We have been working with students this semester on aspects of preaching. I have been wondering why some of the insights and examples we have been sharing have failed to meet with the same kind of enthusiastic response that they created in me when I first encountered (say) aspects of the new homiletic. Barbara Brown Taylor’s discussion of the importance and power of imagination for the preacher leads me to suspect that we all, staff and students alike, suffer from a dearth of imaginative resources, a shrinking of our imaginative capacities. We struggle to read Scripture and use imagination to shape our perception of what we read – and the result is all too often flat and lifeless. This is her definition of imagination as revelation:
In the imaginative act, we are grasped whole. Revelation is not a matter of thinking or feeling, intuiting or sensing, working from the left side of the brain or the right. It is a shocking gift of new sight that obliterates such distinctions, grabbing us by our lapels and turning us around, so that when we are set back down again we see everything from a new angle. We reason differently, feel differently, act differently. Imagination does more than affect us; it effects change in our lives.
Barbara Brown Taylor, The Preaching Life (Lanham: Cowley, 1983), 48.
What she says about our attitude to the world in general, goes also for our atttitude towards Scripture. She speaks of:
…an imaginative enterprise, in which I must first give up the notion that I know what I am looking at when I look at the world. I do not know. All I know is that there is always more than meets the eye and that if I want to see truly I must be willing to look beyond the appearance of things into the depth of things. (p.52)
How to cultivate imagination for prospective preachers? How do I, as someone whose imaginative life is fed as much by novels and poetry and music as well as film and TV, help those who don’t read that stuff? Once, in a meeting of seminary teachers on the subject of spirituality within the curriculum, a tutor from the Baptist seminary in Cuba stated that he felt that his calling and that of his institution was to help his students (prospective pastors and preachers) to ‘appreciate beauty’ – what would it look like if we took such a calling seriously?