Nearly two years ago, I began to send out passionate emails.
At first, they were only a means to share my distress. My wife was in a coma and not expected to live, or at least to regain any kind of normal life. She had had an explosion in her head called a subarachnoid hemorrhage. For all we knew, it had obliterated all her memories, identity and adulthood. She might die. Or, she might live in some form that I would not recognize as the person with whom I had lived and raised a family. I had been suddenly summoned by life to care for someone who might not know me or, for that matter, know herself. Either scenario – death or greatly diminished life – offered raw material for private horror movies that threatened to capture my own brain and take it hostage. I had to find a way to maintain sovereignty over my imagination. Like Trish, I too was in a battle for my brain.
Plato taught that reality consists of two things, form and substance. The "forms," he said, are products of a perfect world. "Substance" is the stuff of our visible and tangible world. Therefore, substance is imperfect and always in the process of decay but without it, form cannot be made visible and functional. Since we live in a world of matter, form must take on substance if it is to be shared and experienced. That’s what my emails did – gave a form to the substance of suffering, fear and faith and allowed me to share it with others.
Whether we agree with Plato or not, we Westerners seem compelled to use this kind of language when trying to describe how we create things. For what is creation if not a process by which we transform thoughts into things? Our imagination is a kind of womb then in which we conceive ideas and from which we may give birth to tangible and intangible products.
As I found out during the summer of 2004, we often use our imagination to frighten ourselves. I discovered that the undisciplined imagination is a monster factory. It can create private horror movies so vivid that our hearts race and our being prepares for imminent death. Even our closest friends may not know that we are terrorizing ourselves with a horror flick that we have written, directed, and produced in the theatre of our private thoughts. If we are reasonably gifted, we can even distribute our internal horror movies to others. It is a type of emotional terrorism to be sure, but we do it all the time. For example, the Internet is a fear-mongering machine that allows neurotic thoughts to mutate and colonize huge masses of people very quickly. In the primitive times before the Internet, we had to rely on rumor to spread such fear and despair!
Well, my wife’s struggle with life and death became an explosion in my own head. I was reeling and rocking from the blast. My thoughts were in disarray. My emotions were threatening to reduce my inner being to a state of anarchy. That’s why the first thing I did each morning during those months was to open the Book of Common Prayer. There is a section in that book called the “daily office.” It offers four readings for each day of the year: a Psalm and selections from the Old Testament, the Epistles and the gospels. I would read all those passages. Then I would write down any particular verse or phrase that stood out to me. On some days I would sing a hymn or a chorus that the scripture reading brought to mind. Only then would I would pray for Trish and for myself, using the words, thoughts and emotions that had emerged from this daily discipline.
For the rest of that day, I would weave every event, thought and emotion into the fabric of my morning prayer. Every doctor’s report and every conversation with friends got pulled into the thought-structure that was holding me together that day. My mind was under martial law. The enemy had come in like a flood but God was raising up a standard against him. It was up to me to cooperate and to submit my inner world to the rule of God.
At night, I would try to condense all the thoughts and emotions of the day into a short reflection, which I emailed to a few friends. To my great surprise, these emails became widely read and distributed. Since then, I have periodically sent other emails to update my friends on Trish’s recovery. (She is whole and completely herself, thank God.) I also wrote about Montelle Hardwick’s suffering and death. The reason for these emails was to give form to my own questions and emotions about these things and to help our community make sense of our loved ones’ struggles in the light of our faith in Christ.
Many have found these emails comforting and helpful. I am glad. That helps give me meaning and purpose. Lately though, I have been thinking about how our minds should function in times of peace when they are not under “martial law.” For surely our faith is not meant as a mere comfort for the stormy seasons of life!
So, as this present season of life has brought increasing joy and excitement, I have found myself wanting to share how faith can move mountains in our world by moving the thoughts in our heads. I want to tell the story about how my spiritual life, which moves forward in jerks and jumps, through inconsistencies and pettiness and through doubt and despair, sometimes gets apprehended by grace. When this happens, at least for a moment, my imagination becomes a colony of heaven. Under God’s government, even a pitifully small piece of truth, goodness or beauty can make the monsters disappear and make life worth the living. Then, things get conceived and begin to make their way from my imagination into life. Form takes on substance and dwells among us. As we behold it, as through in a glass, darkly, we glimpse behind that substance, the form that holds it together – the Word of God, from which all things are made and in whom all things consist.
As it turns out, when human beings create, it is because they have become conduits for God’s Creative Spirit, who inevitably takes on the substance of personal dreams and visions if we will but let go and let God take over.