Tag Archives: human development

Ink Blots (Part 1 of 3): The Art of Focusing

Ink Blots Ink blots

It is suggested that when we are born, our visual acuity is about eighteen inches. This focal capacity is quite significant, since that is approximately the distance from a baby’s gaze (as they are cradled in someone’s arms) to the face of the one holding them. Not until a few months old, does a baby develop the ability to focus on something farther. Is there really a need to see long distance any sooner? Babies are completely dependent on another to keep them alive, fed and not alone outside of the womb – focusing on the face of someone who is ensuring their success to thrive (up close and personal) seems pretty intuitive. If you have ever held a newborn, you may be well aware of how they stare at you, as if peering into your soul. Maybe they are. Babies have been documented to prefer looking at soft lines of facial features, loving expressions and gentle emotional cadences. Every culture has been observed to care for their infants in similar manners – with sweet sing-song voices and tender glances. A stern or even apathetic facial gesture equates, for the infant, a relational disconnect has occurred. Babies will either look away to search for a more comforting focal point or initiate their own gestures directly to elicit reconnection. It may seem ironic for me, a visually impaired person, to be discussing focusing facts. Yet, whether fully sighted or not, we are all wired to focus. All of our senses have the capability to perceive things – visible and invisible. At least, our senses want to, including our “sixth sense”.

Within the womb, we were already trying to make sense of sounds and movements – what seems pleasant, harsh, safe and unsafe. Throughout our life, this interpretative art becomes either stunted or more sophisticated, influenced by environment, experiences etc. We consciously and unconsciously focus our attention on the world around us and within us to create an identity that includes not only our own self-concept but also a social construct that then dictates how we think and behave. It’s all quite complex to explain here…but then again, it can be very simple. In the 1920s, Herman Rorschach developed a tool to simplify this process of understanding who we are and how we “see’ the world. His Inkblot Test became a methodic means of determining the well-being or psychosis of someone’s mental status. Projection is one of many ways we assign meaning to life. How we see, hear, feel, taste and smell something outside ourselves can reveal dynamics occurring inside of us. Our memories of prior experiences can become relevant to current happenings. The past can persuade us to accept or dismiss something not based on its present authenticity but on our prior experiences with something else and may continue to impact future encounters. It becomes necessary to learn how to focus on the big picture as well as the scene playing out in front of us. This is easier said than done. It’s like listening to a symphony and trying to pick out each individual instrument while the song swoons along with all sorts of melodies and harmonies. What’s more important to focus on – the part or the whole? Is it even possible to focus on both “A” and “Not A” at the same time?

In this age of a gizllion buzzing signals and 24/7 access to worldwide information, ADD is inevitable. Our attention is practically sabotaged to malfunction and disengage quickly. Looking away is not only our knee jerk reaction, it is expected. Social psychologists are discovering that despite our constant bombardment of social media resources and connections, failure to thrive is not just a condition reserved for infancy anymore. Our brains and souls are looking at abstractions and charactures of life and so desperately trying to make sense of the mess we are faced with. Fatigue to keep trying sets in. We want to give up, shut down our senses altogether. We forget that we have the freedom to re-focus our attention on something/someone consistent and life giving. Amid the din of this world, God is still speaking to us, showing us visions of joy, offering us a banquet table to feast at and be held by eternal arms of love. The beauty of this kind of attention is that God knew how easily distracted humanity got a long time ago – that‘s why He sent Jesus in the form of humanity. Jesus provided our whole being with the ability to regain our focusing skill by becoming part of us. God’s Spirit now remains with us to guide, discern and redeem all that we experience. It can seem absolutely over-whelming, over-stimualting at times; but God is the ultimate resource to restore our strength to endure. When the apostle Peter walked on the water with Jesus, he began to sink when he looked away. His focus on Jesus was his life line, perceiving that it was completely because of Jesus that such miracle could occur. As Peter sank, Jesus attended to Peter immediately, hearing Peter’s cry and grabbing his hand. Now that is focus! Though we look away, God never does. And He is an arm’s reach away. He reaches for us and holds us up even when we can’t. We are no longer infants, but there is still an intimate embrace that can occur for us to know that we are cared for – “knowing”, not in the intellectual sense, but in the primitive place inside us that is looking for something/someone to trust to keep us alive and thriving.

