Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Month: February, 2014

Discipline and Undistractedness

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I have found that my communion with God is a mystery.  I have to live in the tension of mystery and intentionality.  This mystery lives within me, but I have to have some attention to it.  I have to let my communion live, grow and evolve over my lifetime.

  • Communion that is creative, evolving, unpredictable

The mystical imagination is not built on chance or fate.  The mystical imagination is a metaphor of our communion with God.  This is a communion that will be creative, passionate, alive, evolving, unpredictable and rooted.

  • Unwilling to leave anything to chance

The mystical imagination does not practice patterns of escapism, but embraces truthfulness in our lives together as the body of Christ in the parish.  Robert Benson writes, “We are unwilling, it seems to me, to leave anything in our lives to chance except the way we live out our lives in communion with the One who gave us life in the first place.  It seems odd to me.”

  • Our communion with our Creator is left to chance

It seems odd to me also that we are intentional about so many things in life: our families, our shopping, our entertainments, our social life, our careers, our sexuality, our appetites, our comfort and security – except our communion with our Creator.  We almost have no imagination for the mystical in everyday life.  We settle for the cliché of our concept of predestination that says “everything has a purpose and if it’s meant to be it will happen.”

  • The “real world” of images and entertainment

So we end up never really pursuing God within the framework of the mystical imagination in everyday life.  We say, “It just isn’t a part of the real world.”  It is secondary to the “real world” of images and entertainments.  The “real world” is what we can see right in front of us all of the time.

  • An undistracted life of liberation

We need a mystical imagination that redefines what the “real world” is to us as the body of Christ in the parish.  We need a mystical sense of discipline that helps us to not escape God and one another through our local context.  We need an undistracted life of liberation.  God needs to be pursued with everything that lives within us.

  • Learning some discipline

This will not happen by chance.  So let us forget about chance and learn the life of the mystical imagination with some discipline and undistractedness.  This is the path of becoming saints in our local context through our relationships in all the commonality and diversity that abides.

  • Obliterating the reality of my life

Jacques Ellul in His book Humiliation Of The Word says, “Above all, I must not become aware of reality, so images create a substitute reality…  Artificial images, passing themselves off for truth, obliterate and erase the reality of my life and my society.  They allow me to enter an image-filled reality that is much more thrilling…”

How can we not leave our communion with our Creator to chance?

Book Review – Pilgrimage of a Soul: Contemplative Spirituality for the Active Life by Phileena Heuertz

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This is a great book by Phileena Heuertz who explores the themes of awakening, longing, darkness, death, transformation, intimacy and union.  She talks about her journey from being a protestant to becoming a catholic, her decision not to have children, her struggles with patriarchy and her challenges of walking the Camino de Santiago pilgrimage.  Fascinating book!  Pilgrimage of a Soul was written after many years of working with poor and marginalized people around the world.  Phileena came to a point of needing to get more connected with a contemplative practice of spirituality after seeing so much poverty and suffering in the world to continue on as an activist.

  • The life-shattering experience of a dark night of the soul

“A dark night of the soul is not an intellectual exercise but a life-shattering experience.  This kind of experience cannot be crafted or sought after – it can only be submitted to.  Darkness of the soul, though terrifying, is a profound grace…”

  • Embracing our pain and letting it transform us

“In life we sometimes wish our pain would not linger so long.  But for our benefit there is a necessary season of sitting, walking, living in our pain.  When we embrace our pain, own it, we let it transform us.”

  • Limitations and restrictions can be a grace for us

“In our modern world, it is much too easy to overextend our limits toward activity and productivity.  Stillness, solitude and silence are not valued today like they may have been for our ancestors whose days were filled with these qualities simply by the nature of their life’s labor and limitations.  We tend to see restrictions to activity and engagement as something to be avoided.  But limitations and restrictions can be a grace for us.  Within the context of our limitations, God can do for us what we cannot…”

  • The risk of neglecting contemplation

“…the one who neglects contemplation is at risk of being motivated and driven by false-self compulsions…”

  • Disciplines of embodiment

“Because we in the overdeveloped West have become so accustomed to privileging the mind over the body, disciplines of embodiment can be intimidating and even perplexing…”

  • Living into our true self

“Living into our true self, being free of our ego and rooted in love allows for true acts of peace and justice.  Without attention to our internal motivations and attachments, we are at risk of imposing our will on the world – deceived into thinking we are doing a virtuous thing – only to find out we need forgiveness for our action… The ways we interact with the world can be connected so deeply to our false self that we cause more harm than good.  In our misapprehension we do not realize that what we are doing may actually be reaping destruction cloaked in virtue.  The greater our leadership and influence, the greater the potential domination and devastation…”

How can we live into a contemplative spirituality?

