Imagination and Creativity

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There are many aspects of creativity that I find fascinating–the relationship between creativity and innovation, the history of creativity, and the definition of creativity, just to name a few. In spite of all the acclaim that surrounds creativity, I believe that the concept of creativity would not be nearly as important if it didn’t connect with people in a meaningful and significant way. I believe this connection is the imagination.

Molly Andrews, a Professor of Political Psychology and the Co-director of the Centre for Narrative Research at the University of East London, has this to say about imagination and creativity:

Imagination is in fact the life blood of one of the most fundamental human inclinations — that of storytelling. We tell stories all the time, about everything, to everyone, including ourselves. What we tell and why and how we tell it are strongly influenced by the contexts in which we as narrators operate. But one only needs to think for a moment of what it would mean to have no story to tell, or to have forgotten one’s story — as depicted in some of the wonderfully rich books by Oliver Sachs — to realize that we organize our relationship to those around us, to the world, and indeed to our very selves via narrative.

Narrative and imagination are integrally tied to one another; that they are so immediately clear to anyone who stops to think about stories — real and imagined, about the past or in a promised, or feared, future. Why and how this is so are questions that direct us to ruminate on what it means to be human. Narrative and imagination are combined, not only in our most elevated thoughts about the world as it might be, but also in the very minutiae of our daily lives. Although we do not often talk about the role of imagination in how we approach each day, carrying out and evading those responsibilities to which we have committed ourselves, and simply being ourselves in the world, negotiating our sometimes troubled paths between competing desires of our own and those of others, its importance cannot be overstated.  (Entire article)

I believe Andrews makes a very good point when she writes that “we organize our relationship to those around us, to the world, and indeed to our very selves via narrative.”  Simple put, we are a people of story. We tell stories. We listen to stories. We identity with or reject the stories in which we are a part of. And these stories are not independent or static–they are dynamic and intersect with other stories like an intricately woven tapestry. In many ways, we tell stories to identify with humanity: our own and others’. Yet the connection between imagination and creativity is not intrinsically clear.

In Mineko Honda’s book The Imaginative World of C.S. Lewis, he explains how Lewis saw the connection between imagination and creativity:

The imagination he thus sees in himself appears to be the same things as the ‘creativity’ that we expect of good writers and artists.  In fact, however, this ‘imagination’ means a lot more than mere creativity.  For Lewis, it is also a power of intuition into the metaphysical reality of this world and heaven, and a power of communication of that reality.  It perceives the meaning of the world, expresses that meaning, and enables us to participate in the metaphysical Reality (Pg. 1). 

Creativity is not the equivalent of imagination, yet the two are not completely separate of one another. Creation without imagination is just the creation of idols—representations of what is true, but themselves are not true.

So, if imagination leads to creativity, and the two are distinct yet cannot be separated from one another, where does that leave us with the question of how the two are connected? I believe the answer to that question lies in the word “metaphor.”

The use of metaphor employs the imagination to give an image to a truth that is difficult or impossible to understand in and of itself.  A word such as “love” is difficult to understand by itself, so artists use metaphors to explain that love is like “a red, red rose.”  Likewise, trying to understand the meaning of words like beauty, honor, and friendship is nearly impossible without using images that are attached to those words.

Words which we could scarcely grasp are expanded and burst into reality through metaphor. Elusive nouns such as “anger” and “joy” are connected to objects like the color red or sunflowers in a field; thus we can continue to communicate these abstract concepts with images.

Whether it is a story, a photograph, or a painting, a powerful image can communicate both meaning and value. In his book Imagination and the Arts in C.S. Lewis, Peter J. Schakel gives a concise explanation of Lewis on this matter:  “Images are seen through imagination, and the moral of the story must be embodied in the images” (Pg. 169). Lewis feels that the use of images and metaphor by the imagination is not only an exercise in critical assessment of a work of art but actually nurtures a person’s “moral imagination.”  The images are metaphors themselves of greater virtues such as loyalty, courage, good vs. evil, and the like.

To quote George Macdonald, “the Intellect must labour, workman-like, under the direction of the architect, Imagination” (“Imagination,” Pg. 11). Creativity is the natural outcome of a working imagination. Creativity that endures hundreds of years and thousands of miles is melded and fired from the metal of Reason and Imagination in the kiln of Diligence and Truth.

But imagination won’t be nailed down. It is like the wind, the rushing river water, and tiny grains of sand.  It manifests differently, and never looks the same way twice—but it does feel the same. It gives a feeling of smallness yet the hope of greatness.  It destroys self, but introduces that self into a world where he/she can grow into something much larger. Thus, creativity is a byproduct of the great architect Imagination.

