The Sanctification of Imagination
Peter Marshall tells us the story of the “KEEPER OF THE SPRINGS.” Let me retell the story. It is pure fiction. It is also a true story.
Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range. High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the Keeper of the Springs.
He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mold and took away from the spring all debris, so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure.
It leaped sparkling over rocks and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town.
Millwheels were whirled by its rush.
Gardens were refreshed by its waters.
Fountains threw it like diamonds in the air.
Swans sailed on its limpid surface and
Children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.
But the City Council was a group of hard-headed, hard-boiled business types. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of a “Keeper of the Springs.”
Said the Keeper of the Purse: “Why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town’s work life. We can dispense with his services and save his salary.” Therefore, the City Council voted to dispense with the unnecessary cost of a Keeper of the Springs.
So the Keeper of the Springs no longer visited the brown pools. The water kept coming but the water did not seem to be the same. It did not seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface.
There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was often clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town.
At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane.
The City Council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city’s plight, and frankly it acknowledged the mistake of the dismissal of the Keeper of the Springs.
They sought him out in his hermit hut high in the hills, and begged him to return to his former joyous labour. Gladly he agreed, and began once more to make his rounds.
It was not long until pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir.
Millwheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back.
The Springs Of Our Life
The old woodsman was a keeper of the springs! And so are we!
There are springs in our lives. There is a place within human personality where we dream our dreams, hope our hopes. There is a place within us all where the ideals are lifted up as benchmarks for which to aim. There is a place within us where truth catches fire and motivates behaviour. There is a place within us where inventions are first created, where poetry is born, where love first finds life. It is the place where new futures are conceived.
That place is the imagination. It is the creative centre of human personality. The imagination is the source out of which flows human actions and reactions.
Genesis 6 gives us a photograph of the human condition just prior to the great flood:
“The lord saw that the wickedness of humanity was great … and every inclination of the thoughts of their hearts was only evil continually.”
But Jesus gives another alternative: He looks with love on his disciples and says
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” In another place he reminds them, “Out of the abundance of the heart, the mouth speaks.” He also says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul and with all your mind.” …
And like the source of the streams and rivers, that which is so central in us can be fouled or it can be kept clean. The imagination is fed by the things that enter through our senses.
If we feed our imagination with great music, great poetry, great art, great stories, and great experiences, the imagination is triggered in turn to share in the creating of things good and beautiful. Out of the raw materials of beauty and truth that we import into our imaginations, we construct things of beauty which are then exported into the world around us.
But, if our imagination is filled with things sordid, vulgar, or debased; if the imagination is filled with sounds and sights that devalue things of importance; if we expose ourselves to thoughts that belittle and denigrate persons; the central stream of our lives will be fouled, and the things built in that central workshop of human personality in turn will be dark and dangerous things.
It is the way God has designed us. What imagination dreams up, reason finds a way to implement, and the body puts that dream into action. What we sow, we do reap. “Garbage in” is always “garbage out”. But it is also true “beauty in” is “beauty out”.
But what does this have to do with taking communion?
A Function of Communion
The ancient church knew that there was a connection between Communion and the cleansing of heart and mind.
We know that a thousand years ago the church was repeating a prayer at its communion services. It is called “The Collect for Heart Purity”. It goes like this:
Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are opened, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hid; cleanse the thoughts of our hearts, by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love You, and worthily magnify Your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.
Did we catch those words: “Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts…” Cleanse our imaginations… so that we may love you and your will, and your ways, more than anything else?
At a service of worship, we surround ourselves with music, poetry, the scriptures, and stained-glass windows. We engage in prayers and songs …. And on communion Sundays we add bread and wine and the beauty of a table spread…. Why?
All to help us to think, dream, hope and imagine. Listen to Paul as he writes to his Philippian friends: (4:8)
WHATEVER IS TRUE, WHATEVER IS NOBLE,
WHATEVER IS RIGHT, WHATEVER IS PURE,
WHATEVER IS LOVELY, AND WHATEVER IS ADMIRABLE,
IF ANYTHING IS EXCELLENT OR PRAISEWORTHY,
We will THINK ABOUT SUCH THINGS….
AND THE GOD OF PEACE WILL BE WITH US!
When next we take communion, let us offer ourselves for an updated cleansing of our intentions and affections. Let us once more commit ourselves fully to him. Let us have him wash our imaginings so that, as the Apostle Paul says we “cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the worship of God.” (II Corinthians 7:1)