Posted by: gcarkner | September 20, 2022

Beauty & the Imagination: Paul M. Gould

The imagination is crucial to how we experience, understand and act in the world. Philosopher Paul M. Gould notes about the imagination that it is: (1) a faculty of the mind; (2) it mediates between sense and intellect (i.e. perception and reason), the human mind and the divine mind; (3) it is a faculty for meaning and invention. It is crucial to our lives, playing a significant role in perceiving, creating, dreaming, meaning, judging, learning, and moralizing. Imagination helps us narrate our lives, serving as a guide to explore the various facets and dimensions of our longings, aiding us in drawing connections between art and our lives. We are in fact Homo Imaginus. We are captured by that which capture our imagination.

Without the imagination the mind lacks the ‘raw materials’ needed to judge something as true or false. The will possesses nothing to judge as worthy or unworthy of our devotion. (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 74)

Beauty plays a key role in awakening us and sustaining our longing for what is true and good, awakening our longing for our spiritual home–which involves an epic journey as in Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Beauty in a way calls us home. It awakens and transports us out of the mundane into the enchanted, brings heaven (divine presence) to earth (our lives).  “Beauty is a divine megaphone to rouse a disenchanted world.” (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 104) We are called to love God with our whole being: including our aesthetic skills, sensibilities and perceptions, our creativity and inventions. We are talking about art, music, symbol, poetry, the beauty of creation and story: all are part of our aesthetic currency. But it can also be a blog, video, architecture piece, or a garden sanctuary.

Genesis 1-3 reveals God as an artist and gardener as Andy Crouch writes in his book Culture Making. The Maker was thrilled with his creation. We who are made in God’s image should be creators and cultivators of goodness, truth and beauty in what we make and how we attribute meaning, think and reflect. The most beautiful thing we can do is to locate our life in God’s story, his narrative of healing, redemption and re-enchanting the world. A life of self-denial and service to God and neighbour is a most beautiful phenomenon (Mother Teresa, MLK). Philippians 2:15 suggests that we are called to “shine like stars in the universe (our holiness and goodness, our values and virtues). Seekers who attend to divine speech see that meaning and beauty find their source ultimately in Jesus the Christ, the humble carpenter from Nazareth.

Artists curate beauty, aiding us in seeing reality as it is, painting the world in its proper light and helping us to see it as enchanted, mysterious and sacred. Artists help us to see and understand truth… We are moved to worship God, who is the source of all things…. Art and the imagination help us to see the meaning of the world, our lives and the things we make. (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 103)

In a world of increasing loneliness, angst and darkness, authentic beauty calls and invites people to consider something beyond this broken world. Jesus took on our sin and ugliness, horror and pain of this world so we can find forgiveness, hope, healing and wholeness (Jimmy Myers). Beauty and goodness may be the first window for people to recognize the divine; sometimes we need to clean it. Jesus is the source of beauty, he lived a beautiful life. He taught sometimes with puzzles, metaphors, stories. We were meant to wonder, to delight in, to be in awe. Moses’ tabernacle was a divinely crafted model that pointed to a greater reality—mediating the very presence of God.

Art, as we know it, stands on the threshold of the transcendental. It points beyond this world of accidental and disconnected things to another realm, in which human life is endowed with an emotional logic that makes suffering noble and love worthwhile. Nobody who is alert to beauty…is without the concept of redemption—of a final transcendence of moral disorder into a “kingdom of ends.”  (Roger Scrutin, Beauty, 156)

Let’s cultivate the imaginative this academic year reasoning, writing and living at UBC. Let’s live large into our fullest possible reality (transcendent and immanent).

When we see the world as Jesus does, we see it in its proper light. We receive it as gift, as sacred. By perceiving the world as enchanted, we savor it, and find sustenance in it…. The path of return to God lies through creation itself. We can’t return to this God-infused reality by denying or devaluing the material world. All that God has made is good. All is intrinsically valuable and sacred, even as it is broken and bent…. Creation is haunted. Creation ushers us into God’s presence as we learn to see God in and through all he has made. (P. Gould, Cultural Apologetics, 83)

Dr. Gordon E. Carkner, Meta-Educator with UBC Postgraduate Students

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George MacDonald, Phantastes.

C.S. Lewis, Voyage to Venus.

Roger Scrutin, Beauty.

Andy Crouch, Culture Making: Recovering our Creative Calling.

J.R.R. Tolkein, Lord of the Rings

James K.A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom.

Ralph C. Wood, Flannery O’Connor and the Christ-Haunted South Check out the books on art, literature, poetry and spirituality

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