I recently returned from a trip to Florida, where I spent a few days in Orlando before going to a conference. Orlando is a hotbed of fantasy and adventure, from Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure to Disney World and Sea World.
At Disney World, little girls can fulfill their dream of becoming a princess at the Bibbidi Bobbidi Boutique. At Universal’s Islands of Adventure, there is the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, one of the highlights of my trip. Visitors can drink Butterbeer (a nonalcoholic drink) and wander through the village of Hogsmeade. Many of the rides, in fact, are rather secondary to the experience, though the most popular ride’s line winds through Hogwarts Castle, complete with talking portraits. In Orlando, fantasy is big business. Fantasy and fairy tales are big business in television and movies as well. Recent theatrical releases include "Mirror Mirror" and "Snow White and the Huntsman", and the first installment of "The Hobbit" is scheduled for December. On television we see "Once Upon A Time" and "Grimm." ABC and The CW are both working on series based on Beauty and the Beast.
Fantasy also has a tradition within Christian culture. George MacDonald, C.S. Lewis, and J.R.R. Tolkien explore faith themes in their imaginative worlds. In fact, a person may walk into a bookstore and find no less than three devotionals based upon Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series. It seems faith and imagination may be well suited to one another. Some would argue they work so well because it is like comparing apples to apples — that both belief in a higher power and belief in a fairy tale are in fact beliefs in the same type of fiction.
I am not one of the people who think all matters of faith can be reasoned out. There are some things that require…well…faith. Even Jesus’ disciples, as they watched him heal the blind and lame, still had to make the leap from thinking, “This is a great man with great power,” to, “This is the son of God.” We in the 21st century can read the eyewitness accounts, but we are still hampered with the intangible nature of forming a relationship with a person who is no longer in bodily form, one of the many examples of things that may be difficult for a person to understand. That’s where imagination comes into play. Imagination helps me to picture what God is like. Does it make him less real because I have to employ my imagination? One of the reasons I think C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien have lasting impact is they are able to imagine worlds in which the fight of good against evil has names, faces and bodies we can picture. If we can picture it in our minds, it is easier to grasp. I know I can’t really understand something until I can envision how it works. That is the role of the imagination in faith. How does imagination help you in your faith journey?