Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: beauty

To Live Among People


I remember one time running and walking in the neighborhood to discover the freedom of the sky, the freedom of the sun, the freedom of the wind and the freedom of the sidewalks.  I sensed God using this creation to speak to me about the livability of this place I was standing on.  God was reminding me of the many days the sun has shown on this land.

For countless years, this place has had the sun.  The wind has blown here.  The sky has watched over it with faithfulness.

So many people decade after decade have walked these sidewalks.  People of different races, socio-economic status, genders, lifestyles and opinions have lived here.  The rich and the poor alike have lived here.

God was reminding me to listen to the stories of the many beautiful Japanese people in the neighborhood who were forced into prison camps in the 1940’s.  God was reminding me of the pictures I had seen on the walls in a local coffee shop of what Downtown Tacoma looked like in the year 1910.  I think to myself, “What a beautiful place this is.”

It was very integrated before the mall was built in the 1970’s.  Now Downtown Tacoma struggles with its local economy.  It has been exploited and abused at times, but it still contains a lot of mystery and beauty.

As I was running another mile through the streets of Downtown Tacoma on a Saturday morning, God was teaching my soul to listen to everything around me.  God was teaching me to listen to everything within me.

I am reminded of the beauty and mystery in my struggles to embody love in this place with others.  Our listening becomes better and more seasoned with each day we practice silence and solitude in some form.  Whether it is alone in a room, running or walking in the neighborhood, doing an artistic expression or just thinking and learning of some kind; our listening is showing us a lot of beauty and mystery that is hard to see otherwise.

Henri J.M. Nouwen says, “It seems more important than ever to stress that solitude is one of the human capacities that can exist, be maintained and developed in the center of a big city, in the middle of a large crowd and in the context of a very active and productive life.  A man or woman who has developed this solitude of heart is no longer pulled apart by the most divergent stimuli of the surrounding world but is able to perceive and understand this world from a quiet inner center.”

Silence and solitude can exist anywhere.  This posture can be practiced within our relational context as the body of Christ in the parish.  Everyday life is filled with moments where listening is required and demanded of us to see the mystery and beauty all around us.  We need to live into this through the mystical imagination.

No context should separate us from silence and solitude.  It is a way of life in all things.  All our relational encounters are to be practiced in silence and solitude with a deep listening intentionality.

Jesus is our example of this way of life.  We should not be slow to have some receptivity to listening to mystery and receiving beauty in the place we inhabit together.

I love this expression by Karen Wilk of her longing for God to move her to embody a compassionate listening where she lives, “Give me your eyes to see this community and its people as you do.  Give me your ears to listen to their hearts as you hear them.  Give me an open and attentive spirit to recognize where you are already at work.  Fill me with courage that I might ask the right questions, accept the true answers, and follow your leading.  Equip and empower me to engage in this place, to live among people just as you did…”

How can we live among people and care?

9 Ways to Preserve what is Beautiful in the World


It is so easy to be cynical about life.  All the injustice, poverty, greed, suffering, pain, loneliness and oppression makes me sad.  There has to be more to life than this.  I find myself frustrated, angry and alone in a world that has sometimes beaten me down.

But I am finding that there is a way to search for the beauty in life amidst of all this.  It is there, but I have to practice an awareness to it every moment.  The wonder of life will escape me if I do not become intentional about receiving it as sacrament in everyday life.  There is a way of beauty within me and around me if I have eyes to long for its reality.

I recently saw this wonderful movie called Wild.  It is about a troubled young women who decides to hike the Pacific Crest Trail for three months to search for life within herself.  Through the death of her mother, an abusive upbringing by her alcoholic father, a divorce from her husband after she spiraled into drug use and several affairs, she is left with nothing.

One scene she falls into tears on the trail screaming in pain over what has happened to her.  The hike is bringing up everything she wishes to forget.  But after three months of struggle on the trail, she is determined not to give up.  As she makes it to the end of the trail it is a major accomplishment for her.

She starts to preserve the beauty within herself and the world around her by realizing all these things that have happen to her have led her to the path of beauty.  She found that her life is sacred on this path of beauty.  She found that beauty holds the world together even in the midst of the hardships, pain and struggle of it all.

Here are 9 ways to hold onto what is beautiful in the world we live in.

1. Preserve what is beautiful, good and authentic

We have lost a sense of the parish imagination that could preserve what will bring cultural renewal in the place we live.  Being rooted and linked could help our cultural situation.  Being rooted and linked could save the beauty in our culture.  We could preserve what is beautiful, good and authentic in our culture.  Being rooted and linked could save our parish imaginations from being lost forever in the midst of our postmodern culture.

