“baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ” Matthew 28:19
How often do we use our imagination? In times when every graphic detail of human existence is brought to us in high dimension, are there ever moments when we just stop and think and allow our imagination to work?
In school, we have reached the closing chapters of the RE textbook. There is a chapter in Celtic Christianity, that includes the legend of Saint Kevin and the Blackbird. ‘Does anyone believe that?’ came the question?’
Of course, no-one believed it—so what had been the point of such stories? The legends of Setanta and Cuchulainn were recalled; did anyone believe those? They didn’t believe them, but the stories had a great place in popular culture. The Church developed stories about their saints being as powerful as the old Celtic heroes; it was about appealing to people’s imagination rather than to logic.
Imagination helps us to see things in a different way; to understand ideas in ways we might not have thought possible.
Imagination is not something that comes easily to us. Since the 18th century we have become less and less used to using our imaginations. We regard imagining as something for our childhood years, something that went with the stories we were told when we were young. The age in which we grew up was an age when we were told that what mattered was what we could see, what we could touch. Reality, we were told, is the here and now, unless something can be measured, unless something can be analysed, then we were told that it was not real.
Losing the capacity for imagination means that even reality loses its strength. It becomes something we see on television; something reported in the newspapers; something that might one day appear in our books in school; but often it does not become something that is personal to us. Imagining being in those places brought to us by the news channels, imagining standing in the place of those interviewed might leave us very vulnerable, better that we keep things at arm’s length than let reality come too close..
The loss of the power to imagine doesn’t just mean the world outside becomes something that is out there, something with which we can choose not to engage, it also means that we losetouch with other realities. The loss of people’s ability to think about God came about because of a loss of imagination.
Today, Trinity Sunday, is about God as he is. It is about God who cannot be quantified, who cannot be measured, who cannot be analysed; certainly who cannot be reduced to items on news channels or radio sound bites. It is about God in his mysteriousness. We read Jesus’ words this morning and if we had been asked, ‘’what does baptism in the name of the in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit really mean?’ I’m not really sure how I would have answered. I could tell you what some of the textbooks suggest, but that wouldn’t give us a full answer.
What I think Jesus wants us to do is to use our imagination. God in himself is beyond all understanding, but Jesus wants us to grasp after some insight into God. Believing in Jesus, following him, demands this leap into the unknown, into thinking in a way where everything cannot be explained. Jesus promises that the Spirit of truth ‘will lead you into all truth’. The Spirit cannot be encountered in a rational scientific way, the Spirit can only be met in our imagination, in our emotions, in those parts of our mind that are not caught up with statistics and numbers and measurements.
Imagination is what we need to grasp the big concepts, to reach out to those things that can’t be explained through our human reason. Imagination is what we need to approach God.
Watch the television news and ask yourself whether we are really meeting with reality or whether what we are doing is keeping reality at arm’s length? Reality cannot be fully real unless we approach it with our emotions as well as our rational brain.
God cannot be fully real to us unless we approach Him with our whole person;. Jesus promises his disciples when they reach out into the unknown, then God will be there with them, ‘Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
God is met, his presence is encountered through us acting in faith; in going out with the Good News, we encounter the reality of God as He is. But that encounter depends upon us allowing our imagination space to work; allowing the possibility that there are realities far greater than those we can describe. What is asked of us is to imagine.