Falling into the I-it

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I have learned in my life that it is so easy to objectify others.  It is so easy to use others and trample them to get what I want out of life.  Often times I am believing in my own narratives of self-preservation over love.  Labeling and characterization have been problematic for me as I have let myself lose the sense of the image of humanity in others.

Maybe all of this labeling and characterization is because of my own insecurities about myself.  I want to pretend that I am strong, but maybe I not.  I want to pretend that I know who I am, but maybe I don’t.

  • Falling from the I-thou to the I-it

Walker Percy says in his book Signposts in a Strange Land, “If I do conceive you as a something in the world rather than a co-celebrant of the world, I fall from the I-thou to the I-it.  Yet I am not able to dispose of you as finally as I dispose of shoes and ships and sealing wax.  There remains your stare, which may not be symbolized.  If I am determined to dispose of you by formulation, I had better not look at you.”

  • Becoming co-celebrants of the world

When we fall into the I-it relationship we lose sight of the image of humanity in one another. We are all to be “co-celebrants of the world” as the body of Christ together in everyday life. If we can’t do this, we shouldn’t be in relationship with one another.  We can’t be in relationship with one another when we do this.

  • Doing away with objectifying others

There will be no relational revelations among us when this happens in the parish.  The communal imagination restores the I-thou to our relationships where we can touch the image of our common humanity.  We should do away with objectifying others.

  • Suppressing the image of humanity within others

We limit others when we try to suppress the image of humanity within them.  Henri Nouwen, who gave up the academic life as a professor at Harvard University to live at L’Arche Daybreak as a friend to the physically disabled,  writes, “Characterization is common but narrowing.  Labeling is always limited.  It reveals a lot about our own insecurities and gives us a false understanding of the real nature of our neighbors.”

  • Characterization and labeling keep us from one another

Labels keep us from knowing others in the fullness of their humanity.  Characterization and labeling are anti-grace.  They are cruel and mean, unkind and devaluing.

  • Becoming healers instead of destroyers of one another

There needs to be a change that happens deep within us so we don’t continue to create the same I-it relational context that is so prevalent in our culture.  We need the communal imagination to see the image of our humanity and to be healers instead of destroyers of one another.  Labeling  and characterization will always harm our relationships in the parish. They block any relational revelations that could possibly happen between us.

Why do we objectify others?

Why Success Ruins

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I have struggled in my life with the “real world” of ambition and success.  Maybe I don’t have much desire to be wealthy and powerful.  I think there is much more to life than this.  I often times think, “Did Jesus really care very much about ambition and success, than why should I?”

  • Living for personal economic gain versus relational connection

The call of opportunity tends to push us away from one another in the parish.  When we live more for personal economic gain rather than for relational connecting with one another in the place that we inhabit, we have lost our balance.  We are going to have a hard fall if we do not change our ways.  Our bonds are broken when we fail to nourish a discernment around simplicity.

  • So quickly gone whenever something better comes along

With our eyes fixed on new and better financial opportunities, we live into a transience that uproots us every couple of years.  We never stay in a place long enough to develop relationships of care.  We never learn to see God through others because we are so quickly gone whenever something we perceive as better comes along.

  • The effects of our ambition and success

We need to really reflect on the effects of our ambition and success on those around us.  Do we have the courage to replace it with a simplicity that draws us closer together as the body of Christ in the parish?  Ambition and success communicate that we do not need one another.  We can make it on our own.

  • Refusing to depend on anyone

We don’t need to depend on anyone because we make our own things happen.  This is an illusion.  This kind of thinking and acting pulls us apart from one another in the parish.  We begin to lose our souls

  • Being ripped apart

The body of Christ has been ripped apart by ambition and success.  They are anything but countercultural.  The communal imagination calls us out of this and into something more holistic.

  • Becoming hyper-individualists

Bill McKibben writes in his book Deep Economy, “We don’t need each other for anything anymore.  If we have enough money, we’re insulated from depending on those around us – which is at least as much a loss as a gain.”  He goes on to say, “Our affluence isolates us ever more.  We are not just individualists; we are hyper-individualists such as the world has never known.”

  • The lust for affluence is psychotic

The worst kinds of injustices are done to others in the name of ambition and success.  When we attach our imaginations and our identity to this way of being, we bring a lot of destruction down upon ourselves and others.  “We really must understand,” Quaker Richard J. Foster says, “that the lust for affluence in contemporary society is psychotic.  It is psychotic because it has completely lost touch with reality.”

