“Damaged goods”, “shop soiled”, “incomplete item” – these are all phrases that speak negatively of things, suggesting that most will now pass them by and their value has been reduced. Sadly, “damaged goods” and other such phrases might even be used pejoratively and selectively by a few to describe certain types of people. Are they of lesser value and to be passed by?
Many might refuse to buy anything that isn’t perfect. However, there are some who perhaps relish the challenge of taking a slightly damaged item and making it whole again, seeing its potential despite the surface appearance. Yes, this demands more work, but the end result brings satisfaction.
How do we view those on the edges of society, whether they be racial minorities, “disabled” people, the homeless, poor or others? Do we think that only they are damaged or that they are to be passed by? The truth is that all of us are in some way “damaged”. We are not perfect. The question is, can we see the potential, the latent beauty in each other as well as the scars and wounds? Are we aware of our own brokenness?
The damaged peacock butterfly above still retains much of its beauty. It can still fly, but it must do so on broken wings. Some of us might learn ways of hiding our scars, others wear them clearly visible, perhaps with no choice but for others to see our weaknesses. Sometimes we receive new wounds, new weaknesses that mean we must once again learn to fly, this time with even weaker wings than before.
God doesn’t pass any of us by, no matter how “damaged” we might be. None are left on the shelf, too far beyond repair. God in His love relishes the challenge of rebuilding us, making us whole and bringing out that latent potential and inner beauty. Our broken wings will one day be restored so that we can truly fly as we were meant to.
Yet, God does not just expect to be left to do the healing work all on His own. We can be channels of healing for others, bringing them off the shelf to God rather than waiting for Him to go to them. We can choose to believe that these damaged souls can still fly, albeit on broken wings for the time being. We can choose to stop and see their beauty and potential. Nobody should be passed over. After all, God has chosen to take care of us and we are no less damaged and in need of repair than anyone else.
Do you feel a connection with God through nature? Does creation move you to prayer or praise?
Throughout history, many people have found a sense of God’s presence when they look upon the beauty of nature. It is something that can evoke profound emotions and some find it easier to connect with and praise God out in nature than they do in church.
There are various Psalms that praise God as creator and it is not unlikely that the writer would have been either looking at or thinking about the wonders of the world around them at the time. For example, Psalm 8 looks out at the vastness of the skies and the stars in space, whilst Psalm 148 calls upon all of creation to point to their creator in praise.
In the book of Romans, Paul says that creation reveals something of God’s character and power if only we have eyes to see it. God’s fingerprints, so to speak, are all over what God has made.
Some Celtic Christians found certain beauty spots to be so conducive to praise and meeting with God that they labelled them “thin places” – where the boundary between earth and heaven seems “thinner” than elsewhere.
The prayer in the image above is in German and it is placed at a point where people can look out over the Bodensee (lake of Constance). It is a prayer that has sprung out of someone’s heart in response to the beauty of that lake. They recognised God as the One who not only made it, but who also sustains it.
Is this a tradition of Christian spirituality that you relate to? When was the last time you felt close to God through nature?
Perhaps at times we are so busy driving or walking to where we want to go that we don’t take in what is all around us. Over the next few days, why not take just a few minutes to sit and take in something of God’s creation? Perhaps watch a sunset or look closely at some flowers. Maybe you will find that your soul will also sing “how great Thou art” along with the hymn-writer (Stuart Hine) as you gaze upon what God has made.
What is imagination? Can/should we use it when reading the Bible? This post is the second in a series about “Journeying with Scripture”. It is an opportunity to explore further how and why we read the Bible. It will also uncover some of the thinking behind the Bible study books “Journeying With Abraham” and “Journeying With Nehemiah” and how they might differ from other approaches.
For some, “imagination” might seem to refer to fiction or ideas that have simply been made up as opposed to “reality” or “truth”. Christianity accepts that God needs to reveal Himself to us for us to have any grasp of who God really is. So, isn’t using the imagination resorting to making up our own ideas about God?
If we were starting from a position of no revelation or choosing to ignore all revelation of any kind then imagination would risk being nothing but a human construct, fabricating its own “god” in whatever image suited us. However, we don’t start from a position of no revelation or encounter between God and us. God has spoken and revealed Himself. But, isn’t the use of our imagination still liable to undermine that revelation?
