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Your Imaginarium

Monday, September 28, 2015

Myth, Art, and Poetry

Your Imaginarium
Monday, September 28, 2015

Wisdom, just like good poetry, must and will always “resist intelligence,” as New England poet Wallace Stevens says enigmatically. It gives just enough of reality to keep us out of our too-easy egotistic center. True wisdom requires a spiritual state to complete the “logic.” Mature spirituality insists that we hold out for meaning instead of settling for mere answers. Wisdom is necessarily and always partially hidden, and reveals herself only to those who really want her and will not try to make a commodity of her (Old Testament book of Wisdom 6:12–22; 7:22—8:8). It is precisely the same with God, I think. [1]

You cannot even imagine something or do something until you first have an image of it in your being. This is surely why Einstein said, “Imagination is more important than intelligence.” [2] We each have constructed our own imaginarium of inner symbols, meanings, archetypes, and memories that have formed us. This is almost entirely unconscious but visibly operative in all of our choices and preferences; the imaginarium is foundationally real for us and has very concrete effects.

All the logic and reason in the world will not change us unless we allow that logic to change our inner symbolic universe. You can observe the deep power of the imaginarium when you try to change a person’s deep sexual fascinations or their need for security or certitude. Christians were probably right when we said that “Only God can do this” by rearranging our inner symbolic world. Such transformation might be called radical conversion, and it is somewhat uncommon in my experience.

Let me give a strong example. For many Christians (mostly Catholic and Orthodox), the very word “Mary” evokes an entire imaginarium in the soul, and from there does its very real good work. If you have no Mary imaginarium, “Mary” probably cannot “save” you. All of the Marys in the Gospels—we are not even sure how many there are—exercise a transformative, “bridal mysticism” on the prepared human psyche. They feminize, sweeten, and give eros and pathos to the spiritual journey. They work on you in a hundred unconscious ways—according to how, when, why, and with what readiness we read the text or look at the image. A heart open to the power of metaphor (“that which carries you across”), a heart open to the feminine and open to intimacy, will leap every time. A heart trapped in historical literalism, or closed to the power of poetry, will remain bored, reactive, and trapped in critique. [3]

A true symbol is not only a pointer to “a more absolute reality,” but by that very fact awakens us to the deepest level of our own life too. Good symbolism and imagery moves us into contact with our True Self, with others, and with Everything—“God.” After radical conversion, after you have once fallen through the ego and into the collective unconscious, the whole world starts becoming symbolic.

Both C. G. Jung and Joseph Campbell, spent much of their lives trying to unpack these archetypal symbols for Western linear people. Campbell even quotes Thomas Merton in this regard:

“One cannot apprehend a symbol unless one is able to awaken, in one’s own being, the spiritual resonances which respond to the symbol not only as sign but as ‘sacrament’ and ‘presence.’ The symbol is an object pointing to a subject. We are summoned to a deeper spiritual awareness, far beyond the level of subject and object.” [4] [We call that unitive, or non-dual consciousness.]

. . . Mythologies and religions, are great poems and, when recognized as such, point infallibly through things and events to the ubiquity of a “presence” or “eternity” that is whole and entire in each. In this function all mythologies, all great poetries, and all mystic traditions are in accord; and where any such inspiriting vision remains effective in a civilization, everything and every creature within its range is alive.

And, I would add, this vision is trustworthy and has a message for the soul. When mythologies and religions are no longer effective, all transformation ceases and you have a quickly declining culture, with a high degree of mental illness and neuroses. One must ask if this is not our present situation.

Gateway to Silence:
“To see a world in a grain of sand, and heaven in a wild flower.” —William Blake

[1] Adapted from Richard Rohr, Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi (Franciscan Media: 2014), 247.
[2] Ibid., 253.
[3] Ibid., 256-257.
[4] Joseph Campbell, Myths to Live By (Penguin Compass: 1993), 257.

Image credit: The Winged Deer (tapestry detail), French School, (15th century), Musee des Antiquities, Rouen, France, Peter Willi, The Bridgeman Art Library.
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