Shane Claiborne writes, “Our world is desperately in need of imagination…” 

2. Show desperation to care about the place you inhabit

If we lose our parish imagination to the status quo, we have lost everything that is valuable in life, everything that is beautiful in life, everything that is mysterious in life.  We are in desperate need of the parish imagination in the place we inhabit.  The parish imagination could preserve what will bring cultural renewal to our world of individualism and give some relevance to our spirituality again.

3. Practice and experiment

There is an alternative waiting to happen all throughout our country and beyond that will preserve what will bring us to holistic cultural renewal.  There is a parish imagination waiting to be birthed that is rooted and linked.  This alternative will take much practice and experimentation and will not come to us easily.  But it will be worth the struggle over time!

4. Create an alternative framing narrative

We need an alternative framing narrative that will shape our lives in holistic ways together.  An alternative framing narrative will preserve what will bring us cultural renewal in the parish as the body of Christ in everyday life.  We need an alternative framing story to carry us into the future.  Without an alternative; we are left with an individualistic imagination, not a parish imagination.  And Christ warns us against the dangers of the individualistic imagination.

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites!  You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence…” (Mathew 23:25). 

Brian D. McLaren in his book Everything Must Change says, “So we must realize this: the suicidal framing story that dominates our world today has no power except the power we give it by believing it.  Similarly, believing an alternative and transforming framing story may turn out to be the most radical thing any of us can ever do…” 

5. See the importance of being rooted and linked

Embodying an alternative framing story is countercultural and radical.  It threatens the status quo.  I want to propose that the alternative framing story we need to put our trust in is one of being rooted and linked in everyday life together.  We need to have a parish imagination for life together in the place we live.  The parish imagination could be the new alternative framing story that will shape our lives as the body of Christ into the future of our changing times.

6. Develop, celebrate and recognize assets

There are so many assets that need to be preserved in our neighborhoods.  Assets live in our culture through particular places, localities and neighborhoods.  The parish imagination seeks to preserve, develop, celebrate and recognize the beauty of these assets.

7. Value the beauty that is already there

And the world will be saved through beauty.  It is the beautiful that will cause human flourishing in all of life.  Being rooted and linked will help preserve these assets and celebrate their beauty in the parish.

Miroslav Volf says, “Christian engagement touches all dimensions of a culture and yet doesn’t aim to transform any of them totally.  Instead, in all of them it also seeks and finds goods to be preserved and strengthened…” 

8. Stop trying to change our culture

We do not seek to change our culture, that will be a failing experiment, but we seek to preserve what is beautiful.  We seek to find what is already there and invest our energies in partnering with the good, authentic and beautiful.  Once we do that, we may not have a lot of need to solve all the problems of the world.

9. Take responsibility

They just might start resolving themselves.  This is living in the mystery of our spirituality.  We need to stop trying to “change the world,” but take more responsibility for the assets that are already present in our neighborhoods.

What is one thing we can do to preserve the beauty in our world?

Where is the Body of Christ in Everyday Life?


So many years have gone by where I haven’t experienced the body of Christ in everyday life.  I have almost given up on my spirituality.  I have often wondered, Where is a sense of community in everyday life?  What is the body of Christ doing together besides just gathering in a meeting or a building?  Why do we define church apart from an everyday expression in the place we live?

I don’t understand these things most of the time.  They are confusing to me and do not support my own growth, development and formation in the world.  I have always wanted to be a part of a radical movement that subverts the status quo, but what I have found is my Christianity being reduced to going to church.  This has bored me and has not supported my faith.

Why is it that this dualistic way of church is hindering us from experiencing life?  The church should not keep us from following what is authentic, but I am afraid many times it does.  This must frustrate God.  Why is this not more of a frustration to us too?

God is probably sad over the colonial, individualistic spirituality in North America that we have created through our lack of faithful presence.  As I have found that my spirituality is experienced as an embodied practice in the place I live in everyday life together with others.  It all comes down to listening, love, grace and humility.

I want to love the church and hope for its life in the world.  I want to be a part of a community in the parish in everyday life that can give inspiration to others.  So I am facing the temptation to stop loving the world, but God is calling me to love the place I live, to be a neighbor, to be a friend.

  •  Being cocreators of the future

We are to be cocreators of the future of the place we inhabit together.  It is our local responsibility, our local investment and local ownership that will develop the parish imagination among us.  Tom Sine says, “Incredibly, God invites us to be cocreators in giving imaginative expression to God’s new creation in the here and now…”

  •  Creating the parish imagination in everyday life

We are called to be “imaginative expressions” of the body of Christ in everyday life together in the parish.  There is no franchise approach to this.  When we cocreate with God through the parish imagination; our expressions will be organic, grassroots, creative, contextual, relational and based on our gifts together.  All our assets will come together to create the parish imagination in everyday life.

