By Ted Furlow
As I prepare for imminent retirement, I have been looking around my office thinking about what I might save. In the usual debris of a long occupied office, aside from diplomas, certificates and awards, there are few gems worth taking. However, one thing for sure on my takeaway list is an “original del Riego,” as in Auxiliary Bishop Emeritus Rutilio del Riego. It dates back to his first all-day Senior Staff meeting after becoming our Auxiliary Bishop.
I sat across the table from him during the meeting and watched as he doodled on a styrofoam coffee cup. When we tidied up at the end of the meeting, I retrieved it out of the waste can and asked him if he would sign it for me. I later trimmed it and mounted it in a shadow box, and hung it on the wall. It is proof positive that the heart of Picasso must beat in all Spaniards, since my cup is a delightful bit of doodle, finely formed and cleverly artistic. It is the product out of the imagination of a man who sees the world through an expansive lens.
I value imagination; it brings life to the world. It spawns creativity; it is the filler that bridges the gaps between experience and knowledge, to say nothing of the sheer entertainment it provides to the active mind. But in our prepackaged and predigested society little is often left for the imagination, from politics to pornography there are few dots left to connect. Our imagination is being systematically euthanized by the authority, influence, and intent of others. Since most life is regularly delivered to us in simple but declarative sound bites, we are no longer sufficiently challenged to “imagine” for ourselves.
In this mind-numbing world it occurs to me that I, a soon to be retired “geezer,” may be part of the last generation that values that lens to imagination which is reading. It is a last bastion of connecting dots and filling in spaces. The stimulation of the written word, articulated in its full glory in nuanced, systematic, and comprehensively crafted exposition is becoming lost in the modern electronic milieu, and with it may well be the ability to write our own narratives or to paint our own portraits to fill our life with creativity and meaning.
Too often people allow for their imagination and thinking to be done by others. It is an unfortunate surrender of the gifts of discernment, understanding, and reason; intellectual blessings from God that are formed by the free will’s use of the individual imagination. It is for each of us to develop and nurture an active imagination as the tool to write the narrative or portrait of our life, an imagination that opens us to the voice of the Holy Spirit, and allows us to seek and see the “signs of the times.” Imagination is essential in discernment, in the finding of self, and in the formation of a genuine Imago Dei - an image of God.
Pope Francis’ writing in Amoris Laetitia has given the Church a chance to read and act in what Archbishop Blasé Cupich of Chicago calls a “spark of imagination.” It is an imagination that can lead to the discernment and the formation of conscience in this complex world, a conscience respectful of the wisdom of the Magisterium, and that may be included in the praxis of church. In his exhortation, Francis is calling for a “community parrhesia” – a robust and fearless encounter of speaking and listening to one another, with courage and humility that may be translated into pastoral and compassionate action in our lives.
Reading? Imagine that.
Ted Furlow is the Director of Pastoral Planning in the Diocese of San Bernardino.