“The cultivation of imagination is to begin to integrate life into faith and every other facet, whether mundane or extraordinary, whether 9-5 work realities or worship in a church. Imagination is key to the thriving God intends for us.” –Makoto Fujimura
The burgeoning faith-work movement has does a fine job of re-orienting our perspectives about the meaning of everyday toil and the importance of stewardship in the area of work and creative service. But one area that continues to suffer neglect is that of the human imagination.
The problem isn’t so much with imagination in a strictly “for-profit” or utilitarian sense. We all recognize the importance of the imaginative capacity of a Steve Jobs, for instance, insofar as he delivers some innovation or experiment or new convenience.
But do we have a more basic concern for cultivating and stewarding the imagination in and by itself? Do we see value and meaning in simply learning to connect reality with faith, truth with beauty? Do we recognize the type of long-view foundation it takes to even get to that more “useful” Silicon-Valley phase?
As Stephen Grabill reminds us in Episode 6 of For the Life of the World, we rarely give ourselves the time and space to pause and cultivate this corner of the human intellect, and even when we do, it’s often for the wrong reasons. “We need to develop a palate for what is good,” he says, “not just for what it can do for us, but for what it is in itself.”
Later in the episode, artist Mako Fujimura chimes in on this same point, “Perhaps the greatest thing we can do as a Christian community is to behold,” he says. “Behold our God. Behold his creation.” Without a front-t0-back understanding and appreciation of God’s creation and the beauty bound up therein, all of our striving — energetic and “innovative” though it may appear — will neither glorify God nor serve the long-term flourishing of civilization.
In a recent essay for The High Calling, Fujimura expounds on this further still, connecting the cultivation of the imagination to the development of our faith and a Christ-centered philosophy of life:
To be sure, “imagination” ought to be distinguished from “fantasy.” The former is fully present in the gritty reality of the earth; the latter, a disconnected solipsism, a type of narcissism. Imagination is a uniquely human faculty that is connected with reality and faith at the same time. Human beings have the capacity to imagine the future and actually see it into reality.
Further, for a Christian, imagination is even more valuable: “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” (Heb. 11:1) If you take this word of the New Testament seriously, it follows that you must have imagination in order to have faith. In this light, parents might not only encourage the teen, but invite, for being an artist—focusing as a way of making a living to cultivate imagination in himself and others—is essential for our faith, essential for living out the Gospel promises.
There are plenty of different approaches Christians can take on this, some of which Fujimura outlined in his lecture on culture care during last year’s Acton University.
In his latest essay, however, he speaks more directly to those who don’t view themselves as artists, encouraging those who struggle with prioritizing the imagination to begin stretching and challenging themselves in this area (quoted directly):
- Befriend an artist. Go to her studio, listen live to her songs, watch her rehearse, read her poetry (aloud to each other in community). Tell her you care for her as an individual. Admire her willingness to take risks trying to make the invisible visible, and communicate that you would like to know more about the process of her journey so that you can journey with her.
- Invite an artist to brainstorm with you. Call him when you begin anything new, whether a new business plan, a new church, or an entrepreneurial company. Do this at the start of the process rather than at the end when all you need is a logo. Surprise him by paying a consulting fee, and keep him in the loop of your creation.
- Partner with an artist in creating a “Culture Care” movement in your community. Think bigger than just your business, family, or church. Instead, think of the old-fashioned word commonwealth, and create “wealth” that can be shared by everyone in your community.
- “Waste” time with your spouse, children, and friends. Imagination only grows when you are not in a nine-to-five efficiency mode. Let the margins of your life expand, and live in the expectation of the abundant, gratuitous reality of love.