  •  The cocreation of beauty in our world

This is the cocreation of beauty in our world together in everyday life.  Our expressions of local responsibility could subvert the empire.  Our expressions of local investment could subvert the status quo.  Our expressions of local ownership could subvert the systems that are creating fragmentation, loneliness and isolation.

How can we be cocreators of the future of our world together?

The Awakening Gift of Gratitude


Gratitude does not make sense to my rational, intellectual mind.  My mind cannot understand how to practice gratitude because it doesn’t make sense most of the time.  I often ponder, “How can I practice gratitude when I am frustrated, angry or grieving.”

I have found this to be one of the most challenging practices in everyday life.  It seems that I am learning to live into this more by taking on life in a lot lighter way.  I am learning to laugh, smile, dream again, show more of my humor, and accept the things I cannot change with a gracefulness.  This has been so good for me!

  • Practicing gratitude will open up our imaginations

Practicing the humility of gratitude in our local context will open up our imaginations to our connectedness and commonality.  Seeing our friends as gifts from God and allowing relational revelations to surprise us constantly will open our imaginations to see one another anew.  To say “Thank you” to one another is such a simple but profound practice of gratitude.

  • Showing gratitude could bring healing

Do we alienate ourselves from one another when we refuse to say “Thank you”?  Our culture suffers from a lack of gratitude.  We would rather push others away from us than show them some gratitude.  Showing gratitude towards one another could bring about some healing to our broken society.

  • Authentic community nurtures gratitude

The communal imagination needs a spirit of gratitude.  Henri Nouwen says, “Authentic Christian community nurtures the spirit of gratitude …”

  • Teasing out the beauty in life

Gratitude has an authenticity to it that will tease out all the beauty that life has to offer us. Gratitude nourishes our relationships and gives us a peaceful rest in the midst of the stress of life and the pain it can bring.  Gratitude restores our life’s balance, which helps us to be whole in the midst of our pain.  Our pain will not destroy us if we embrace gratitude.

  • The miracle and gift that gratitude is to us

What a miracle the practice of gratitude is among us.  It is a precious gift that we should never take for granted.  The humility it cultivates between us in the parish is amazing.  The communal imagination embraces gratitude in everyday life.

  • Gratitude is always awakening us to new wonder

Thomas Merton writes, “To be grateful is to recognize the Love of God in everything He has given us – and He has given us everything.  Every breath we draw is a gift of His love, every moment of existence is a grace, for it brings with it immense graces from Him.  Gratitude therefore takes nothing for granted, is never unresponsive, is constantly awakening to new wonder”

  • Seeing everything in life as a gift

Gratitude consists of responsiveness, awakening, and wonder.  When we see everything in life as a gift, this process of discovery never ends.  Every breath we take and every moment of our life are all gifts from God.

How have you practiced gratitude in everyday life?

Learning to Listen Through Silence and Solitude

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Most of my life I have faced the temptation to evade any sense of silence and solitude.  This practice has haunted and terrified me for many years.  I have not wanted to face the reality of listening to my life, God or others.  Because of this I have been blinded to the mystery and beauty in life.

  • Christ learned to listen through the silence and solitude of the desert

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert…” (Matthew 4:1).  Christ was led into the silence and solitude of the desert in order to learn to listen to the mystery and beauty in life. Jesus had a listening spirit because of the silence and solitude he practiced.  He practiced this for the common good of his local community and the world.

  • Listening to life in all things

He needed to practice this in order to listen to life in all things.  The desert was not easy for Jesus, but it was essential to his longing to listen.  What did Jesus do in the desert for 40 days?  If you break it down 40 days is just under 6 weeks.

  • Finding many different ways to listen

I believe he found many different ways to listen.  Most of it was probably practiced in silence.  It was a cultivation of groaning, longing, dreaming, reflecting, walking and sleeping.  He probably was bored, lonely, tired and hungry at times.

  • The process of disciplining ourselves

But he kept going because he knew this was the process of disciplining himself to listen.  This was essential to the whole life of his passion.  Can we imagine what 6 weeks of silence and solitude a year would do for our capacity to listen as the body of Christ in the place we live?  Have we had the courage to experiment with this kind of practice?

  • Becoming seasoned practitioners of listening

We would be a much more holistic church if we experimented with this practice of silence and solitude.  We need to become seasoned practitioners of listening to all of life in the parish.  We need a holistic approach to listening to mystery.  We need a holistic approach to listening to beauty.

