Imagining as an act of worship

imaginationLast night stimulated some further reflections on the place of imagination within Christianity, and on how we can recover it where it has been forgotten, neglected or exiled.

In the process I came across these words from Leland Ryken, in an article entitled, The Imagination as a Means of Grace. Ryken says:

“In our Christian circles we find a place for the arts as an aid to worship, but not often as an act of worship. Yet 91 out of 107 references to music in the Psalms specify God as the audience of music (Topp 13). The principle that emerges from this is significant for the arts: anything offered to God can become an act of worship. This means that our artistic experiences, whether as creators or participants, can be an act of worship–a means of grace.”

I would also insist, following Brueggemann, that the imagination can be prophetic. Or dare I say it, apocalyptic.

7 Comments

  1. Let me suggest that many churches suppress imaginative artistic expression as part of doctrinal “protection” and control due to their inordinant fears of the “heretical”.
    However, if the church wants to “live” and thrive into the coming generations, it must be able to imagine and reimagine, and hope for, and re-hope for, a better future than the one of cultural irrelevance which has been forecast for it by so many theorists speculating about its future.

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  2. There is also the fear of that which cannot be controlled… it could be embarrassing, it could be raw and imperfect… it doesn’t fit in with the slick “productions” that some contemporary church services or traditional liturgies pride themselves upon. Often it’s about context. There should be time and space made for the experimental equally as often as time and space made for respectful ritual. Imagination precludes these from being necessarily mutually exclusive in the practise of worship

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  3. Maybe so, but the clumsy association of edginess with heresy and cuteness with orthodoxy not only filters out a lot of good stuff unnecessarily, it also allows in a lot of Trojen horses. Just use the right buzz words, soppy imagery and sugar it with 'niceness' and you can sneak in just about any heresy.

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  4. I’m a recent “like” to your web page-I was looking for art that reflected Christianity, but outside the norm.
    The Church for a long time had been the patron of the arts. It was through the Church’s teaching that the arts could be expressed-and I don’t mean strictly religious themed art.
    In 1999 Pope John Paul II wrote a letter to artists. There are many great quotes I could use, but this one struck me:
    “Through his “artistic creativity” man appears more than ever “in the image of God”, and he accomplishes this task above all in shaping the wondrous “material” of his own humanity and then exercising creative dominion over the universe which surrounds him. With loving regard, the divine Artist passes on to the human artist a spark of his own surpassing wisdom, calling him to share in his creative power”
    He goes on to say that obviously this does not make the artist THE Artist, but that God shares with some the gift of His own creativity.
    I think anytime artists can use their creativity to bring glory to God and show us non-artists a glimpse or an insight into God, art become an act of worship, both for the artist and the one who looks upon it.

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  5. Reply to Matt. I had another paragraph, but when I posted the site lost it somewhere/somehow. Forgot what I said now.
    I’m not about to say “let’s not be fashionable”, which is in itself a reflection of contemporary culture.
    But I am going to say that the arts has a very serious role in making us aware of the truths all around us which we miss, despite their obviousness, but easy miss-ability to our cognition due to filters screening us from them blindly, such as, dare I say, prefixed religious-cultural assumptions and psychological blind-spots.
    We need the arts to critique and reveal to us new things. But we also need to critique the arts and how they influence us toward thinking in particular ways, our behaviours etc.
    Brueggemann refers to poets and prophets as artists who reflected the past calls of God into the future artfully through reinterpretation of meaning into the contemporary setting.

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  6. Thinking primarily about “inscape”, which a term Peterson uses in one of his books when talking about art making obvious to us truths that we wouldn’t or couldn’t see or register as obvious previously. In that, art has a somewhat prophetic role in helping us to see what “is already” – “anew” (e.g. new truths that we somehow missed although they were already there “hidden” within the background, until a work of art inspired by the Spirit revealed those to us at some point of time, and maybe radically changed our way of seeing and interpreting things.

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