For decades in our country, the decline of biblical literacy has been lamented. This decline is often associated with moral and social decline and the rise of indifference to religion. The problem may not only be that people lack information or discussions about religion, but that we don’t deeply inhabit the religious stories we do know. We aren’t open to letting stories of faith and the moving of the spiritual life work on us.
This is a problem even for those of us who do have some knowledge of the Bible and even “study” it.
But as an editorial in a recent issue of Christian Century Magazine asserts, “Our culture — sometimes even the culture of churches — can be inimical (detrimental) to the reality of the work of the imagination. We are prone to emphasize knowledge, action and argument.”
We need to be reminded that the work of becoming faithful people happens in ways that can’t easily be explained or measured. It happens through contemplation, prayer, wonder, ritual, interaction with others, through art, imagination and activities that require courage to deliberately spend time on such things. It can be difficult to trust that God is continually at work through these ways.
“Imagination is one of the most glorious aspects of being human,” the editorial continues. “The imagination allows us to think of what is not, to think ourselves into other people’s places and circumstances. The imagination doesn’t ask our permission as its traverses perceptions and meanings.
“Imaginative activities are at the heart of faith and is a challenge to all of us, wherever we might be on the theological spectrum. It’s a reminder that ultimately faith is the work of the spirit, and it’s through the spirit than transformation happens.”
As the scriptures declare in Hebrews 11:1-3:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Indeed, by faith our ancestors received approval. By faith we understand that the worlds were prepared by the word of God, so that what is seen was made from things that are not visible.”
But it doesn’t just happen to us. It comes through the work of the Holy Spirit in the context of our being a part of the community of faith, the church.
David Tritenbach is a retired Presbyterian minister.