Samuel Taylor Coleridge. Another of my congress. Drug addict. Christian. Poet. Literary critic. Literary philosopher.
In his Biographia Literaria, Coleridge says something momentous and germane:
“The IMAGINATION then, I consider either as primary or secondary. The primary IMAGINATION I hold to be the living Power and prime Agent of all human Perception, and as a repetition in the finite mind of the eternal act of creation in the infinite I AM.
“The secondary I consider as an echo of the former, co-existing with the conscious will, yet still as identical with the primary in the kind of its agency, and differing only in degree, and in the mode of its operation. It dissolves, diffuses, dissipates, in order to recreate; or where this process is rendered impossible, yet still, at all events, it struggles to idealize and to unify. It is essentially vital, even as all objects (as objects) are essentially fixed and dead.”
The context here, in the history of ideas, is the Enlightenment. This is the end of the 18th Century, beginning of the 19th. Reason and God are one at this time. And what Coleridge is audaciously claiming is that. No. Reason and God are not one. Imagination and God are one. Reason is subsidiary to Imagination. Reason is in service to Imagination. Making is not the product of reason. Making or creation, if you will, is the product of Imagination.
The universe, according to Coleridge, is not a clockwork universe. It is not engineered and pieced together. No. It is imagined. As poetry is imagined.
When we are told that we are made in the image of God, what this means is that we have imagination as God has imagination. That we are creative as God is creative. Among other things.
Coleridge was thumbing his nose at the conventional wisdom—the received ideas—of the time. And by doing so, he kicked off a whole new old way of thinking and feeling and experiencing that has continued to ramify down to us today. And the loopy wild world of quantum mechanics (an ironic misnomer if ever there was one) fits right into this conception. Mystic matter. Paradoxical immaterial matter.
In other words, the conflict continues. We have Enlightenment Christians, and we have post-Enlightenment Christians. We have clockwork universe Christians, and we have narrative theology Christians or mystic matter Christians. We have deterministic Christians, and we have open theology Christians.
So when I recommend that we imagine God with us, I am not making a recommendation that is innocent and light-headed or light-hearted. (Or maybe I am, but for the moment I’m going to pretend that I’m not.) I am making a recommendation that is freighted with real heavy-duty goods.
I am not recommending hallucination, for example. And I’m not saying we should lie about what we see and hear and feel so that we appear to be more saintly or more holy or more perfect little Christs.
What I am recommending is that we take the story that we all say is true and live inside that story. Uncompromisingly. Unflaggingly. Faithfully. Completely and fully. (Does that sound like perfection? I think it does.) Or as completely and fully as a bunch of buffoons and scoundrels like ourselves can manage. Which probably means periodically. From time to time.
And to do that, we have to exercise our imaginations. We have to consciously and intentionally imagine ourselves inside God’s story. In the way that the novelist consciously and intentionally imagines himself as the protagonist inside the story that he spins out. Or in the way that the poet imagines the speaker inside his poem saying the poem. Or in the way that the songwriter imagines the singer and the singer’s song.
And what we need to imagine is a God who loves us. A God who is love to us. For us. A God who wants us to wade out into the warm lake of him up to our chins and enjoy the overwhelming comfort and acceptance and buoyancy we can only find in him. The restoration. The peace. That he wants to provide us. Periodically here in the already/not yet. And eternally thereafter.