References:

  1. Jamie dresses up as a psycho-therapist; photo by Sylvia Martinez 2002 (Halloween)
  2. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin
  3. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Comprehensive, Developmental Approach to Assessment and Intervention by Stanley Greenspan
  4. The Inkblot Test; Herman Rorschach

It’s Not Fair

Not Fair

“Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because it calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because it costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of his Son: “ye were bought at a price,” and what has cost God much cannot be cheap for us. Above all, it is grace because God did not reckon his Son too dear a price to pay for our life, but delivered him up for us. Costly grace is the Incarnation of God.”  Dietrich Bonhoeffer

I don’t think it’s possible for any kid to make it through childhood and adolescence without voicing, at least once, the infamous assessment of life: “It’s not fair”. These three little words sum up so much. Saying this seems to be a rite of passage or developmental milestone that proves an accurate awareness has taken place of what the world is like, what we are like. This declaration of injustice seems to be further articulated by asking questions that begin with “Why?” For the average youngster, it may be as benign as asking “Why is his piece of cake bigger than mine,” or “Why can’t I stay up later?” And at some point for the conscious child, pouty faces and stomping feet accompany the experience of realizing how life is filled with disappointments and disenfranchised existence. As we grow up, we focus our attention on more intense areas of suffering and inequalities. Our outbursts of emotion can also become more intense. We wage wars to fight what’s not fair and to right the wrongs that we observe have occurred for ourselves and/or others. Is that the best way to respond?

Since I can remember, my dad has always offered the same response to my whiny utterances of what felt unfair. He’d say something like, “Not fair? Jesus died for our sins. That’s not fair”. Huh? As a kid, I would wonder what Jesus’ death had to do with me not getting more cake or not getting to stay up later. Yet, the profound simplicity of the statement “Jesus died for our sins” had its intended impact and instilled in me as a wee lass that my life is abundantly blessed because of the mere fact that Jesus died for our sins. Who cares that I didn’t get extra cake or an extended bedtime – I didn’t get death for not following all the rules all the time! The rules (or boundaries) God put in place for life were for our benefit to protect us from what is really not fair. The worst kind of injustice was resolved on the cross; and Christ’s resurrection empowers us to help others who are overwhelmed by the injustice that sin has wrought in the world.  God’s victorious gift of grace has often quieted my restless spirit and enabled me to willingly share my blessings with others, not just materially but also mindfully. Sure, in my early years, there were plenty rolled eyes at my dad, slammed doors and huff and puff mumblings about how mean my parents were. Though, as I’ve grown up, I’ve come to an increasingly deeper appreciation of this redemptive reality – Jesus died for my sins.

The implications of this kind of redemption, knowing that Jesus died for our sins, mean all of us possess an equal existence of needing grace. When Jesus preached about the golden rule while he walked this earth, he spoke to the core of his own mission – love others the way you would want to be loved, the way you have been loved, despite whatever you’ve done or have not done to deserve it. Can I love someone even if it is unfair? More specifically, can I love life even when I don’t get what I want? It is fair to say that there is much injustice in the world, in each other’s lives, that requires us to at some point let go of what is comfortable or coveted so that the discomfort and debt of others can be relieved – to more accurately reflect the shared value we all have. This is what it means to love as Christ loved us. Easier said than done though. But, the more I can comprehend the grace God has given to me, the more I am capable to extend it to others. I wonder what the world would be like if we all lived this way – what kinds of suffering would be eradicated; what hunger would be satisfied; what wars would cease? Alas, life is filled with injustice everywhere I look – this merely means there are always opportunities for me to love. I have no excuse – I only have grace to rely on to work in me and through me to prove how we are equally and eternally loved by God.

