This place and time of generative PAUSE between "observe, observe, observe" and "act in an instant" creates an opportunity to engage in Spirit filled imagination. When we go from conflict - action without the Sabbath pause there is no room to let the Light in, no chance to be inspired - to pause for new breath. The pause is not a "holding of breath"! It is breathing in HOPE! A day out of my Sabbath Journey resource helps draw attention to the relationship between Sabbath and potential transformation. Sorry for the long post.
This is what the Lord says- he who made a way through the sea, a path through the mighty waters, who drew out the chariots and horses, the army and reinforcements together, and they lay there, never to rise again, extinguished, snuffed out like a wick:
"Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing!
Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. The wild animals honor me, the jackals and the owls, because I provide water in the desert and streams in the wasteland, to give drink to my people, my chosen,
the people I formed for myself that they may proclaim my praise.
“God who gives life to the dead calls things that are not as though they were.”
"Knowledge is limited, Imagination encircles the world." Albert Einstein
Sabbath is a time to look into our hearts. As we have seen, it takes much courage, perseverance and patience to look inside. Sometimes we are disturbed by what we find. The fears, loneliness, materialism leave us feeling more than disquieted. The shadows of greed, lust and selfishness stir in us a hunger for God's healing touch. However Sabbath is not just an opportunity to look at the internal realities of our lives. It is also an opportunity to look at the reality of sin in the world around us. As we begin to see life against the infinite horizon of God’s love our compassion swells for those in our world who suffer needlessly.
Sabbath also brings an invitation to trust God and to acknowledge that we cannot save ourselves or our world. Here we are free to hope in God’s future. Letting go of the paralyzing myth that we can actually fix it all we are now free to imagine what God can do. And God can do amazing things!
When Isaiah delivered the promise of “water in the desert” the people of Israel languished in foreign exile. Think of how their imaginations must have been stirred when they heard the words of the prophet. The imagination is the highest power of the knowing mind. As we seek to find meaning and purpose for our lives we must nurture a habit of imagination - the power by which we sort and shape all the disparate elements of our world using images, symbols, stories, and rituals.
I'm not saying we should live in a fantasy world. Fantasy can be an okay thing. I think it can be helpful to have an active fantasy life. Fantasy can keep the mind open and limber; it can entertain; it can be a means of experimenting. The problem with fantasy is that it need have no relationship to reality and can hence lead to its own seductive pleasure or horror. The imagination incorporates fantasy but its highest function is to find relationships that are truthful and grounded in existential reality. The work of the imagination is to create the real. The imagination seeks to put things together that belong together.
The four authors of a helpful book titled Common Fire Lives of Commitment in a Complex World, conducted a study of 100 people who made a significant commitment to the common good. A common theme or common fire emerged as they looked at the lives of these compassionate and dedicated people. One of the common ingredients in these people was the capacity to imagine. The authors noticed a regular progression of thoughts as the imagination for something new; something better took root in the lives of the people. A starting point for healthy imaginative work is a consciousness of conflict. Something is not right, dissonant. What is won't work. This disturbance in the status quo was followed by an intentional pause. Once a conflict comes into view, but before it was resolved, we need to pause before judgment. For the Sabbath pilgrim this pause is prayer, a long, loving, look at the real. It is out of this fruitful pause that an image or insight emerges. The gift of the pause is the Ah-ha! An image (not necessarily visual) emerges from our prayer. "The image which may emerge from within or be borrowed from without, crystallizes a new insight which presents itself to us with the force of reality."
It has been my experience that the images of prayer take the form at least initially of metaphor. It's like a stream in the desert, a peace, a warmth, new energy, fresh vision. Once a new image of what can be is found a connection between the new insight and lived experience is sought. The authors call this re-patterning and refraining without which the new insight will languish. Somehow the Ah-ha needs to be shaped into our lives. How is the new thing; now it springs forth from our prayers, the way in the wilderness, and rivers in the desert, affect our lives? If the new thing is to live in the world it needs to be articulated and acted upon in community with other people who are interested. As the authors put it, "We are dependent on trustworthy communities of confirmation and contradiction who can affirm that "Yes, life is like that." or respond, "No, that interpretation is inadequate, perhaps even dangerous."
There is much wisdom in the observation of the authors of A Common Fire. We need ways to shape a prophetic and healing imagination. For better or worse Disney has been the primary shaper of the moral imagination of at least two generations, through stories such as Snow White, Pinocchio, The Lion King, and Pocahontas.
I believe imagining a new “world” is a primary task of the church. Could this be a model for evangelism, to let the words of Scripture and our tradition be the fuel for our imaginations? From the perspective of our faith and our experiences of the Holy, we can begin to notice "conscious conflict" the brokenness and contradiction, the sin in our world; to notice what is so that we can imagine what could be; to take time to pray with this brokenness; to pause, reflect, wonder, wait and discern. This is the work of prayer. Sabbath is the atmosphere where this sort of prayer can thrive out of the waiting to allow God's Holy Spirit stir within us an Ah-Ha, a new thing. In the free and spacious geography of Sabbath we can faithfully interpret that new thing so that it can have relevance for our lives. Because Christian Sabbath practice is rooted in the community we are able to test what we have imagined in the context of community.