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“WHAT DO YOU SEE before you look?” James K.A. Smith asks in his editorial introduction to the Winter 2020 issue of Image Journal.org. He continues with this insight on imagination revealed by Jesus’ parable in answer to the lawyer who asked, “Who is my neighbour?”

“Jesus told a parable about recognition and its failures. What distinguished the priest and the Levite from the good Samaritan were their very different habits of perception. Already, at first glance, each saw something that engendered either aversion or compassion. What they did next reflects how they saw. “Who is my neighbor?” is not a question of jurisdiction; it’s a question of imagination. To see the person before me as an enemy or animal is a failure of imagination; to see a neighbour instead is a feat of the imagination.”

Smith analysis of our society is that we are “grappling with a soul-sickness that is ultimately an infection of our imagination” – and suggests that it is perhaps the arts that are needed to heal the imagination

Imagination Needed to Navigate the World

“The imagination is not just our capacity to invent, to project something new. Imagination is more like our feel for the world. Think of it as a faculty of perception pitched somewhere between intellect and instinct. Instinct is our biological hardwiring that determines certain kinds of responses to our environment. Intellect is our capacity for theoretical reflection. But imagination is, in fact, our default mode of navigating the world—a perceiving that is intertwined with acting, a perception that is pre-theoretical and largely unarticulated.”

Philosopher Charles Taylor points out that our social imaginary is “not expressed in theoretical terms, but is carried in images, stories, and legends.”  Thus Smith continues:

“In other words, the social imaginary is shaped by the ways artists show us the world: our storytellers, image-makers, and performers of all kinds enact a story about who we are.

This, of course, is also where we go wrong. Our imaginations are susceptible to malformation depending on what images we feed them, what stories they soak up. It’s the imagination—well – or malformed—that determines what I see before I look.

This is why the arts are crucial to our collective imagination. Grabbing hold of us by the senses, artworks have a unique capacity to shape our attunement, our feel for the world. The question isn’t whether the arts will shape us, but which.”

What Art Shapes You & Heals Your Imagination?

Or is the better question: what artists do you let shape you? What artist heals your imagination? In “Artists rescue us when the wonder has leaked out“, I said “Jesus is the ultimate artist who rescues us when the wonder has leaked out. He re-mystifies the morbidly material rationalist; He stirs the soul of the most fastidious concrete thinker; He enlivens all whom He touches.”

In contrast to being healed and transformed by the One who created us in His image, the more disconnected we are from Him, the more prone we are to distort our creativity into our own image. Both our world and our imagination of who God is becomes darkened by our demi-god insistence that we are in control.

At the root of so many of our social ills today is not just what people believe or profess but what they see at a glance. And that is the effect of how they’ve learned to see—their habits of perception. The way we reflexively imagine others is what truly shapes our action in the world.

Of late, many people have overwhelmingly been shaped by stories that portray others as threats and competitors, even stories that fundamentally dehumanize those who differ from us. Our habits of perception have been subtly trained to imagine the other as an invader, a competitor, an adversary, which is why our default has become individualism, egoism, and self-preservation. We then make the world in our image.

For the entire article by James K.A. Smith go to “Healing the Imagination.”

Be Transformed by the Renewing of Your Mind

Who are the artists you let shape or misshape your imagination? 

What are the habits of imagination you participate in?

As you resist being malformed, how are you otherwise transformed?

An ancient passage from Scripture encourages us to:

No longer let the pattern of this world squeeze you into its mold, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.

What does it mean to Renew your Mind?

Part of the answer is having your mind renewed by God’s mind – by renewing it over and over, and often and ever with God’s word. This is a daily habit of learning to heal our imagination with the creator of imagination – the One who imagined us in the first place before He formed us to resonate with His beauty.

Therefore let me encourage you to allow the artistry of His Holy Spirit refresh you with the splendour of the Great Artist Himself.