References:

  1. It’s not fair; pen and ink drawing by Jamie Wasson 1990
  2. The Cost of Discipleship; Dietrich Bonhoeffer
  3. The Jesus I Never Knew; Phillip Yancey

Red Light, Green Light

Reposted from The Hannah More Project

Red Light Green Light

Vivian was sixteen when she ran away from home. She was born into a family where domestic and community chaos was a daily occurrence. Physical and sexual abuse, drugs and alcohol and violence of the seemingly survival kind was a way of life that surrounded her day and night. Her direct exposure to and experience of these factors were not overlooked by the Department of Human Services; she was placed in foster care at an early age. She moved from foster home to foster home, as space and support shifted to address her special needs of long term care and post-traumatic healing. However, the start and stop of each new foster home, each new relationship, only added to her confusion of what a healthy life can look like. At thirteen she moved into a foster home with caregivers who wanted to become her “forever” family. They adopted her. Forever is a long time though, and often is inconceivable to children like Vivian. The pleasures of sex are quick, and often are the only familiar affection that children like Vivian are acquainted with.

During her early teens, Vivian became sexually promiscuous and soon discovered that she could make money from such activity. She no longer had to rely on her “parents” to provide for her, or wait for them to make her happy. She could provide and get something that had instantaneous returns – physical, emotional and material gain. She ran away from home and moved into a new reality of prostitution and sex entertainment. She was under-aged to be legally involved in such a multi-billion dollar industry; so she lied about her age; and even if her “business supervisors” did know, they overlooked this fact because she brought them equally worthwhile returns on their investment too. Vivian’s vulnerability, due to her age and longing to be loved, was easily exploited, and she found herself in a world very similar to the one she was born into. I knew Vivian during this tumultuous time. She is a real person who represents so many children with stories not unlike her own. This story occurs every day in America, in metropolitan areas as well as suburban and rural domains. It is hard to write about Vivian’s story without a nauseated feeling in my gut. I wish I could write that she found her way back to her adoptive home and found healing in the arms of her adoptive parents for all her years of abandonment and abuse, but I can’t. I can say that something inside her was trying to heal and did know what healthy love looks like, because she did return to her adoptive home a year later. She found sanctuary and stability there that was lacking in her career choice and lifestyle. Her adoptive parents welcomed her home, but her stay was short lived. The seduction of instant gratification lured her back into the sex industry. The last I knew, she called home from time to time and came home periodically seeking respite. Her parents continue to welcome her back and grieve when she leaves – they still want to be her forever family. Forever, indeed, is a long time. So, that means her story is not over. There is always hope.

It’s been said that prostitution is the oldest profession. But according to the Bible, this is not true. Originally, God had another occupation in mind. According to Genesis, God made humanity and declared how their living would be made (Genesis 1:26 – 31). God created a world in which humanity would oversee the agriculture and well-being of society. Farming and family were the combined profession (of faith) that first existed in the world, established as an effort to reflect God’s creative genius and generosity. Dr. Carol Kaminsky, an Old Testament scholar, details how God created humanity to, in turn, create good things from and throughout the earth. In fact, Kaminsky highlights that God’s creation of humanity itself would, in turn, create generations of humanity to carry on the legacy. Kaminksy further underscores how God saw His work of humanity and His plan for humanity’s work and said it was “very good” (Genesis 1:31a). Many generations later, as I observe the world, I find it hard to say things are good, let alone very good. What went wrong? In Paul David Tripp’s book, Sex and Money, he explores how humanity has veered far from the original intent God had in mind when He created us and our capacity for intimacy and expectation of gain. Tripp discusses how sex and money, as created things, were never intended to truly satisfy us – the Creator, Himself, wanted that role. Humanity’s choice to reattribute the role of God’s benevolent supremacy and satisfying love for us to be mimicked by creation has proved its ramifications ever since, not only exemplified in Vivian’s story but in all of our stories. This is why Jesus came – to save us from ourselves, so we can start over and start living and loving as God intended. God’s grace and mercy keeps telling the story of redemption. The story is not over. There is still hope.

As a Christ follower, I am called to look, not simply around me to see where things are not good and ask for God’s help to advocate for and implement change, but I am also called to look into my own heart to see where I have bought into the misgivings of created things to satisfy me in the way only God was meant to. When it comes to sex and money, how have I chosen to dress provocatively in hopes of being “seen” by another for some self-exalted purpose? How have I contributed to the supply and demand for sexualized entertainment that perpetuates an ever-growing industry and negatively affects children like Vivian?  From that starting point, I can turn back and look at God to direct my steps to walk with people like Vivian, in an enduring and redemptive way – the same way God wants to walk with and love me, forever.

