Culture of Imagination

connecting spirituality to everyday life

Tag: mystery

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?

A Mystery to Participate In


Does Jesus really want us to believe in him if we do not practice what he taught about love, community, humility, grace, compassion, kindness and authenticity?  It seems that Jesus is not really an idea to believe in but more of a mystery to participate in.  I want to participate in the mystery of the body of Christ here in the place that I live.  Christ is drawing me into community where I find the many faces of God through my neighbors as I practice my spirituality in the twenty-first century.

  •  The rain came down, the stream rose, and the winds blew

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.  The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand.  The rain came down, the stream rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash”  (Matthew 7:24-27).

  •  A practice-based approach to life

It seems that Christ is emphasizing a practice-based approach to life.  He must want his body to practice his words and teachings.  It is within the context of shared life, proximity, living into the ordinary, seeing the sacredness of life and a commitment to a particular place where the body of Christ can practice their faith as a way of life together.

  •  Christ’s teachings are practiced together in everyday life

This is very foreign to the dominant paradigms of the day, but Christ’s teachings are always based on practical life situations.  They are best practiced together in everyday life. The apostle Paul passed this on as well.

“Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice …”  (Philippians 4:9).

Or, to the church in Corinth,

“Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ  (1 Corinthians 11:1).

They must have grown to know Paul deeply and have been encouraged in what they had seen in his relational life among them.  He is encouraging them to live with a grounded practice-based theology within their local context just as he did.

  •  On-the-ground practice based-theology

We should develop our theology not just from an intellectual or theoretical perspective, but from what I call an “on-the-ground practice-based theology.” All theology should be practiced, tested, and even discovered in the context of real-life experience.  It should not dismiss everyday life, but instead integrate it with the intellectual stimulation that comes through learning new information. Learning is both intellectual and environmental within the context of the locality we live in.

  •  The integration of both/and

It is not either/or but an integration of both/and.  Just as the church cannot be separated from locality, so the academic and intellectual cannot be separated from the environmental and local contexts of life.  We desperately need the paradox of combining the environmental learner in local relational contexts with the intellectual academic learner of the classroom.  A Christianity that doesn’t hold to this paradigm is likely to be empty and irrelevant to life.

  •  The body of Christ in everyday contexts of life

Why do many people question the existence of God today?  I think it might have something to do with the reality that many people have never seen the body of Christ in the everyday contexts of life.  All they have seen is what we box up inside of a building or cram into a ministry one day a week.

  •  Others have not experienced grace and love from us

It doesn’t seem holistic to a lot of people—me included.  They have not felt from us God’s love. They have not experienced from us God’s grace.  We have not fascinated them with God’s beauty.

  •  Creating a culture of imagination

I think it is important to have an awakening around this on-the-ground practice-based theology.  Let’s take the theology of the intellectual in the classroom and integrate it with the on-the-ground practice-based theology of the neighborhood.  There need not be any dualities between the two.  Let them become one and we will see a culture of imagination rise from the dead.

In what ways do you take a practice based approach to your spirituality?

Losing Sight of the Mystery


The question I have constantly pondered through life is, What does it mean to have Christ living in me?  It seems to me this is the question we are to play with our whole lives.  After decades of seeking God in some form, I have realized that all of my spirituality is to be embodied through love.  Without love, Christ is not being allowed to live within my body.

In order to love and live, I must live as an ordinary mystic of sorts.  One who allows life to come from within as I listen deeply and love authentically.  This make it harder to create God in my image by allowing the image of God within me to shape who I become.

  •  Losing sight of the mystery of our spirituality

Our spirituality has become too rationalistic, too embedded into the modernity of our culture in the past decades.  In the midst of all this, we have lost sight of the mystery of the gospel, the mystery of the body of Christ, the mystery of God’s ordinary miracles among us and the mystery of the human being.  Our Christianity has a mystical nature rooted in our bodies.

  •  A mystical nature in everyday life

When you take away the mystical nature of Christianity, you have a distorted spirituality that is void of all substance and life.  You have a skeleton instead of a body.  The mystical nature of Christianity could bring a lot of life back to the body of Christ in the parish.  Our spirituality was meant to have a mystical nature in everyday life.

  •  Our very life and strength

This is how we commune with God together.  The mystical nature of Christianity is our very life and strength.  It comes to us in all kinds of ordinary ways through the relational context of place.  The mystical imagination lives by the mystery of Christ living in us.

  •  Seeing an alternative to the North American status quo culture

Jacques Ellul says, “The mystic experience frightens us…”  We are uncomfortable with the mystical nature of Christianity because it pushes us to live in our bodies.  It pushes us to become selfless and lose our ego identities.  It opens up the imagination to see alternatives to the North American status quo culture.

  •  The mystical imagination is shunned by the ego

We might become frightened because Christ will disturb and haunt our every agenda with unpredictability.  The mystical imagination is shunned by the ego.  The ego does not like the mystical imagination that seeks to destroy all our illusions that we have created.

  •  Losing our lives to the mystical nature of Christianity

There is no escaping the mystical nature of Christianity.  It is a way forward in how we can follow Christ in this postmodern age.  The mystical nature of Christianity should frighten us in a way because we will truly lose our lives to it.

How can we embody the mystical nature of Christianity as Christ lives in us?

Seeing Similarities Instead of Differences


I grew up being extremely sheltered from others who have not been raised like me.  The church did not teach me that knowing the poor or caring for the poor are important in the teachings of Jesus.  Sometimes I feel ashamed to be an American.

  • Seeing my similarities with others

I have learned a gospel without hospitality and love.  I was taught to fear the poor, the stranger, the Native American, the Mexican, the Latino, the African-American, the Asian and those from the Middle East.  This has never really seemed authentic to me, so I started to become more open to a practice of hospitality.  On this journey I am learning to see my similarities with others more than my differences.

  • Understanding the beginning of a friends story

My friend Larry is a Native American man who is homeless.  He grew up in a dysfunctional home.  His father was not there for him.

  • Larry did not receive much care

Larry often stole stuff from stores because he did not have much growing up.  He soon found himself in juvenile detention and he dropped out of high school.  Larry was shipped around to foster homes where he did not receive much care.  He now is in his fifties and has lived on the streets for a long time.

  • His life seems sad to most people

One day when I was walking home after a movie, I saw him sleeping in the bushes off of Fawcett Street.  He regularly comes to the Catholic Worker House in our neighborhood to take a shower and socialize on the porch with others.  His life seems sad to most people who live in houses and apartments, but I am discovering how God cares for Larry just as much as he cares for me.

  • Longing for friends and human connection

I am coming out of my blindness to see Larry in all his mystery and value as a human being.  It is fascinating how much I learn from Larry as I spend time with him.  He loves the sitcom Friends from the 90’s.  I believe it resonates with him because he longs for friends and human connection like all of us.

  • Christ lives in and through the poor

Larry does not like to be lonely, but oftentimes that is his experience.  He is always so cheerful, respectful and kind.  He is a model to me of the caring presence of Jesus in our midst.  I don’t know if Larry thinks of himself this way, but Christ lives in and through the poor among us.

  • Through the faces and stories of the poor

I am reminded that God shows me himself through the faces and stories of the poor.  Jesus was the poor, the lonely, the crucified, the betrayed, the abandoned, the marginalized, the vulnerable.  I want to embrace the life of Jesus through caring for the poor, showing hospitality and finding the similarities between us.

How can we start to practice a hospitality of love?


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?

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?