on cultivating a faith imagination

The April 8 issue of The Christian Century includes an article by Lilly Endowment VP for Religion Craig Dykstra on “imagination and the pastoral life” titled, “A Way of Seeing.”

He notes that lawyers seem to have cultivated, in their study and experience, a “particular way of seeing and thinking that is distinctive to that profession” that might be called a “legal imagination” (p. 26). The same goes for artists and probably most if not all other professions as well–doctors, teachers, business persons, salespersons, etc. Regarding pastors, he notes, “Every day pastors are immersed in a constant, and sometimes nearly chaotic, interplay of meaning-filled relationships and demands.” And, “pastoral ministry requires multiple kinds of intelligence, abstract and practical.” Certainly, a well-grounded and well-cultivated “pastoral imagination” is also a necessity for faithful pastoral leadership. The demands of not only the ministry work itself, but also the mental and emotional and spiritual resources one must keep ready and on hand, can be quite overwhelming.

Enter a helpful illustration on this point. Dykstra recalled his seminary days when he taught swimming lessons to children at the local YMCA. The first step? To teach them how to float–to teach them buoyancy. Once that concept took root in experience, they were ready to learn to swim.

“Buoyancy is not something you can teach children–or anyone else, for that matter–through a lesson in physics. Objective as it is, for the sake of swimming one has to come to know it personally. So it is with the life of faith. At the heart of the Christian life there lies a deep, somatic, profoundly personal but very real knowledge. It is the knowledge of the buoyancy of God. It is the knowledge that in struggle and in joy, in conflict and in peace–indeed in every possible circumstance and condition in life and in death–we are upheld by God’s own everlasting arms” (p. 29).

What is true for the faith of any Christian and for the faith of the Church, expressed above, is true of the pastoral life and imagination: “pastoral imagination [that is] built on the knowledge of the buoyancy of God.”

“The confidence that arises when pastors themselves know, in a deeply personal way, that they too can rest confidently in God’s upholding arms enables them to let go of the anxieties that can plague and eventually defeat pastoral work” (p. 31). 

Knowing in experience the buoyancy of God… Thoughts?

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