References:

  1. Traffic light: Google image
  2. 24 Hour Hotline for National Center for Missing and Exploited Children: 1-800-THE-LOST
  3. Stop human trafficking: Dining for Dignity
  4. CASKET EMPTY; Dr. Carol Kaminsky
  5. Sex and Money by Paul David Tripp

Look Up!

Resurrection

The Harvest Moon is almost here! The full moon that rises in the sky each September, known as the Harvest Moon, is my favorite moon of the whole year. There is an astrophysical explanation for why this particular moon shines the brightest and looks the largest of all the calendar moons…but I’m not going to ramble on about that rationale here. The Harvest Moon receives its name from the season that celebrates the significance (the reward) of hoping. Harvest is the joyous reality of receiving what was, in seasons past, imagined.

This process is not without hard work. In agricultural terms, there is first the identification of what matters – what needs to be grown to keep life going. Then, there is the selection and preparation of land, the toil of cultivating soil to then plant seeds to take root. Then, there is waiting. There is humility in surrendering to time and tempests; and there is intentional attention to helping healthy growth take place. There is more waiting…and watching. There is the possibility of despair and even death. But amidst that shadowy insecurity, there still exists the anticipation and purposeful preparation to meet and greet what has matured and is ready for harvest. Harvest, itself, is its own important effort that requires the collective support of persistent muscle. The careful plucking and cutting of crops still involves imagination of the banquet tables to come. There is a symbolic synchronicity to the Harvest Moon’s ambiance that represents, for me, how heart, hand, land and especially ethereal efforts are always at work to offer hope and joy throughout every season of life.

The 2015 Harvest Moon will appear on September 27. Look up! I hope you get to see it and enjoy the present it is.

A Good Gift

You made the moon to rule the night –

That means even in the dark, there is still light.

In the absence of day glow, no less inferior,

You are here – proving Yourself superior.

Rays of hope  as surrounded arms,

Your maternal embrace truly warms.

Amid cold shadowed veil,

You prove Your love can never fail.

A very real reflective radiance

And a divine ordained incandescence

Fills the sky with eternal essence.

I stand in awe of Your glorious presence.

References:

  1. Resurrection; sculpture by Jamie Wasson 2014
  2. Why does the Harvest Moon look so big and orange?
  3. The Art of the Commonplace by Wendell Berry
  4. A Good Gift; poem by Jamie Wasson 2010

Face Forward

Lost and Found

 “Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.”  Luke 22:31 – 32

The heavy sound of old rusty metal scraped along the ground as the gate opened. The high tone of intersecting locks clinked and harmonized a dissident refrain, as the latch closed the gate behind her. She silently stood there and waited. It was almost noon and the summer sun made no apologies about its heat. Sweat had already formed on her brow.

“Face forward,” the guard instructed. These two words merely informed the prisoner what to do, not who to be. Today was different, though. This phrase had been repeated so often in her ears – years of hearing it instinctually made her react. She turned. But instead of seeing the long narrow hallways of the prison that had led her in and out of her cell block or day room or showers, she saw in front of her a parking lot and the big stone main gatehouse. The highway was accessible just a mile or so from there. She had entered through that gate to where she stood today, eighteen years ago – to remove her from the world as she knew it…or to remove the world as she knew it from her? It was a coin toss. She thought about this irony and smiled slightly, knowing her pockets were empty. She spent her last penny on the outfit she currently wore, which she had bought to wear for her release day.

She sighed, as the flashbacks started to fill her mind. She knew those memories would remain with her as long as she lived. Yet, she was determined to keep learning how not to let them haunt her. Something, indeed, was dead the first time she entered through the gate into the prison compound. She was found guilty for a capital crime that she did not deny committing. She was sentenced to twenty-five years. Her prison time was calculated according to her age and offense. She was tried as an adult; after all she had just turned eighteen. Ironically though, she had felt so childlike, but the courts didn’t care about that. She had no family to care about her either back then; at least, not the healthy kind that could solve problems without making more of a mess. She closed her eyes and sighed again. As she inhaled, she thought about the fresh air she breathed. She heard the swooning sound of the cicadas, and thought about them trying to find their mates to ensure something about them would live to another season. What was this new season for her going to look like? Did it matter that she was free now? She felt so alone. The air she breathed today was the same air that surrounded the prison the day before. The locusts in the trees were the same locusts she had heard yesterday, as she laid in her bunk thinking about how hot it was, just like today’s temp.