  • Finding the mystery and beauty all around us

We need to take this listening seriously through our practice of silence and solitude.  Mystery and beauty are all around us as the body of Christ in everyday life.  We need eyes that long for this mystery and beauty to be seen, understood and experienced in our locality.  It is there, we just have trouble seeing it because we do not always live a life of listening.

  • Keeping silence and solitude so we can listen

Tony Jones says, “Ultimately, we keep silence and solitude so we can listen better – so we can hear what God is saying to us and to our world.”

How can we practice silence and solitude in our lives?

God’s Will is Found in Mutual Interdependence

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I have spent the last twenty years of my life trying to understand my spirituality.  Having moved into a neighborhood ten years ago where I share life with others in community and spending several years studying the most widely read spiritual writer of the twentieth century, Thomas Merton; I am starting to understand that life is to be lived in mutual interdependence.

I have often said to myself, “What kind of a life do I want to lead that can leave a legacy for the church in the twenty-second century after I die.  What will the church look like in the next fifty years?  How can I be the change I want to see in my own life?”  I do not want to just give up on my spirituality just because sometimes our expressions do not represent Jesus very well.

  • Recovering a relational connection with one another

Through a lifetime of spiritual searching, Catholic mystic Thomas Merton came to the conclusion that, “We all need one another, we all complete one another.  God’s will is found in this mutual interdependence.”  What a profound statement!  Christians today need to recover this basic relational connection with one another in daily life.

  • Manifesting goodness and beauty in our life together

This is necessary if we are to find God’s will, and manifest any sort of goodness and beauty in life together.  As we practice being and becoming a local body that fits together in everyday life, that place will form the context for guiding and releasing a Culture of Imagination.  It will begin to subvert the individualistic techniques we try to hide behind.

  • The Scriptures were written to a local body in everyday life

You can see how this works when you read the Scriptures as though they were addressing a tangible local body instead of an individual.  The  Scriptures were not written primarily to an individual, but to a collective of people who were learning to embody the gospel in everyday life.  The apostle Paul wrote to the local church in Corinth to remind  them:

  • An integrated life

“By means of his one Spirit, we all said goodbye to our partial and piecemeal lives.  We each used to independently call all our own shots, but then we entered into a large and integrated life in which he has the final say in everything. … The old labels we once used to identify ourselves – labels like Jew or Greek, slave or free – are no longer useful.  We need something larger, more comprehensive.” (1 Corinthians 12:13,14 The Message)

  • It is a We thing, not an I thing

It was always a We–thing, not an I-thing.  The I is important to the We, but cannot stand alone.  Often we turn our spirituality into an I-thing where it is all about “me and God.”  This epidemic of isolation and loneliness is a disease that needs to be dealt with.

How do we find interdependence with one another in everyday life together?

A Noise Addicted World


Sometimes silence and solitude have seemed like a waste of time to me.  I remember times when I could not be alone within myself or be silent to just listen.  It was terrifying for me to practice this stuff.  But I have been experimenting with silence and solitude for quite some time now finding it quite helpful in my life.

•  Listening to all of life

We seem to have the hardest time with listening in everyday life.  Listening to others, listening to God, listening to our lives, listening to the true self, listening to our environment, listening to our locality, listening to mystery; these become problematic if we are not present to silence and solitude together.  There is so much noise all around us every day.  It’s like we are addicted to noise and hurried activity a lot of the time.

•  Liberation from the noise

God is calling us into the mystical imagination of silence and solitude as the body of Christ in the parish.  We will not be able to embrace this silence and solitude without listening to the mystery and beauty in life.  Listening to the mystery and beauty in life brings liberation from our noise addicted world.  Rene Gerard says in his book The Scapegoat, “No one ever wants to listen…”

•  Living into each moment

Do we really want to be listening to the mystery and beauty in life?  Do we believe there is mystery and beauty in life?  There is an abundance of mystery and beauty at each moment of our lives in the place we inhabit together.

•  Practicing a presence

The mystery and beauty in life is all around us.  It lives within us.  We just have not trained ourselves to experience it.  We have not practiced a presence to the mystery and beauty in life.

•  The experience of mystery and beauty

But it still remains there and Christ is leading us to seek him through the experience of this mystery and beauty.  We need to become a church that listens.  Listening is the beginning of love.

•  Seeking a posture of listening

Without listening, we lose our true selves.  We lose our souls.  We lose a connection with the practice of humility and grace.  The mystical imagination seeks a posture of listening to the mystery and beauty in life.

•  Being sustainable as a local community

Silence and solitude cultivates a listening within us to mystery and beauty.  We cannot fear this silence and solitude anymore.  It is essential if we are to be sustainable as a local community. Our locality will break down if this listening is not present within us.

How have you experienced the mystery and beauty in life through listening?