The other day as I sent my hubby and kids off to an escape at the beach far away from my manic dash to the finish line on the manuscript for Grace Sticks, I was struck once again by the power of the human imagination. During that ungodly, 6 a.m. drive to the airport, we were playing one of those story games in which each person adds a sentence to an evolving story that quickly takes on a life of its own.
I started. “A little boy and girl, Cameron and Samantha, who lived at the beach, one day went for a walk on the beach and found a strange-looking key. The key was no ordinary key: it was big, rusty and very old. They wondered where it came from.”
Dad: “Just as they were examining the key, an albatross swooped down and snatched it out of their hands.”
Cameron (my six-year-old): “And then a seagull attacked the albatross and bit off part of its wing.”
Me: (now wondering to myself whether parental subjection of Cameron at such a young age to the violence of the movies “The Hobbit” and “The Lord of the Rings” was really such a good idea, and worrying whether he’ll some day need therapy) “So the children, being kind children like Cameron and Samantha, and knowing that the albatross was an endangered species, felt sorry for the bird and took it home to care for its injured wing.”
Dad: “That’s when they discovered the albatross could actually talk.”
Cameron: “And the albatross began to tell them about a magic mountain where there was a treasure box.”
Me: “And the key was for the treasure box. So the albatross, who was now all better from his traumatic encounter with the seagull, said to the children, ‘I know where the magic mountain is, and I can take you there. Hop on my back.’”
Dad: “And when they came to the mountain and began climbing, Cameron, the boy, fell into the monster’s lair through a hole in the path.”
Cameron: “The monster was very scary: it had six eyes, two heads and sixty…freckles.”
Me: (wondering when freckles became scary and with apologies to my freckled readers) “Yes, that monster was very scary, but Cameron was a brave boy. He knew that to be brave means doing the heroic thing even when it’s scary. And Cameron remembered in that moment a Bible story about a boy named David who defeated the giant Goliath with only a sling and a stone.”
Dad: (interjecting, with the pained expression of the spouse of a minister) “Which would be great if Cameron had a sling, but he doesn’t.”
Me: “True. There’s no sling in sight. But there is a rock. And Cameron picks it up and throws it at the monster- right at one of those poison-spewing freckles- and the monster dies…”
We didn’t finish the end of the story, because by this time, we had arrived in the airport drop-off lane and were unloading our luggage. But as I drove away, I was struck by the nature of imagination. Somehow, as grown-ups, many of us seem to lose our imaginations over time. For children- or at least mine- imagination comes naturally. When other children in Cameron’s kindergarten class were asked to write a short story about a real-life experience, my son had drawn a Salvador Dali-esque picture under which read the caption, “This is an airplane shooting meatballs.”
But, imagination can be the power to dream up stories in which we reconnect with the heroism that lies dormant within us. Imagination, when it is harnessed by God for good, can be the means by which we are born again. Imagination, I suspect, was one of the coping mechanisms by which someone like the great anti-apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, could survive decades of imprisonment on Robben Island and emerge as an even stronger, wiser leader of his people.
What if we began more intentionally to exercise our imaginations? What if we began to ask the Holy Spirit to illuminate our imaginations daily- not as some fantastic escape from reality, but rather, as a way to illuminate and reconnect with our often tedious, even boring realities, so that we became the heroes of our stories, for the glory of God? Freckled, double-headed monsters might be the least of our foes this side of paradise. But with the prayerful use of our imaginations, we may find ourselves fighting great battles and discovering priceless treasures.