Then she opened her eyes and saw a car drive through the main gate and make its way around the perimeter of the parked cars to pull up to the place where she stood. The restless feeling inside her chest eased a bit. She sighed a third time, smiled widely and her eyes began to tear.

“They came,” she thought. Had she doubted? Maybe a little. The triggers were real and heartache would always be part of her life, regardless of whatever side of the prison gate she found herself.  Her parents pulled up a few feet from where she stood. Her dad was driving and put the car in park, leaving the blinkers on. Her mom got out first. These folks were not her birth parents. Her birth parents had died while she was in; though they had abandoned her before she ever went in anyway. The people that came to greet her now had helped give birth to her spirit. They started visiting from the local church a decade and a half ago, and an important connection was made – the kind of love and attention she had never known, always wanted to know. As her “mom” stepped out of the car and walked towards her, she felt a foolish blush come over her, as she thought about her doubt that they would come for her.

Her mom seemed to sense her moment of weakness and smiled as any loving mother would. “Did you think we forgot about you?” her mom noted, less as a question and more as a reassurance that her fears were not un-noticed. “We got stuck in traffic for whatever reason. But here we are!” her mom announced. Her mom embraced her tightly and they lingered in that pose for a few moments. They were allowed to now; since during visitation, quick hugs were mandatory.

Her dad, she had come to appreciate, was the strong silent type. He simply stepped up, put one arm around her, kissed her on the forehead and said, “Let’s go”.

She turned back to look at the guard. It was such a reflex. He nodded and said “Walk on”. Then he added, “God bless”. Her eyes scanned the concrete facade of the correctional facility that had been her home for what seemed a lifetime.

“Yep,” she thought, “what a blessing it’s all been.” She wasn’t just thinking about her parole that she had prayed would come for the past five years, but her entire incarceration experience was its own blessing in disguise. She had arrived there so long ago, dead inside and feeling like she was being buried. She was initially convinced that any sort of “living” was not possible within those walls. But she would soon come to find out what resurrection really meant. Feeling dead, discarded and alone were lies; and she had learned, while she was imprisoned, what it meant to be alive for real, loved unconditionally and acknowledged as something special. She committed her time in to learning how to serve others with the same compassion that was shown to her. How would she show it now? She was still committed to finding the right path to serve best.

She got in the back seat of her God-parents old Buick and belted herself in. Her dad looked at the center rear view mirror at her.

“Ready?” he asked.

She looked at him and then shifted her gaze to look through the windshield towards the gatehouse. “Yes,” she said. She did not look back. This intentional gesture felt significant.

“I think taking the back roads will be best, rather than the highway,” her dad said. “We’ll take the scenic route,” he added, looking back at her via the mirror again.

She faced forward and replied, “Okay”.

References:

  1. Lost and Found; oil painting by Sylvia Martinez 2015
  2. Prodigal God by Tim Keller
  3. Just Mercy by Bryan Stevenson
  4. Cain’s Redemption by Dennis Shere
  5. Learn about Face Forward Re-entry Program; Volunteers of America

Blood, Sweat and Tears (Part 1)

“Reach out your hand if your cup be empty. If your cup be full may it be again. Let it be known there is a fountain that was not made by the hands of men. There is a road, no simple highway. Between the dawn and the dark of night, and if you go no one may follow. That path is for your steps alone.”  The Grateful Dead

The Franklin Institute in Philadelphia has a one-of-a-kind exhibit that offers a larger than life model of the heart. It’s one of my favorite things at the museum – it invites you to walk through the whole heart, experiencing the inner workings of how blood flows. There are narrow steps that lead you up and down and all around through atriums and ventricles to playfully act out how blood is oxygenated and pumped in and out of the heart to the rest of the body. “The Giant Heart” is one of the features in the vascular exhibit, which is its own grand gallery in the museum. It’s like a romper room of real deal cardio-activities. You can crawl through arteries, or see how blocked arteries do, in fact, inhibit passage because they are filled with various amounts of plaque. It’s quite sobering. You can also step on a giant scale attached to a giant flask that fills with red liquid to display, based on weight, how much blood is coursing through your veins. It’s all so mesmerizing. Blood is a remarkable thing. I’ve stood on that scale more than a few times over the years and watched the flask fill up, topping off at about four and a half liters or so;  and I’ve realized I have little clue about what is really going on inside me at any given moment.

