Thursday, February 08, 2007

I Can't Even Imagine

My imagination lacks sparkle. It exists and acts through similes, puns, and problem solving, but it always ends there. This partly explains why I've never read a lot of science fiction such as "Lord of the Rings." Yes, "Lord of the Rings." It explains why much of Vonnegut's "Slaughter House Five" was lost on me when I recently read it. My mind just cannot keep up in a world the operates according to different rules than the one I live in.

We all have our weaknesses, and no one does everything well. Still, this imaginative inadequacy blinds me to certain realities, especially in my relationship with God. In his book that seemingly every Christian under the age of 25 has read, "Blue Like Jazz," Don Miller writes:

"Too much of our time is spent trying to chart God on a grid, and too little is spent allowing our hearts to feel awe. By reducing Christian spirituality to formula, we deprive our hearts of wonder. . . . I need to be somewhere else after I die, somewhere with God, somewhere that wouldn't make any sense if it were explained to me right now. At the end of the day, when I am lying in bed and I know the chances of any of our theology being exactly right are a million to one, I need to know that God has things figured out, that if my math is wrong we are still going to be okay. And wonder is that feeling we get when we let go of our silly answers, our mapped out rules that we want God to follow. I don't think there is any better worship than wonder."

This wonder is what I miss when I fail to imagine, when I confine my thinking to the world that I experience, when I think that God must circulate only amidst the realms which I can understand.

This lack of wonder and imagination has a multitude of implications, but I've been recently thinking about in the context of the fall of man when Adam and Eve first chose to sin and were expelled from the Garden of Eden. It occurred to me yesterday while on a jog (I don't run anymore, I just jog - and there is a difference) that I sell the fall short, that I don't give it it's proper signifigance. A friend of mine recently wrote to a co-worker that we were slightly different creatures before the fall. I believe we were radically different creatures before the fall, that everything was radically different.

I do not get much of a taste of the Edenic world. Like Martin Luther, I cannot say the Lord's Prayer without sinning. Except in rare cases such as the observance of the starry night sky or an act of love motivated not by the famililar condescension, guilt, and duty but by empathy, sacrifice, and joy, I do not experience the pre-fall world. And maybe I do not even in these fleeting moments. This is a problem for one who lacks imagination. I assent to the fact that the fall was huge with my mind, but the life change and world view change that should accompany this assertion requires wonder, to think outside of what I experience.

Can I imagine this, a world where:

Nakedness was the clothing of the day, and we never thought otherwise. Death did not sit right over our shoulder. I never felt like I had to prove myself. Childbirth was painless. No relational awkwardness existed. Motivations were pure, lacking self-interest. Our work week was not a source of misery. Depression and cancer never existed. Infants did not die in sleep. I never worried. We never understood the concept of war. The environment was subdued but not destroyed. We interacted and did not hate. Poverty and competition were utterly foreign. Our purpose in life was always crystal clear. There was no fear on more than just bad mid-90's t-shirts. Wolves dwelled with lambs. Leopards lied down with goats. Calfs and lions sat together. Nursing children played safely near the hole of a cobra. Quiet times were unnecessary because perfect, consistent communion with God happened.

And this would only be the beginning. The world may not even physically look like it does today. We might not eat the same foods or look the way we do. I believe everything would have been different, that death-filled sin had that great of an effect. My imagination cannot grasp this.

Perhaps this is why life is so hard. Perhaps this why, as I wrote Tuesday, life rarely seems to be just right, and when it does, it quickly changes. It's almost like the people we have been made to be are not suited for this environment. It's almost like we were made for a whole new world.

In the best book ever written other than the Bible, C.S. Lewis writes, "If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world." I think this is true and might explain a lot in my life.

If only I imagine.


Kim Drye said...

In my opinion, if there was a fall, it existed within man only...the world itself saw few changes. It was man who began to not be satisfied--who no longer could accept the perfection of the world for what it was. It was our ability to face joy and find it within the world as it existed that fell. If we all stopped to think about it, we would not want a world without pain, for without pain, how do we know comfort? Without sorrow, how do we know joy? Id like to quote one of my favorite authors from the chapter of his book, The Prophet, called "On Joy":
"Your joy is your sorrow unmasked.
And the selfsame well from which your laughter rises was oftentimes filled with tears.
And how else can it be?
The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain...
When you are joyous, look deep into your heart and you shall find it is only that which has given you sorrow that is giving you joy."
-Kahlil Gibrahn
I do not believe that there was ever a world without pain, fear, or sorrow. I do believe that it was possible that our perception of all these things changed and that now we hold these things too close to ourselves, believe ourselves to be so important that we no longer see the relation between our suffering and our joy. It is our pride, it is our desires that keep us from a perfect world. The world itself, your God's creation, is perfect as it is. It is man alone that has fallen.
This idea exists in the story of creation and in Eastern philosphy as well. Both teach that it is our desires that make us fail.

Ben said...

Ms. Drye,

I hear wonderful things about Gibran from a close friend of mine, who, in fact, sent me this same excerpt earlier in the week as a comfort for some sadness I was dealing with. Gibran is on my list of poets to read next, along with some guy named Rilke who another friend likes and who wrote, "If you can't imagine life without poetry, go be a poet." I dig that.

My experience resonates with what Gibran writes. My favorite sports moments are those when I thought we had lost. My roomate's acceptance to dental school was so great because we thought he had been denied.

I do struggle with his literal idea that our joy is proportional to our sorrow. Does someone suffering from depression have greater capacity for joy than someone who does not? Does a happy rich child in America have the potential for greater sorrow than a poor African child? Are these questions concerning emotions that mathematical, as Gibran implies that they are by saying, "The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain."?

I do not know.

As to the fall, I do not know whether we could experience a life of total joy or total sorrow independent of the other. All I know is a life of both, as you articulate. I do hope for a day of perfect joy, however. I will not discount the possibility of something just because I have not experienced it.

Given my belief in some kind of creator being, if utter satisfaction and fulfillment can exist, he must provide it, as he alone knows what it takes to satisfy and fulfill me. I guess, ultimately, that's what keeps me going.

Thanks for the thoughts!

Jenn Pappa said...

Hey Ben and Kim :)

This post had me thinking for days. I'm a big fan of believing that sorrow brings blessing into your life so it was hard for me to think of a world where sorrow wouldn't be and how that could be a good thing.

I mulled over this until I realized that sorrow in itself isn't good.. it just points us to look at something good. As a christian, sorrowful moments in my life has strengthened my relationship with the Lord and helped make the gap between this world and the endtimes seem so great. I have to say that sorrow is good because it makes us see things from a different perspective.. it points to what is real and what is good- God. But before we were separated from God and when we will be joined with him again, it seems to me that there will be no need of sorrow. We won't need to be reminded because we will be right there in his presence, soaking it up.