Imagination acts as a vital building block for any creative endeavor. Described as the ability to dream up an image of something not actually present, imagination inspires creative ideas, inventions, and ingeniousness. When I ponder what to create, my mind pulls up what’s been stirring from deep within my imagination.
Here’s what happens when my imagination kicks into gear. I have this grand idea of what I want to create. Then I realize I need to go beyond just thinking it up to getting it down on paper. After that, whatever I make requires a certain amount of shaping. Then I offer my work so others can engage it in the concrete moments of life.
It’s the moving from thought to implementation to interaction that often waylays my best efforts. My imagination seems a bit like the objects Goldilocks encounters on her visit to the bears’ home.
The dilemma encountered with the imagination is:
- Like porridge, it can feel too hot, too cold, or just right.
- Like sitting in different chairs, it can feel too big, too small, or just right.
- Like stretching out on various beds, it can feel too hard, too soft, or just right.
When I begin a new endeavor, I find I am suddenly at a loss as to what to hone in on. My mind soars wild and free like a kite catching good wind, then plummets to the ground, having lost its height of vision. I imagine you have experienced similar moments in your creative process.
In pondering the imagination as a Christ-follower, it’s so helpful to let my relationship with God the Creator guide me. Several ways bring me to clarity:
To get clear on what my imagination is to bring forth as I create, I choose healthy portions of silence, solitude, and spaciousness. I talked about this in a recent blog, Imagine What’s Possible, on how slipping away helps. A Writing Retreat fuels the fires of my thoughtfulness and ensures that my innovativeness is aligned with the heart of the Father of all creation. If you’re not a writer, the ideas apply to any type of creative endeavor. Space away helps us settle in when we delve deep into the creative process.
Silence offers imagination room to expand. The quiet and slow of silence acts as a greenhouse for growth. Of course, growth in a garden brings prolific plants. It also brings forth all sorts of weeds, evident in the clutter and clamor in my mind. A garden gone wild requires a bit of taming, doesn’t it? Henri Nouwen notes that silence has its challenges. He says:
“As soon as I decide to stay in my solitude, confusing ideas, disturbing images, wild fantasies, and weird associations jump about in my mind like monkeys in a banana tree.”
Quieting the mind makes space for imagination to deepen, so the endeavor at hand can come to glorious fruition. By taking time to converse with God, allowing our union to be priority, I gain perspective that leads to wisdom and offers opportunities to gather self-control. It also sets the tone that what I am up to is always about what the Father, the Son, and the Spirit desire.
As makers, we create from the space of pleasing God. We create by tapping into our own aches and longings which are universal in size and shape. In creating from the richness of a well-cared-for imagination, we point to the way home, to the heart of God, inviting others to know Him and see His pursuit of them as His beloveds.
So, our imagination provides the fire for our creativity. Our creativity furnishes our inventions with the ability to be both works of art and works of witness about who God is and who we are in His presence. Yet imagination befuddles. It doles out so many ideas that we cede to overwhelm, fear, or despair. Learning how to direct the imagination is part of stewardship, to have agency in such a way that we invite the sparks to become more than a passing notion.
Exploring the Puzzle of the Imagination
I take the plethora of thoughts and emotions to God, spreading them out like a child who has gathered bits of nature on a walk. Together we investigate all that my imagination has generated, looking over what’s at hand.
- What about this idea feels too hot? Is there something so raw in my life that it’s not the right moment to write about it in song, poetry, or prose? Am I too close, needing more time to heal before I can offer it to another?
- Or is there something about it that doesn’t grab my heart enough to be able to explore it quite yet? Do I need to experience it more, explore it more, let it marinade more?
- What I want is to know that whatever I am working on is right in the center of God’s will for my life. It is to be an offering I present that will encourage others to be ever transformed into the image and likeness of Jesus. What we create is to be for God’s glory and for Kingdom good. How will this artistic endeavor be part of someone’s spiritual formation?
When I return from a stroll on the beach, I empty every single one of my pockets to examine what shells caught my eye. I scan my photos to see what pictures are worth keeping and which are duplicates, out of focus, or accidental pocket captures. In the moment of gathering, I don’t discern. I just experience.
Likewise, my imagination doesn’t always discriminate. So God and I consider it. What’s been roused as I seek to create? What am I to kindle? What am I to dampen? Scripture reminds me to take stock: see where I am, ask what God has to say, and pause. Jeremiah 6:16 says,
This is what the Lord says:
“Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, ‘We will not walk in it.’”