There’s a whole metropolis and countryside underneath my skin’s surface. All sorts of things are moving and grooving along highways, byways and rural roads; and I’m hardly aware of it. My heart is always at work, ensuring vitality from my head to my toes. It occurs involuntarily. It has to. It’s too important for me to be consciously in charge of it. I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else. There are times when I do (and need to) become conscious of my heart’s activity. During physical and/or situational stressors, my heart can start racing or pounding the pavement at an unsustainable or arrhythmic pace. I need to voluntarily respond with mindful repose (and possible cardiac consultation) to resume cruise control. My body’s vascular system has miraculous ways of not only clueing me in to step up and take action, but also calming me down to reconsider how to best continue the journey. Deep breaths are the first steps to refuel my heart with fresh perspective to carry on. My lungs assist my heart to do this; however, there are moments when I must metaphorically reach for the oxygen mask dangling in front of me to restore body and soul homeostasis. It’s like there’s this cardio-community inside me (and around me) that is always cheering me on, whether I’m aware of it or not. “Take heart” is more than a cliché to me. It implies that there is a force inside me (around me) that keeps me going, despite how stuck or shut down I feel. Am I willing to accept this reality? How consciously connected I am with this life force inside me (surrounding me) directly influences how intentionally grateful I am to be alive and to cheer others on to love their life as well. The writer of Hebrews in the New Testament summed it up similarly in this way:

“Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who has endured such hostility by sinners against Himself, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.” (Hebrews 12:1-3)

A professor in grad school once challenged my class to consider why women seem most attuned and willing to acknowledge heart issues. We speculated about a mother’s need to provide nurturing support for her children. “Think more primitively”, he said. We discussed aspects of birth, then pregnancy and still he shook his head, noting not all women experience such things. He provocatively prompted us to consider every woman’s forced relationship with herself every month. Ironically, a man helped me understand how menstruation is a primitive process that involuntarily volunteers me to attentively and compassionately relate to life. Not just physically but mentally and emotionally, as a woman, I have to consciously contend with waiting, timing, discomfort, catharsis, clean-up and resolution. I don’t mean to be crass in discussing this, but to underscore how life is constantly proving itself to be something that is capable of enduring, overcoming and thriving throughout the journey. Men are not excluded from connecting to life with compassionate notions – although this may be one of the notable reasons why God provided Adam a “suitable helpmate” in designing Eve (Genesis 2:18). Eve was formed from Adam’s rib, a bone closest to the heart (Genesis 2:21). There is a heart-to-heart connection among all of us. If we go deep enough, we will find it. Our internal and external functions do not always run smoothly and, at times, are more dysfunctional than we’d like to admit or deal with. We need help. I recently worked with a birth client who lost a large amount of blood during delivery that caused her blood pressure and platelets to drop to dangerous levels. She received a transfusion of one and a half pints of blood, which help a bit; but soon after that intervention, another transfusion was required to ensure healthy equilibrium. She received an additional two pints, which significantly stabilized her status. The Red Cross diligently facilitates blood drives to ready reserves for just such purposes. Hmmm, I know another cross that provided a much needed soul transfusion to ensure that we could keep living and loving.

For eons, the symbolic relevance of the heart has signified an emotional and/or spiritual reality that exists inside us and between us. The true essence of a person has often been believed to dwell in a person’s heart. When renown Scottish medical missionary, Dr. David Livingstone, died in 1873 in Africa, the African nationals buried his heart there before sending his body back to Britain for formal burial. Dr. Livingstone had dedicated his life to serve the African people. They were keenly aware of how much he loved them, so they wanted to keep his heart near them. This may seem gruesome, but it is a tangible tale of how we experience life, specifically love. Whether we will it or not, our hearts are designed to perpetuate life and even love. Our hearts are as scientific as they are sacred. They are part of an essential network, inside and out, that motivates us onward to keep going and even enjoy the ride. And we do not trek this journey alone. I find comfort in being part of this collective effort.

