The Imagination is a Muscle

In the last two weeks, during Christmas vacation, our family has had conversations about good and evil, conformity and individuality, space and time travel, physics, and mind control.

That’s because we are about three quarters of the way through reading A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle. It’s a book I read when I was in the 4th or 5th grade and it covers all the above, among other things. It’s a little funny, a little heady, and a little scary all wrapped into one, even for the adults since neither of us could remember exactly what happened since we read it so long ago.

In addition to learning some of the finer points of the space / time continuum, I think my biggest takeaway for both the kids and for me is that the imagination is a muscle, given to us by God. And like any muscle, without regular exercise, it will atrophy. But when you work it out, it grows stronger and stronger. I’ve seen it happen in the last two weeks.

When we first started the book, the kids were having trouble keeping up with some of the content. The younger two (7 and 4) were glazing over by the end of chapter 1. So we had to stop and explain the plot, but then something else started happening.

In addition to talking about it, the kids started imagining. They started mimicking the different voices of the characters depending on the scene in which they were engaged. They acted out some of their motions. They talked about what they would do in a certain situation. And as they did it more and more, I saw it happen:

Their imagination began to grow.

And mine did, too.

This growth, I think, is something that we start to lose as we grow older. We lose our sense of wonder; we lose our ability to imagine. Though there a lot of causes for that loss I’m sure, I think it’s mainly due to our refusal to take advantage of the opportunities for wonder God has put before us in every day life. And those opportunities are there. As Elizabeth Browning said, “Eath’s crammed with heaven, and every common bush afire with God, but only he who sees takes off his shoes; the rest sit round and pluck blackberries.”

Chesterton had a similar take: “Contemporary society has become dry, not for lack of wonders but for lack of wonder.”

One hope I have this year, both for me and our family, is to take advantage of what’s around us. To not be so busy that we cease to imagine. And that through exercise, we will see the world of dragons and dwarves, of strange and distant lands and adventure, to grow in our minds and hearts. And as it does, that we will be reminded that all of these things which we imagine point us to the greater adventure that’s before us in the kingdom of God.

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