Monday, January 25, 2010

Beauty and Prayer of the Imagination

When I was in college, a Philosophy major, I was frustrated that my chosen discipline dealt with ideas like God and prayer in a manner that resembled disection, if they dealt with them at all. The subjects were, hopefully, dead before they were cut up so finely or disregarded as unimportant. But God is very much alive, so I'm not sure what we were dicing or ignoring. It's living itself that analysis can't explain, and life that is the wonder.

Having stepped out of church for a while, standing, as I've previously written, like an ox in a field, trying to recollect my sense of relationship with my Divine Father in my figurative red woolly bovine hide and big simple brown-eyed face, steaming in the cold early morning light, I am gradually discovering how I will pray. I had thought this was simply a break, a little fresh air and an indulgence of the imagination to recover balance and perspective, but I now glimpse the possibility that, where prayer is concerned, my whole heart and mind are best engaged in the love and admiration and even obedience of my Lord when I step further into imagination, not back away from it again. The pasture isn't just a side track - it's the first step on a longer road that embraces much more.

I was looking again at the Phoenix Berries blog, and I reread the words in her banner. I first read those words almost twenty years ago, during a night spent in retreat at a tiny Trappist monastery. I had picked the book almost at random from the well stocked library - it was a small volume of quotes from the Philokalia which leapt out at me - words of the Desert Fathers. I carried it to my tiny little cell and read it in the deep silence of the small hours of the morning. I was overcome by those lines, caught up in joy and wonder. I seemed to understand all at once what they meant - that we could channel so much of God that we would light up, burn with a heavenly fire. But how was it done? How do we get out of the way? Is it OK to want that?

I get distracted and put all sorts of other things and people at the center, spinning off track as a result, running myself in frantic circles trying to control what is outside my control. In recent months it has become clear that beauty is my heart's chief love. It extends into all things. It can govern all behavior. It's how I perceive rightness, holiness, life - I "see" them with the part of me that understands beauty. It's my unique way to apprehend the world, and to see and worship my Lord.

So if I pray with my imagination, what will happen? If I seek to govern my actions, my words, and my worship by aligning them with beauty, what will happen?

I'm going to find out.


Linda S. Socha said...

This is so beautiful and so where I wonder in my thinking!. Thank you for this one

linda said...

to seek the beautiful in the world is akin to deep worship. to not open one's heart to all that is, is to not know the purpose in our existence.... to watch a sun setting is like a prayer.... a church is not needed and one would miss the sunset...

i see the beautiful in this painting, the light, the bird flying, the thought within the color ... thank you.

Phoenix Berries said...

I think you are totally onto something profound here. We all have ways to pray that are more natural or powerful to us, and I think God gives us those ways on purpose to make the world anew, full of the richness of love. I didn't get a chance to read this post this morning, but I'm glad I got to read it tonight. I think you have described quite well what it's like to live inside the fire. To become all flame when the questions lick out at the edges to tickle beauty into laughing at us enough that we can see it.

DebD said...

Steve, this post spoke so much to me. I wonder how many times I've thought to myself, "I just need to get out of my own way." I wonder if this is a problem most specific to modern America.

As to the dissection of God - I don't know about philosophy but I have also seen that in Christian circles as well and it takes all the joy and mystery out of God too.

I think music is my heart's first love. It is not only how I perceive holiness but it is also how I feel closest to God.