 

References:

  1. The Bloodmobile by They Might Be Giants (video featured at the Franklin Institute)
  2. Ripple by The Grateful Dead
  3. Visit the Franklin Institute Science Museum
  4. Human Biology by Starr & McMillan
  5. Lost Women of the Bible by Carolyn Custis-James
  6. How to donate blood
  7. History of Dr. David Livingstone

My Beautiful Vision

joy

“It is only with the heart that one sees rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.” The Little Prince

Once upon a time in my early thirties, I visited the Camden Aquarium in New Jersey with my then three year old nephew. We stood in front of the expansive glass walled aquarium that housed and showcased numerous sea creatures. Watching them swim and swirl before my eyes, I pressed my hands and forehead against the glass to get as close as I could to look. So did my nephew. And soon I realized other children stood in solidarity with me in the same pose to see the majesty of what swam on the other side of the aquarium window. I also soon realized that I was the only grown up in this line up of awe struck admirers. I glanced over my shoulder and saw adults a few yards away milling around, presumably parents and/or caregivers of the children standing next to me. The adults kept their distance while keeping a close eye on their kids, who unabashedly smushed their faces against aquarium glass. I instantly felt a foolish blush, as I considered what a goofball I looked like, the only adult with such obvious wide eyed wonderment amongst giggling youngsters. So I stepped back. Though as soon as I did, my feeling of foolishness shifted to sadness. Truth be told, I’m legally blind.  Thus, I often position myself in such apparent poses to see things. Because I want to see – I really want to see. And yet, even in my efforts to ‘see’ something as it is, my observations are still limited to blurry glimpses, undefined detail and even misinterpretations. However, such shrouded encounters seem to offer a more enlightened perspective of what, how and why imagination is so essential to any of us really ‘seeing’ anything.

Throughout the Gospels, Jesus emphatically proclaimed that the Kingdom of God belongs to children, that we must have faith like a child and that anyone who hurts a child is better off sleeping with the fishes (Luke 18:16, Matthew 18:3, Matthew 18:6). What do children possess that we as adults must not lose in our maturation process? How does being childlike help us understand God? Why are children always asking why?! I think the answers to these questions are less about infantilizing ourselves by discussing the value of vulnerability or the importance of remaining innocent and even being naive. I think Jesus is referencing imagination as an essential method to truly ‘seeing’ ourselves the way God sees us and, more significantly, seeing God as God really is. At the very least, imagination seems to be about trying to see beyond what is right in front of us. According to the dictionary, the concept of imagination is “the ability to form new images and ideas that are not perceived through sight, hearing, etc.”. In other words, imagination is that sixth sense of making sense of things. According to Jesus, imagination is not about pretending. It is about expanding our ability to perceive {to see} the big picture. Jesus’ descriptions of God’s kingdom throughout the Gospels invite us to look past the dust and rust of what surrounds us and be part of transforming ourselves into something divinely everlasting. This process requires imagination. Imagination requires risk in creating and re-creating, considering and reconsidering – looking at something in a new way. In practical Christian terms, this is referred to as the redemption process.

If you have ever spent more than ten minutes with a child, you may have observed their capacity to not simply tell a story but accentuating aspects of a story to create quite an interesting tale.  As an art therapist who has worked with children for over twelve years, I have no short list of such observations. Yet at times as an adult, I confess I respond to their ‘wild imaginations’ with patronizing aloofness – as if fantasy doesn’t play any role in developing a healthy sense of self and society. While pop psychology has veered away from any strict ‘study of the soul’ to pursue a more strategic neuro-scientific research approach, the practice of imagination cannot occur without body and soul working together. This cohesive relationship is reflected in the most primitive sense when a baby is born and placed on their mother’s breast. The baby can smell, taste, see, hear and feel their mother. Amidst these physical sensations begins the bonding process. Attachment theory experts suggest that within that embrace, imagination ignites for both mother and baby. The mother imagines whether or not she can be a ‘good enough’ mother. The baby imagines whether or not this source of care outside the womb is trustworthy. In this imaginative reciprocity, time seems to be a significant factor in not only determining the reality of reliability but also what makes such bond worth developing beyond childhood. In our spiritual development or redemptive process, imagination can help us maintain or even deepen the bliss we experienced when we were born again.