Why is ambition and success so important to us?

Book Review – Disunity in Christ: Uncovering the Hidden Forces that Keep Us Apart by Christena Cleveland

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What a great book by social psychologist Christena Cleveland who helps us to understand the hidden perceptions that often times keep us separated from one another in everyday life.  Based on a lot of research, she draws out how our homogeneous group thinking is destructive and not helpful in the pursuit of unity in the body of Christ.  She focuses on how categorizing and labeling others distorts how we see each other and pollutes our interactions.  This book shows us how the homogeneous groups we form protect our identity and self-esteem often times leading to hostile conflict and cloudy judgments.

  • Striving for cultural diversity and collaboration 

“I believe that churches and Christian organizations should strive for cultural diversity.  Regardless of ethnic demographics, every community is multicultural when one considers the various cultures of age, gender, economic status, education level, political orientation and so on.  Further, every church should fully utilize the multifaceted cultural diversity within itself, express the diversity of its local community, expertly welcome the other, embrace all who are members of the body of Christ and intentionally collaborate with different churches or organizations in order to impact the kingdom…”

  • Fixating on differences causes us to ignore commonalities

“Fixating on differences leads us to ignore glaring commonalities and focus on distinguishing ourselves from other groups, making it less likely for us to think that we should get to know other groups and collaborate with them…”

  • Uncomfortable with ambiguity

“Because we’re uncomfortable with ambiguity, if we can find a concept to help us make sense of the world, we will cling to it – even if the concept is incomplete.  We want to quickly close the door to ambiguity because it threatens who we are.  In our brazen attempts to make sense of the world, we prefer to settle for an answer even if it’s not the answer.  When we encounter different cultural perspectives, the number of possible “answers” is increased and so is ambiguity.  Naturally, we want to squelch those pesky different perspectives.”

  • Becoming valuable members of the all-inclusive we

“When we idolize our cultural group identity, giving it higher priority than our common group identity, minority group members are not truly invited to participate in the organization as valuable members of the all-inclusive we.  Rather, they are invited to participate in the organization as them – subordinate outgroup members and second-class citizens.  Until we relativize our smaller cultural identities and adopt a common ingroup identity, our diversity initiatives are doomed to failure because we will never fully appreciate our diverse brothers and sisters and they will not feel appreciated.”

  • The confines of our homogeneous groups

“If we answer the call to adopt a common identity, our lives as we know them will be destroyed.  However, once the transformation is complete, we will see its beautiful fruit and wonder how we ever lived within the confines of our homogeneous groups.”

What are your thoughts on homogeneous groups within the body of Christ?

Seeking to be a Body Together

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I have experienced the church in my life as a building that you attend once a week where it is very difficult to share life with others outside of this space.  This always seemed very lonely and frustrating to me as I have wanted the expression of church to be more authentic.  I have always wanted church to be different, maybe a network of relationships in a place where I share life with others in the context I live in.

  • The Interdependence of the early church

I often wonder what it would be like to be around those Christians in the book of Acts.  They were real flesh-and-blood people like us who saw a sacredness in their life together as followers of Christ.  They needed one another.  They cared for one another.  They trusted one another.  They were in relationship with one another.

  • The practice of shared life together

They probably didn’t see this as radical; it was just how they lived as Christ’s body together. “Every day they continued to meet together …  They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts…” (Acts 2:46).

  • Seeking something beyond institutionalization

As Christianity started to become institutionalized and the idea of just going to a service became more common, some followers of Christ went out into the desert to create new communities where they could live their faith together in everyday life.  This is how monasticism started.  They wanted to seek God in the solitude of the desert apart from the over-institutionalization that they felt was corrupting the body of Christ.

  • Living relationally with one another

All of this happened a long time ago.  But how will we respond to the institutionalization of the body of Christ in our time?  Will we give up and let our imaginations be imprisoned by all of this or will we live relationally with one another, rooted in local contexts within neighborhoods?

  • A living breathing body

The body of Christ is not some mechanism with no heart and life, but a living breathing body.  All bodies breathe, move, change and relate to their environment.  When bodies are unhealthy they stop functioning properly.  When bodies are dead we bury them.

  • Becoming an evolving body in everyday life

Kester Brewin says, “We must reestablish ourselves as the body of Christ, not the machine of Christ.  Bodies are organic, dynamic, sentient, and conscious …  Machines break down, while bodies evolve …”  We should be an evolving body in everyday life together.  Will we feel the pain and the joy of living life together and loving one another?

  • We are not building a machine but a body

These are difficult real-life experiences that we cannot escape if we are to be human.  We are not building a machine but a body.  I don’t want to become a part of a machine where I become the very fuel that it needs to work.