 

 

An Inspiration for C.S. Lewis’ Great Divorce

Picture by Jason Pensa

 

The Great Divorce, written by C.S. Lewis, is a response to William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell.  Lewis believed that Blake’s understanding of heaven and hell was dangerous, as can be seen when he writes that, “…some way of embracing both alternatives can always be found; that mere development of adjustment or refinement will somehow turn evil into good without our being called on for a final and total rejection of anything we should like to retain. This belief I take to be a disastrous error.”  Lewis refutes Blake’s idea that all roads lead to God by telling a story of a man who is ushered into heaven on a bus that he chooses to board.  This man, the narrator of the story, is met by George MacDonald and is led through a series of revelations on the nature of heaven and hell.  MacDonald’s voice comes through Lewis clearly, and many of the themes that MacDonald felt passionate about—namely death and the need for spiritual sanctification—are also present in Lewis’ story.

Although Lewis is a much different writer than MacDonald, Lewis maintains the same goal of MacDonald as he explores deep theological truths in the form of a fantasy story.  MacDonald often debated the way that heaven and hell were described with such great finality; and so it appears that Lewis too takes up the mantle, though be it a little more orthodox, to explain heaven and hell. Through the use of the grey planet and the bus, Lewis is portraying an afterlife where people are still able to choose between heaven and hell. Lewis is able to communicate this tension through the numerous stories of people who arrive in heaven and choose to return to hell. The “phantoms” that exit the bus are met by the “solid people” who try to guide them in maturity and ultimately into the joy of heaven. The narrator and MacDonald watch as a number of phantoms reject his/her guide on different grounds, and ultimately abandon the quest for heaven. After viewing a number of phantoms reject heaven, the narrator concludes that, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it.” In the end, the narrator chooses to follow George MacDonald into the heavenly city.

The Great Divorce strives to explore a world that cannot be fully explained. In the forward, Lewis reminds his readers that he is not trying to portray an accurate view of what he thinks heaven is like; instead, he is trying to deconstruct Blake’s view of heaven and hell that was being so widely accepted. Like MacDonald, I believe that Lewis is trying to help his readers have a less dogmatic opinion of a realm that is not and cannot be thoroughly explained by the living.

The Impact of George MacDonald on Our Lives

I want to dedicate the next few posts to guest writers who have written about how George MacDonald has affected their lives.

This writing comes from Justin Wiggins. Go check him out on Facebook

 

The Impact of C.S.Lewis and George MacDonald On My Life

by Justin Wiggins

"That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and desires, without a glow or an aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects, and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, “Thou art my refuge."-George MacDonald “That man is perfect in faith who can come to God in the utter dearth of his feelings and  desires, without a glow or an  aspiration, with the weight of low thoughts, failures, neglects,  and wandering forgetfulness, and say to Him, “Thou art my  refuge.”-George MacDonald

C.S.Lewis was the first one who led me to George MacDonald. I still remember vividly reading through Lewis’“Surprised by Joy” and coming across MacDonald’s name. Who was this Christian writer that had such an immense impact on the Oxford pipe smoking Christian apologist and thinker? I discovered a very fascinating and amazing individual when I began to read the writings of George Macdonald. I saw parallels between “The Princess and The Goblin”and the Narnia stories, and was very moved by the powerfully imaginative “Phantastes” and “Lilith.” From that point on I read through his other fairy tales like “The Golden Key,” “The Light Princess” and re-read them, like I did Lewis’ books.C.S.Lewis was my first introduction into the world of literature through reading The Chronicles of Narnia, and it was from that point on that I started to think more critically, saw the value of language in a way that I had never had before, was given a love for myths and fairy tales, and began to really be interested in Christian theology and apologetics, and it’s role in the life of a believer. I loved “Mere Christianity” and read his other apologetic works, along with his fiction and his very brilliant essays on literature that are still hard for me to understand. I grew in my faith like never before and loved it. I had answers to theological, historical, and existential questions I had for years, and it was liberating! And though there were still some very difficult things that I went through like we all do, the writings of MacDonald and Lewis were always there to encourage me, challenge me, delight me, and remind me of just how much Christ Loves me. As any reader does with his favorite writers, I read some really wonderful biographical things on the life of Lewis and MacDonald, and only marveled all the more because they really lived out their beliefs, and therefore had a more personal impact on my life. I loved learning that most of C.S.Lewis’ money during his lifetime went to people that really needed help that was managed by his friend Owen Barfield, that he took the time to answer his letters written to him when his writings were becoming popular, that he took in children at the Kilns when WWII was going on. I loved learning about George MacDonald that he tutored women at a time when them getting an education was looked down upon, that he helped the poor, and as a preacher he really sought to help people in their walk with Christ,and that through his novels and fairy tales and other fantasy works he sought to teach the Christian virtues of faith, hope and Love that he believed in passionately. What George MacDonald has most helped me with is the delight in obedience towards the will of God, the tenderness of God and the Love that flows from His Heart. I am in a very interesting and new chapter in my life right now, and it’s a comfort to me to know that if I am obedient to the will of Father,then He will guide me and provide for me: He is the author of my life and is guiding me. Just this afternoon on a walk I was overwhelmed with the Love of Christ, and marveling at all the beauty around me,and came across this passage from George MacDonald’s first written worked called “Within and Without” that really resonated with me,“It is a law with us that no one shall sing a song who cannot be the hero of his tale—who cannot live the song he sings..” I really resonate with that because recently I have been struggling with a lot of fear and depression, and everything looked bleak, but that quote was a reminder that I don’t have to fear, and that Christ is guiding me as he is writing my story, and I have peace and joy now embarking on this new quest, this new chapter of my life. And I am choosing to sing the song of my tale.