When God created mankind, let alone the whole world, imagination seemed to be both the cause of creation as well as the effect. In the book The Creators, the reality of mankind being made in God’s image is extensively reviewed. The creative genius of God is that He made us creative. God imagined a world, a relationship with mankind, that could be wildly experienced while always being good, never anything less than good. After the Fall of mankind, our imagination was altered to look away rather than stand in awe of God, fear rather than hope and deny rather than believe. But God never stopped imagining something good. Jesus, being both creative God and creative man, redeemed the power of imagination to be used for good and not for evil. Who would have imagined that being born in a barn, washing feet, dying and being buried in a stranger’s grave would be sequential elements in revealing the best idea ever imagined – resurrection. Jesus prepared his disciples ahead of time that such imaginative means to an end was coming But only after the fact did his disciples and followers begin to grasp the epic meaning. Some ideas are just too mind blowing to visualize all at once. They take time to sink in. Jesus’ follower Mary stood outside an empty tomb, overcome with grief not only because her beloved teacher was dead but now his body was missing. Did she ever imagine the alternative? Standing by his gravesite, she heard him say her name, turned and saw him. Then, she fully embraced the idea and ran to tell others. Wheels of re-imagining the world started spinning a new revolution. Jesus’ life, death, resurrection, ascension, Pentecost and history ever since seem to be the unfolding revelation of God inspiring us to see everything with a new pair of glasses. The Holy Spirit is God’s gift to us to do so. God’s Spirit in us, with us, is our lens by which we can truly make sense of what we see – what God sees.

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthian church:

“No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what the Lord has prepared. But by His Spirit, he has revealed His plans to those who love Him” (1 Corinthians. 2:9)

Paul was reiterating encouragement from the prophet Isaiah, written and recorded in the Old Testament (Isaiah 64:4). Overtime, imagination bridges the gap between what is seen and unseen. Time, as does redemption, offer us the opportunity to engage with the reality of God’s idea being realized.  Like a craftsman uses blueprints to construct an object, the Holy Spirit uses revelation as evidence of what was imagined. Are we eager to see what the Lord is building? Are we willing to be part of that construction? The thing about children is that you do not have to press them to imagine. They do it so naturally, maybe supernaturally. There is an instinctual sense of non-pretense when it comes to their ideas about things. They also are uninhibited about wrangling you into figuring it out with them. They ask why. A relationship is established, maybe even expected in order to create meaning.

Paul also wrote to the Corinthians that love is the most important mechanism by which we live out our imaginative efforts of making sense of things (1 Corinthians 13:13). Loving God is the first step in the pursuit of seeing. Paul noted that at this time “we see through a glass darkly” but he reassured that “in time, we will fully see” (1 Corinthians 13:12). Our ability to imagine becomes an essential part of our life span and redemptive process. The power of imagination children possess seems to be what Jesus prompts us to never lose as we become adults. The practice and protection of imagination become a spiritual discipline. As we mature, it may be useful for us to become more sophisticated in articulating what we are trying to imagine; but what is more advantageous is that we increase our care in creating something worthy of being called ‘a reflection of our Creator’s reality’. May I not be ashamed to press my face against the proverbial glass to see as much as I can. And what I cannot see, may I be inspired to take part in the creative process of revealing a new creation – in me and around me.

 

References:

  1. Joy: pastel painting by Jamie Wasson 2003
  2. The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupery
  3. Definition of “Imagination” – Google word search
  4. The Creators by Daniel Boorstin
  5. Pregnancy, Childbirth and the Newborn by Penny Simkin
  6. Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health: A Comprehensive, Developmental Approach to Assessment and Intervention by Stanley Greenspan
  7. Diary of A Baby; by Daniel Stern
  8. Childhood and Society; by Erik Erikson