Art / Maturity and Flourishing / Spirituality

Imagination matters

One of the reasons I have sworn allegiance to Christ as king is that I believe the ancient prophets. Their words echo down the passage of time to shatter my complacency with judgment on evil and to halt my despair with the promise that in the end God’s glory will undo all that is wrong. It does not make the brokenness less horrible but it does permit me to hope.

One such prophet, Habakkuk, was a contemporary of Daniel, but not as well known. There is a legend that while Daniel was in the lion’s den Habakkuk provided him nourishment, but this seems doubtful at best. Habakkuk left a short book for his legacy, but it is timeless.

Habakkuk lived in a time of social change, when standards were slipping among the people of God. The law existed, he said, but it was “paralyzed” (1:4). Perhaps this was because the consciences of people were hardened or because the law’s meaning had been reduced to a series of comfortable legalisms. His main complaint, however, was about God who he saw as idle, especially about justice (1:2-3). As far as Habakkuk could see, God was failing to act.

God’s response was that Habakkuk was blind to reality. “Look,” he told the prophet, and “see” (1:5). And by the end of their conversation Habakkuk did see differently, and recorded the “oracle” he “saw” for posterity (1:1). The prophet’s mind was changed, true, but this was not merely a cognitive exchange or the addition of new information—Habakkuk’s imagination was enlarged. Now, he saw, God “shook the nations” (3:6), “split the earth with rivers” (3:9), and “trampled the sea” (3:15).

For Habakkuk, as for us, imagination matters.

I do not remember my first introduction to Square Halo Books, but I do remember being impressed that this small publishing house existed to help enlarge the imagination of the people of God. Nor have I met Ned Bustard, Square Halo’s creative director though I consider him a friend and kindred spirit. This is not a mega organization but it is a passionate one, intent on helping restore beauty and art to their rightful place in the Christian life. Which is precisely what is needed if we are to truly see reality—including God and ourselves—truthfully.

One of the essential aspects of Ransom’s vision has been the conviction that our calling as Christians is to be faithful in the ordinary and routine of life. The people of Square Halo exhibit that sort of faithfulness, and as a result of their publications my imagination, though still feeble and distorted, can better comprehend a tiny glimpse of God’s “splendor” (Habakkuk’s term, 3:3) that covers the heavens. Sometimes in this darkened world glory appears as a mere shimmer, like a firefly on a moonless evening, and so is easy to miss. We need sharp imaginations to catch it.

Seeing God wrongly is not merely a theological or philosophical difficulty, though it is that. Seeing God wrongly means all of life will be distorted, like a GPS that works but is a few degrees off. A few degrees do not sound like much, unless you need to be rescued.

Square Halo is not the only source of books on art, but it is one that Christians should keep in mind when planning their reading. That is something you do, isn’t it—plan your reading? Every six months or so I pause and review what I’ve read and try to plug the imbalances I always find in my list. Books on art and beauty need not be all we read—even if we are artists—but if we want our imagination enlarged they can be a good place to begin. I recommend Square Halo because I am convinced the people doing that quiet, lovely work are not just in love with beauty and art and creativity, they are in love with the God of all beauty who made us in his image, so that beauty and art and creativity in this broken world can resound to his glory.