Link to original article

Try seeing it this way: Imagination and reason in the apologetics of C.S. Lewis

by Alister McGrath

Lewis - Imagination and ReasonFew would now dispute that C.S. Lewis is one of the greatest Christian apologists of the twentieth century. So what is his approach to apologetics, and why has it been so successful?

Many Christian apologists have assimilated Lewis to their own way of thinking, presenting him in thoroughly modernist terms as an advocate of rationalist defences of faith. Yet to get the most out of reading Lewis, we need to approach him on his own terms. Here, I want to explore Lewis’s distinctive understanding of the rationality of faith, which emphasises the reasonableness of Christianity without imprisoning it within an impersonal and austere rationalism.

I came to appreciate this distinctive approach when researching my recent biography of Lewis. For reasons I do not understand, the importance of Lewis’s extensive use of visual images as metaphors of truth has been largely overlooked. For Lewis, truth is about seeing things rightly, grasping their deep interconnection. Truth is something that we see, rather than something we express primarily in logical or conceptual terms.

The basic idea is found in Dante’s Paradiso (XXIII, 55-6), where the great Florentine poet and theologian expresses the idea that Christianity provides a vision of things – something wonderful that can be seen, yet proves resistant to verbal expression:

From that moment onwards my power of sight exceededThat of speech, which fails at such a vision.

Hints of such an approach are also found in the writings of G.K. Chesterton, whom Lewis admired considerably. For Chesterton, a good theory allows us to see things properly: “We put on the theory, like a magic hat, and history becomes translucent like a house of glass.” Thus, for Chesterton, a good theory is to be judged by the amount of illumination it offers, and its capacity to accommodate what we see in the world around us and experience within us: “With this idea once inside our heads, a million things become transparent as if a lamp were lit behind them.” In the same way, Chesterton argued, Christianity validates itself by its ability to make sense of our observations of the world: “The phenomenon does not prove religion, but religion explains the phenomenon.”

For Lewis, the Christian faith offers us a means of seeing things properly – as they really are, despite their outward appearances. Christianity provides an intellectually capacious and imaginatively satisfying way of seeing things, and grasping their interconnectedness, even if we find it difficult to express this in words. Lewis’s affirmation of the reasonableness of the Christian faith rests on his own quite distinct way of seeing the rationality of the created order, and its ultimate grounding in God. Using a powerful visual image, Lewis invites us to see God as both the ground of the rationality of the world, and the one who enables us to grasp that rationality: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it but because by it I see everything else.” Lewis invites us to see Christianity as offering us a standpoint from which we may survey things, and grasp their intrinsic coherence. We see how things connect together.

Lewis consistently uses a remarkably wide range of visual metaphors – such as sun, light, blindness and shadows – to help us understand the nature of a true understanding of things. This has two important outcomes. First, it means that Lewis sees reason and imagination as existing in a collaborative, not competitive, relationship. Second, it leads Lewis to make extensive use of analogies in his apologetics, to enable us to see things in a new way…

Continue Reading @ http://www.abc.net.au/religion/articles/2013/05/15/3760192.htm

C.S. Lewis on the Power of Good Literature

As a teacher, there is one universal piece of advice that I give to almost all parents: give your children time and space to read good books–guide them to good books, discuss good books, and read good books for yourself. And while reading books help a student’s reading comprehension, writing ability, critical thought, and myriad of other academic abilities, when I suggest to parents to promote reading, this is what I really mean to say:

cslewis1“Literary experience heals the wound, without undermining the privilege, of individuality. There are mass emotions which heal the wound; but they destroy the privilege. In them our separate selves are pooled and we sink back into sub-individuality. But in reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like a night sky in the Greek poem, I see with a myriad eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself; and am never more myself than when I do.”

