, to create and hold in place visions of things not present, never experienced, or not yet realized. As Leland Ryken observed, “The Bible repeatedly appeals to the intelligence through the imagination” (The Liberated Imagination). He adds, “Studying the world of the artistic imagination will tell us things that are just as crucial to human well-being and to God’s glory as any exploration of the physical world around us.”

The problem with imagination is that, for too many of us, we’re not so inclined. That is, we either do not know how or do not care to allow our imagination to range much beyond what is already familiar to us, whether in terms of our experience, our self-image, or the prospects for our world. Or, as Dr. Ryken more graciously put it, “Christians have much to learn about the uses of imagination.”

One of the most exciting powers of the imagination is its ability to move our souls and to set us on a course for a better life, a better day, a better world. The renewing of our minds into the mind of Christ will surely require that we devote more attention to the role of imagination. And in strengthening this ability of the mind, the arts can be a powerful motivator and resource, because, as Dr. Ryken explains, “the artistic imagination creates imaginary worlds that allow us to see reality with heightened clarity.”

Vision and action
God did not send His vision to Peter so that he could spend the rest of his days contemplating the wonder and mystery of it. The vision which the Divine Artist crafted for the apostle was ultimately designed for practical ends. God wanted Peter to dosomething. He engaged Peter’s imagination to move him to action.

We see the same thing with many other examples of art in the Bible: the tabernacle, the pillar of stones by the Jordan, the temple, the vestments of the priests, and even the psalms. Art in the Scriptures typically has a practical purpose; it existed so that viewers, readers, or listeners might do something in response, and that ultimately all their doing would result in praise and thanks to God. The great art of the Christian tradition – art in service of truth – has never been very far from this purpose, either. Art does not exist for art’s sake alone. Art is for God, for truth, and, therefore, to aid us in knowing the One and living the other.

Art can create new vistas and possibilities in our minds, leading us to formulate plans and strategies and ways of thinking, to realize that which our imagination projects. Jesus continuously challenged the minds and imaginations of His hearers with His images and parables about the Kingdom of God. Indeed, before His ascension, He regaled His disciples for forty days with such visions, and the result was a group of erstwhile cowards transformed by the Spirit to seek a world they’d never known, but which Jesus promised could be theirs.

A world perfect at last
The late Nobel prize-winner Czeslaw Milosz demonstrated this same conviction in his art. One of the greatest poets of the 20thcentury, Milosz insisted that poetry can perform a redemptive work. It can give us new visions and move us to courageous action. Milosz had lived through the horrors of World War II and saw many of his friends and acquaintances cut down in the Warsaw uprising. The horribleness and evil of war never left him, and he sought to use his poetry to reconstruct a world of beauty, in which not only human life, but all the small everyday wonders of life are appreciated and enjoyed because of their intrinsic, God-given beauty.

He explained this purpose of his art in a section of his lengthy poem, “Diary of a Naturalist.” At the end of a reverie, in which he looked back on himself as a child, carefully observing the people, landscapes, and goings-on of his childhood, he came to understand as an adult what he could only glimpse as a child: He was being prepared by God to use his art to help make the world anew.

Here’s how he put it:

My generation was lost. Cities too. And nations.
But all this a little later. Meanwhile, in the window, a swallow
Performs its rite of the second. That boy, does he already suspect
That beauty is always everywhere and always elusive?
Now he sees his homeland. At the time of the second mowing.
Roads winding uphill and down. Pine groves. Lakes.
An overcast sky with one slanting ray.
And everywhere men with scythes, in shirts of unbleached linen
And the dark-blue trousers that were common in the province.
He sees what I see even now. Oh but he was clever,
Attentive, as if things were instantly changed by memory.
Riding in a cart, he looked back to retain as much as possible.
Which means he knew what was needed for some ultimate moment
When he would compose from fragments a world perfect at last.

Reading Milosz we get the sense that he wants us to do something: be grateful for life! Look at the beauty all around you! Don’t take your neighbors for granted! Consider your own place in the grand, divine scheme! Be renewed in your thinking, and let your imagination move you to rise and go for a world made perfect at last!

Works of art and culture can move us to act when they connect us with truth; and truth, once encountered, must be heeded. When we know the truth, Jesus said, it sets us free from the constraints and deceptions of sin, liberating even our imaginations, so that we might live as God’s “poems”, to cite the apostle Paul (Eph. 2.10) – works of art ourselves, who, as we live out our callings in obedience to truth, rising up and going, become God’s works of beauty and joy (Ps. 48.1, 2), pointing beyond ourselves to the glories of Christ and His Kingdom – and a coming new world, made perfect at last.

This is how a sound mind sees the coming of God’s Kingdom. And seeing thus, a sound mind makes for a strong soul.

For reflection
1.  How would you describe the role of imagination in your life?

2.  How can you see that Jesus challenged the imaginations of those who heard Him? How did He do that? What did He intend by doing that?

3.  Why do we become so easily stuck in our experience, rather than let our imagination lead us beyond our experience into realms of possibility we’ve never dared to ask or think (Eph. 3.20)? How can we break through the blinders which keep our imaginations from envisioning a world made perfect at last?

Next steps – Transformation: Spend a half-hour this week reviewing the Scriptures you’ve read during your time with the Lord. How do they challenge you to enlarge your imagination of what God might do in you and through you?

T. M. Moore

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Except as indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. © Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

T.M. Moore

T. M. Moore is principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, a spiritual fellowship in the Celtic Christian tradition. He and his wife, Susie, make their home in the Champlain Valley of Vermont.
Books by T. M. Moore

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