When God reveals Himself to us, it is done in ways that we can at least partially comprehend. Yet, so much of this revelation falls short of the fullness of who God is. For example, God is not a man – so Jesus both reveals God to us and at the same time can’t reveal everything. God in all fullness is beyond our capacity to understand.
Much of the understanding we do have utilises metaphors (e.g. God as Father, Rock, Fortress, etc.). Metaphors encourage the use of the imagination. They put two things together and invite us to explore the resulting picture. An act of the imagination is required to connect the two – metaphors are by their nature not usually completely literal or logical. Yes, they may engage our rational faculties, but they also require creative thinking.
Creative thought is an essential part of being human; it is how we solve problems. Scientific research and discovery may appear to be totally absorbed with rational thought, yet it too requires leaps of the imagination. We imagine a solution beyond our current position and this helps guide our endeavours. We imagine new possibilities and then begin to create them.
Empathy is understandably a highly prized characteristic. Like creativity, it demands (whether consciously or otherwise) acts of imagination. We see circumstances, relate them to our own experiences and imagine assumed connections. Often these connections are absolutely correct. So, the imagination is not simply for creating an artificial reality or lies, but for helping us perceive truth.
When it comes to reading Scripture, empathy is a useful skill to have. It can enable us to enter into stories and begin to understand why people react the way they do. This is not just true of narratives, where we might sympathise or empathise with the main character or other players in the text. It can also help make sense of letters and Psalms, for example. If we can in some sense discern why Paul is upset or frustrated or why the Psalmist is singing for joy, then this helps us to connect with the text for ourselves.
Empathy may also help us to discern the unusual or unexpected turns in a story. If we can imagine how a character would probably have felt or wanted to react, then maybe the fact that they don’t do so becomes more apparent and hits home more. We can sometimes perceive more clearly what it is that is unusual about the person or story and what we might learn from them.
Imagination is also important when it comes to our future hope. None of us has seen what is beyond this life, nor does the Bible give detailed, clear descriptions of life after death. But, our imagination, which extrapolates from the data we do have, can help us perceive that which our faith then clings on to. The little snippets that Scripture does give us about resurrection and the life beyond are sufficient to fire our imaginations and kindle hope.
None of this means that imagination is an infallible tool. It can go wrong – we can imagine things which are unhelpful and not true. However, rational, logical thought can also lead us up blind alleys or down into the dark as well as out into the light. Imagination is not an inferior part of who we are. It can be used together with other skills to help us grow towards the truth.
If imagination is so closely linked to creativity, then it wouldn’t be all that surprising if in some sense God wants us to know Him through our imagination. It may be that the ideas, the possibilities we imagine are planted in us by God. After all, surely it is only someone who can imagine a better world that works towards one?
How about you? What role does your imagination play in your life of faith? Do you see a need to listen to your imagination or do you mistrust it?
Perspective changes things. From one angle something can seem small and insignificant. From another, it can appear large or even dominant. A small pebble on a beach can appear to be a large boulder, with the distant sea now merely a backdrop.
We have a great deal of choice about how we look at things. We can skip over the details and take in the wider picture, or we can get in close and examine the tiniest speck. Changing perspective means we have to do something about it – we need to move.
This can also be true about how we “see” things in our lives. Our current perspective will cause some things, whether they are events, people, ideas or something else, to look either larger or smaller. Their apparent importance and impact may vary depending on how we are looking at things at the time.
A shift of perspective might enable us to realise that we’ve been caught up too much in the details, or maybe we’re so obsessed with the big picture that we can’t see the small things any longer. Either way, a change of perspective might help us to appreciate differently the balance of elements in our life.
Faith in and the desire to follow Jesus helps bring about new possibilities for shifting our perspective and seeing life in new ways. Looking at things (as far as it is possible) from God’s point of view can open our eyes to a whole new set of priorities. Some things increase in size and importance, whilst others diminish.
What seems important or “big” in your life right now? Is there anything you may have lost sight of? Have you tried moving, changing your perspective? Through prayer and openness to the Spirit, we can learn to see in new ways.