Why is it so difficult to share life with others?


The World Needs Forgiveness

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I think I have understood for most of my life that Christ desires to forgive me when I do hurtful things in the world.  But I have often not understood how essential it is to manifest love into the world by my own acts of forgiveness to those I am in relationship with.  I am coming to see that this is the very function of the body of Christ, to show forgiveness and love in a world that is often times violent and hostile in our relationships.  If we cannot forgive we cannot love.

  • Christ has always lived in grace

Christ was a forgiver.  Christ still is a forgiver.  Christ lived in grace.  Christ still lives in grace.

  • Learning to forgive one another

The body of Christ needs to learn of him in this way.  We need to learn to forgive.  We need to learn to become an expression of his grace to one another in our relationships in the parish.  This is the only sustainable way to live out our lives together.

  • Living in proximity is impossible without grace

Forgiveness is the only way we can sustain our relational connections to one another.  Living in proximity is impossible without forgiveness.  It is just too hard and we will not have the strength to get along without grace and forgiveness.  Our relationships will fall apart and become an illusion without forgiveness.

  • Christ is manifested through us by forgiveness

We need to open ourselves up to Christ through forgiveness toward one another.  Christ is manifested to us through our forgiveness.  If we don’t get this, the communal imagination will not have a chance to live in and among us.  Could embracing a holistic spirituality among us be wrapped up in the way we forgive one another?

  • Manifesting the love of Jesus

Trappist mystic Thomas Merton states, “It is our forgiveness of one another that makes the love of Jesus for us manifest in our lives, for in forgiving one another we act towards one another as He acted towards us.”

  • Translating grace into our deepest conflicts and struggles

We cannot share life together in the parish without this gift of forgiveness and grace infusing our relationships.  We like to talk about God’s grace in terms of our own forgiveness, but when will we shift to a new paradigm of translating that grace into our deepest conflicts and struggles to love one another?  This would be a miracle indeed.

  • Having the courage to be in relationship with one another

Sometimes the last thing we want to do is forgive each other, live together, share some life together.  Running away from one another makes forgiveness impossible and damages the body of Christ.  We need to have the courage to be in relationship with one another and to forgive over and over again.  This would lighten our egocentric agendas and cause us to lose control of our lives.

How can we find the courage to be in relationship with one another and show forgiveness?

The Practice of Mindfulness

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Almost every time that I have heard of the idea of mindfulness I would think of Buddhism instead of Christianity.  Buddhism is often times thought of as a way of life while Christianity is often thought of as a set of beliefs.  I am coming to understand Christianity as referring to the practice of following Christ as a way of life.  This is so rare and unusual that a lot of people cannot relate to the practice of love and mindfulness as it relates to Christianity.

  • Jesus was the most mindful person who ever lived

Jesus seemed to practice a mindfulness in all that he did.  I would say that Jesus was probably the most mindful person who ever lived.  Mindfulness is a fruit of contemplation that helps us to listen, cultivating awareness and compassion for those around us.  Mindfulness is about a wisdom that Jesus teaches us as the body of Christ in the parish.

  • Becoming a mindful community

In order to be sane we need to practice mindfulness.  Without mindfulness we become selfish, individualistic people who do not care about much in life.  This is not what the body of Christ is called to in everyday life together.  We need to be a mindful community that practices contemplation.

  • Being in touch with reality

This is what the mystical imagination is made up of.  Mindfulness is about being in touch with reality, experiencing reality and letting this reality shape us.  All truth is mindful of reality.

  • Mindfulness leads to compassion and care

Mindfulness helps us to experience the truth of who we are.  Mindfulness helps us to experience our place in a proper context.  We learn to care, show compassion and gratitude.  Mindfulness guides us into all relational revelations in the place we inhabit.

  • The teacher of mindfulness

There is no greater teacher than Jesus on the practice of mindfulness.  He was an expression of mindfulness during his life in his local context.  Jesus had a mystical imagination that cultivated mindfulness.

  • The gift of mindfulness

There is a gift in mindfulness.  This gift of mindfulness allows us to see the many possibilities before us as the body of Christ in the parish.  The possibilities of love, compassion, grace and humility live in little seeds within us.  They need to be cultivated through the mystical imagination.

  • Cultivation and potential

We can dedicate ourselves in ways we never thought possible to the practice of mindfulness through contemplation.  Macrina Weiderkehr says, “We all have the potential to give ourselves wholeheartedly to whatever it is we must do.  This is the gift of mindfulness…”  We can give our lives in mindfulness to things that really matter to our local context.  This gift can be cultivated our whole lives.