I oversee my imagination, plumbing its depths, observing its possibilities, while scrutinizing the emotions and facades that have developed.
- Is what I’m imagining too big? – Something being too big means I haven’t gotten a firm enough grasp on how to concentrate on one particular thing. I can’t do ten things in one blog post or one piece of art. A song writer centers on one way of offering. They usually choose between creating a symphony, ballad, love song, or opera, not putting all elements into one piece. Too big in this manner of speaking can be unwieldy.
- Is what I’m imagining too small? – On the other hand, fear can smack me into a corner, making me go almost invisible. I’m afraid to tackle a subject or project because I’m staying in my comfort zone. I’m aiming safe, focused on what I think is possible. Jesus habitually invited the disciples beyond what they imagined they were able to do…and He’s still doing that today.
- Is what I’m imagining just right? – Again, I return to the why of using the gifts and talents God’s given me. Philippians 4:8 proposes wise borders for the pasture of my imagination. Is it the right time, right place, and right way to bring forth things worth thinking upon? Is what I create full of what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, excellent, praiseworthy? Will it invite others to the heart of Jesus by how it cultivates questions? Does it help others consider the goodness of God in the land of the living?
Imagination opens the door into new spaces of creativity as well as into new avenues of depth with God. Our responsibility and our joy as creative people is to make works of wonder. These works evoke questions, hope, and a new perspective on how God is continually coming for each person who encounters our creative endeavor.
- What about this imaginative endeavor comes across as too hard? – This can be interpreted in two ways. Is it too difficult to accomplish at the moment? Or is my tone too hard? My creative imagination can be rugged and cause discomfort yet it need not be hard-handed nor brusque in its approach. Do I need an attitude adjustment, a healed heart before I spew words or art that is simply too harsh?
- What about this imaginative endeavor comes across as too soft? – Am I afraid to bring forth truth and beauty in a world that is muddled in confusion and correctness? Do I choose sentimentality, displaying sugar-coated, mushy ways rather than authenticity? Being too soft might come about because I lack core strength in who I am in Christ. Does the softness I am tending towards show elements of people-pleasing, wanting to be charming and well-liked? Am I hiding what God has given me to offer by choosing too easy or simple of an approach? As Christ’s own forever, I have authority and wisdom that the world needs to hear and see.
- What about this imaginative endeavor feels just right? – Am I able to present something that gives people something to ponder? Imagination gives us room to create words, sculptures, music, and woodwork that invites people to mull over new perspectives of themselves and of God. Does it bring people to want to know Jesus, to find rest for their souls in Christ alone? Is this creation the place where my imagination, God’s will, and the deep needs of others converges?
Hebrews 13:20-21 says this:
Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.
The One who is Peace Himself, the One who shepherds us, His sheep, equips us with just what we particularly need to do His will. What a relief that it’s not up to me to equip myself, rather to cooperate in partnership with Him!
God wants to work into me what is pleasing to Him. Like yeast that is kneaded into the dough, He will work into me what I need to become more pleasing to Him. That’s what I want for my everyday life: to be a pleasure to God. That’s what I want my imagination to do with all my creative endeavors: to bring delight to God. It’s not always easy to know what to do with our imagination, is it?
May you find what is right for you to offer as you dig into deep conversations with God about your beautiful imagination. I’m eager to partake of the beauty and truth you will bring forth.
- What’s the biggest challenge you face with sharpening your imagination?
- What brings you the most creative joy?
- What’s one way God is stretching you into new spaces with your imagination?
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If you’d like to read more on the topic of the imagination, below are blog and resource suggestions.
Blogs related to Imagination and Creativity:
- Imagination Transportation
- Play as a Spiritual Discipline
- Summer Reading
- Blended Listening
- Cross Training for Creativity
- This is About Poetry
- Stretched Shape Writer
Books about Imagination and Creativity:
- Why We Create: Reflections on the Creator, the Creation, and Creating. Jane Clark Sharl and Brian Brown, Editors
- Adorning the Dark: Thoughts on Community, Calling, and the Mystery of Making. Andrew Peterson
- Only the Lover Sings: Art and Contemplation. Josef Pieper
- The Christian Imagination: The Practice of Faith in Literature and Writing. Leland Ryken, Editor
- Art & the Bible. Francis Schaeffer
- Breath for the Bones: Art, Imagination, and Spirit: Reflections on Creativity and Faith. Luci Shaw
- Glimpses of the New Creation: Worship and the Formative Power of the Arts. W. David O. Taylor