From Lewis’s book An Experiment in Criticism 

The Discipline of Beauty

Colossians 1:16-17 (ESV)

For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

In light of not posting for awhile, I wanted to write about something that I have been personally convicted of lately: not practicing the discipline of looking for beauty. 

Unfortunately, I have been overwhelmed of late with the common scourge of the “tyranny of the urgent.” It is the pestilence that drains my energy while I actively “get things done.” This affliction isn’t about making lists, for a list naturally means forethought, and forethought at the very least has a rudimentary understanding of prioritization. Instead, tyranny of the urgent is the antithesis of forethought–it is living moment to moment without any context. It is performing the actions without understanding the purpose. It is like walking head-down in a dark tunnel without understanding that you are actually walking towards a light at the end. This kind of life breads hopelessness and ultimately anesthetizes our ability to see beauty. We devolve into creatures of task like oxen driven hard in the field without enjoying the harvest. And as far as I’m concerned, this is no way to live. 

TunnelI also believe that this is not the way that God designed us to live either. As the verse in Colossians says, all things were created through God to bring Him glory. In fact, all of these things are held together by Him. I believe that when we look into that which God has created then we are also looking into an aspect of God Himself. When we see the beauty of that which God has created, namely Nature and Humanity, then we see the beauty of God. Along with this, there is an aspect of beauty that does not come directly from the hand of God; it is that divine piece of Imago Dei (Image of God–Genesis 1:27) that lives in humanity, but it is also the beauty of creation that comes from the human hand. According to Dorothy L. Sayer’s fantastic book Mind of the Maker, the human desire to create is actually a characteristic that we share with God.

How then can he be said to resemble God? Is it his immortal soul, his rationality, his self-consciousness, his free will, or what, that gives him a claim to this rather startling distinction? A case may be argued for all these elements in the complex nature of man. But had the author of Genesis anything particular in his mind when he wrote? It is observable that in the passage leading up to the statement about man, he has given no detailed information about God. Looking at man, he sees in him something essentially divine, but when we turn back to see what he says about the original upon which the “image” of God was modeled, we find only the single assertion, “God created”. The characteristic common to God and man is apparently that: the desire and the ability to make things.

This isn’t to say that humanity is divine as much as it consciously or subconsciously values the very part of our humanity that is made possible through the divine imprint left on us. Similar to the Fruits of the Spirit, we share certain qualities of goodness that are only perfected in God. With this said, there are aspects of this world both natural and constructed that point to a divine. These are symbols that should direct our gaze to the glory of God, and thus these symbols can be both beautiful and led to Beauty. This is the great act of Art that sets the human apart from the beast. For as G.K. Chesterton points out, animals may make homes like humans make homes, but animals don’t aspire to make architecture. Thus, Art can portray a certain beauty that draws us back to balance or harmony with God. This is not to say that all art is pleasing to the eye, or even effective in truth-telling, but the fact remains that the work of the hand when creating art is in a rude form trying to mimic our Creator. Like a son grabbing his plastic hammer to assist dad in building a tree house. 

Seeing this kind of beauty does not come easily or naturally, at least it doesn’t to me; instead, I believe we must cultivate our senses and practice the discipline of experiencing beauty. I believe we have the deep desire to be connected to beauty, but often don’t have the time or the discipline to experience that beauty. C.S. Lewis puts it well when he writes:

 “We do not want merely to see beauty… we want something else which can hardly be put into words- to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.

While I am by no means the poster boy for “stopping and smelling the roses” (remember, the tyranny of the urgent led me to this place), this process has helped me refocus my energies in an effort to lift my head up from the darkness in the tunnel and experience the beautiful light. After some thought, here are a activities that help me “bathe” in beauty. 

Study the Bible… instead of just reading it devotionally

Read poetry…and try to understand it

Write…but not about myself

Listen to the stories of the elderly…and ask them how they see the world

Ask good questions to children…and notice how they see the world 

Listen to music…without doing anything else

Read good fantasy…and allow yourself to escape

Read books that make me think…really, really hard

Climb a mountain…a big one with a good view

Take a walk early in the morning…when birds instead of cars are heard

Serve others…because Christ has served us

Sketch the small details of something that I see…even if it turns out horribly

Look at a good piece of art…for a really long time

Pray…and then be silent

This is by no means an exhaustive list. I would enjoy hearing about what others do to see Beauty.