Friday, March 2, 2018

Using the Sacred Imagination

     As Facebook friends know, we get flashbacks: “x years ago…” For today, March 2, Facebook reminds me that I posted two years ago “The Treasure in Good Stories.” So in looking back, I’m reminded of the gift of culminating a career with a sense of purpose, of feeling a fit that comes with accepting limitations, letting go of external expectations, and living into closer harmony with destiny. The treasure in Good Stories, at least one focusing, comes in the first sentence of that post: “Good Stories entertain and engage Big Questions such as: Who am I? Why am I here? Where am I going?”
     Big questions like these don’t accept final answers. Instead, they offer direction and vitality for going farther, going further on. Good stories provide a schoolroom with always open doors for recess so that humans have room to continue growing up, even into retirement. They’re not so much for dispensing information as they are for opening imagination. Our imaginal capacities need developing as much, if not more, as do our ability to reason and to learn the scientific method.
     Having left the university, those years spent in Good Stories have opened now into more intense journey with imagination and further travels with the big questions. Just yesterday, I completed reading William Chittick’s Imaginal Worlds: Ibn al-‘Arabi and the Problem of Religious Diversity. The one before was James Morris’ Orientations and before that Morris’ The Reflective Heart: Discovering Spiritual Intelligence in Ibn ‘Arabi’s Meccan Illuminations. In it, Morris offers a connection with the bigger purpose of Good Stories:
one might say that his [Ibn ‘Arabi’s] method is one of using the sacred Imagination—in the sense of the archetypal images and stories provided by his own religious tradition—to awaken each reader’s individual spiritual imagination, to illuminate and reveal the recurrent ‘reflections’ of those scriptural likenesses in the ‘ever-renewed creation’ of his readers’ own unique spiritual experiences. (p. 161)
     I scarcely presume to select one passage from Chittick’s Imaginal Worlds to illustrate the illumination about imagination because the entire text wants to be included. The chapter “Death and the Afterlife” still draws my gratitude for better understanding God’s mercy, and the final section on the nature of belief adds hope for peace, both inner and in the USA.
     The world around us looks a mess. Our education system hasn’t proven to develop citizens who are capable of democratic governance. Of special concern are the failure to discern truth, bad judgment about character, and little evidence of love for self, others and the environment. In my view, part of the problem with our schooling comes from too much faith in reason and too much denial of imagination. Chittick explains how Ibn ‘Arabi asserts the importance and place of both reason and imagination:
imagination erases differences and unites, while reason discerns and separates. When people are left to their rational faculties, they tend to separate the Real from the cosmos and themselves. This leads to a loss of the vision of the divine presence in all things…[capacity with] imagination allows them to establish links and overcome difference. (p. 168)
There—I did finally select one passage, but doing so leaves a need to go back and re-read the many other pages with markers.  Let’s keep moving further into the imaginal worlds…

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