Saint Stephen Lewisham
Second Sunday of Easter
All in the imagination?
"It was a only my imagination!"
When somebody, perhaps yourself, says that, it means that the experience they are talking about was a false or misleading one. For example:
"The other day" we say "I thought I saw Arthur Wilkins whom I haven't seen for years, on the other side of the street... but it was just my imagination".
In other words it wasn't Arthur Wilkins we saw but someone who looked rather like him.
"The other night", we say, but "I was convinced I heard someone knocking at my front door, but when I open the door there was no one there - it must have been my imagination"
So in this sense the word "imagination" is rather a negative one. In practice it means "something I thought was true but turned out not to be".
Of course that's not always a bad discovery. I may imagine that a lump in my body is cancerous, but investigation proves it not be; and which of us whose child has been late home for school hasn't imagined the most dreadful things to have befallen them? In that case our imagination has again been misleading us. So if that was all that could be said about the word "Imagination", then imagination would be an unhelpful thing.
Moreover, if as Atheists maintain, what we Christians call "faith" was "just our imagination" in this sense they would be perfectly correct to dismiss our faith as nothing more than wishful thinking or day-dreaming.
But that's not the only meaning of the word imagination. There's another much more positive use of the Word imagination to which let now turn.
Imagination is the beginning of every book, every piece of music, every building, every painting, every invention – every one of them starts its life in someone's imagination. So when we say of anyone "he has a marvellous imagination" we're saying something very positive and favourable about him; if by contrast, we say of another person that they have very little imagination, we're not praising them. "Use your imagination" we say when people aren't really trying to think hard enough; or saying "It was rather unimaginative of you to park your car right in front of my garage" means that the offender hasn't really thought sufficiently about the inconvenience he is likely to cause us by being in too much of hurry when he left it there.
This positive meaning of the word imagination is vitally important if we are to believe in or understand the Resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. In fact every aspect of our faith and our Discipleship is certain to be improved by using our imagination properly. Faith and imagination (in the good sense of the word) always go hand in hand.
Listen again to what St Peter says to the newly baptized converts in his letter we heard read this morning.
"You have never seen Jesus Christ" he says "yet you have loved him; and still without seeing him your are already filled with a joy so glorious that it cannot be described, because you believe; and you are sure of the end to which all faith looks forward, that is, the salvation of your souls".
Loving someone you have never seen; believing in someone on the strength of the testimony of Saint Peter who has seen him; being sure of the end which of our faith is looking forward - all these are things which require the use of the imagination, not in the bad sense of the word (believing something to be true that isn't so) but in this sense of trying to picture in our mind the truth which we claim to believe .
Listen again to what St John says in the Gospel. "There are many other signs that Jesus worked and the disciples saw but they are not recorded in this book. These signs [like today's incident of St Thomas] are recorded so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and believing this you may have life through his name".
Once more imagination and belief go hand in hand. St John, in his gospel and St Peter in his preaching both describe what they have seen and heard with a view to giving their hearers as accurate a picture as possible in their minds of the Saviour in whom they have come to without ever having seen him.
When people say they find it difficult to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and their God, the root of the difficulty usually lies in their failure to use their imagination in the positive, creative sense of that word.
Remember everything of real value in life begins with the imagination. We can see "in our minds eye" what a new building, or a piece of music, or a book we are thinking writing, might be like. The "idea" as it is called, is the start of anything that is created, that comes into being, whether it's eventually expressed in words, bricks, furnishing materials, music or the human soul.
Of course if it just remains nothing more than an idea then it will never come to anything. It will be an idea with nothing to show for it. That's particularly true of the person who hears the word of life preached but does nothing about it , who doesn't allow his imagination to work upon it. Like the seed sown by the wayside it is quickly lost to the fowls of the air. Satan comes and steals it away and it is gone for ever.
But the personal hears the word of life and receives it in their heart and ponders it with their imagination day and night will find that their faith in Jesus Christ grows steadily until they begin to love him with all their heart and mind and soul and strength. A living faith.
That is why pictures can be so important in helping people develop their faith. The more effort we put into trying to picture the scenes and the people which the Bible tells us about which we hear read out to us every Sunday, the more we study them for ourselves at home, the more we shall benefit from them. If on the other hand they simply "go in at one ear and out of the other" without our imagination being allowed to work on them, they will benefit us little or nothing.
To sum up:
Imagination comes in two different forms. One resembles wishful thinking or groundless fear and is about things which don't really exist. With that sort of imagination we need have no further dealings since it has nothing to do with reality or truth.
The second type of imagination is vital if we are to have a lively faith in God the Father and in Jesus Christ whom he has raised from the dead on the Third Day. Without it our faith simply won't grow.
This kind of imagination is concerned with reality and with the truth.
It works for most people by allowing their minds to picture what those who knew, and touched and listened too Jesus, the word of life, tell us about him.
As Saint John says in another place "something which has existed from the beginning, that we have heard, that we have seen with our eyes; that we have watched, and touched with our hands - the Word [Jesus the Lord] who is life, this is our subject, that is what we are telling you so that you may have the fellowship of belief with us.
It is upon those things that Saint John, St Peter, St Mark, St Luke and others have told us that we are to put our imagination to work. For that is the way rather than any other that the seed of faith will grow in this and bear fruit, thirty, fifty maybe even a hundredfold!
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