How can we cultivate mindfulness in our lives?

All of Life is Sacred

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I was taught that the world is bad and that I am a sinner.  Is this all there is to life where I am destined to misery and self-rejection?  Is there any beauty in the world if it is created by a loving God?  Is life sacred at all?  Can I live into any sense of authenticity in this life?

  • The Pharisees promoted a sacred/secular divide

I don’t understand a sacred/secular divide in life that our Western world seems to promote.  It seem Jesus didn’t live in this sacred/secular divide.  This was more what the Pharisees were about.  Jesus did not judge life to be secular in any way.

  • Living into the sacredness of life

Our lives together cannot be divided by sacred/secular categories anymore.  I want to propose that all of life is sacred.  The body of Christ needs to live into this sacredness of life in the parish.  There is a sacredness to a theology of place.

  • Dualistic thinking is not healthy

We will subvert the sacred/secular divide if we understand this.  Our practice of contemplation cultivates this subversion within us.  We become more aware of what this division is doing to our lives together.  Dualistic thinking and living is not healthy.

  • Annihilation of the dualistic category of sacred and secular

The only way to sanity is through embracing the sacredness of life.  I think that’s what Jesus did.  He saw everything as sacred.  Michael Frost and Alan Hirsch state, “One of the outcomes of a truly monotheistic view of the world is the annihilation of the dualistic category of secular and sacred.  If one God is the source of reality and the reference point for life, how can life be fragmented?…”

  • Moving out of fragmentations

Embracing the sacredness of life dissolves all dualisms in the midst of the parish.  God is the reference point of all reality so there can be no fragmentations anymore.  The mystical imagination subverts the sacred/secular divide.  The sacred/secular divide is destroying the body of Christ in everyday life.

  • The costs of awareness

Our awareness of this needs to be practiced.  We cannot go along anymore living individualistic lives apart from the body of Christ in everyday life in the parish.  Why don’t we want to subvert this sacred/secular divide?  Maybe it costs too much.

  • Christ’s love compels us to the sacredness of all of life

“If we are out of our mind, it is for the sake of God; if we are in our right mind, it is for you.  For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (2 Corinthians 5: 13-15).

What keeps us from embracing all of life as sacred?

Examining the Shape of Our Lives

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Living in a culture that values entertainment, speed, consumerism, individualism and upward mobility has made my life very difficult at times to create within myself some kind of practices of reflection.  I have found that without practices that help me to examine the shape of my life, my imagination becomes stuck and my freedom to live becomes disembodied.  My body has a deep need to breathe, reflect, rest, and slow down.  I am coming to understand more that my life cannot survive in a healthy way without this.

  • Cultivating honesty and trust within  

Our practice of reflection and rest helps us to examine the shape of our lives together.  We are constantly tested by our locality to see if what we believe is being embodied in our everyday lives.  Examining the shape of our lives together takes a sense of honesty and trust in God.  Examining the shape of our lives can be difficult.

  • The mirror of reality

It is the mirror of reality that will praise or shame us.  Reflection and rest cannot escape this examining of our lives together in parish.  There is a freedom to this kind of examining of our lives.  Our freedom is in our presence to the mystical imagination within us as the body of Christ in the parish.

  • Freedom to be fully present in the moment

We will find rest in the examining of our lives together.  We will develop a reflective spirit within us in the examining of our lives together.  Leighton Ford says, “The rest God offers is the freedom to be fully present in the moment, free to reflect and enjoy what has been; to let go of the deficits and regrets that wear us down; free to envision what will be, what we are being re-created for; free to unburden ourselves of regretful thoughts about our yesterdays and anxious thoughts about our tomorrows.”

  • Constantly reimagining our lives

Our freedom is embodied in the ways we learn from our past as we reimagine the present and the future.  When we examine the shape of our lives together through reflection and rest, we are free to reimagine.  We constantly reimagine the present.  This pushes us into the moments of reimagining the future.

  • Working through our anxieties and regrets

Our reflection and rest is always manifested in our reimagining everything.  We will celebrate the past and learn from it.  We will reimagine what God has for us in the present and the days to come.  Through reflection and rest, we will free ourselves to work through our anxieties and regrets.

  • Listening to our tomorrows and yesterdays

We will move into the mystical imagination in the parish.  Our tomorrows will not be so bad and our yesterdays we can learn from.  Our tomorrows and yesterdays speak to us through the mystical imagination in reflection and rest.  Our tomorrows and yesterdays can bring out the life of Christ within us in our locality.

Why is it so difficult to create a reflective spirit within us?