All posts tagged: imagination

The Digital Displacement of Transcendence at Concerts

Not too long ago I attended a concert put on by some Latin music stars I enjoy (and some I do not) at a massive stadium in South Florida. I had a general idea of what to expect: I had been to large concerts before, and I knew how crazed fans can become at these shows. After all, they adore these artists, these stars: absorbing their lyrics, studying their personal lives, following the gossip, and playing their music as the soundtrack to sundry events in their lives. Being a fan myself, I was quite excited at the opportunity to see some of them live. But the show did not meet my expectations because the stars I expected did not fully appear. I do not mean physically—the performers were there, of course, in the flesh. Yet that flesh—once so sacrosanct in that most religiously charged of secular gatherings, the music concert—seemed unable to carry the weight of glory that it used to. It now had to share that glory with digital representations carried on the sea …

The Unimaginable

“No one has ever seen God,” the Prologue to John’s Gospel concludes, and the reverberations of that statement are registered in 1 John 4:20. For though the epistle opens with the assertion about God incarnate being heard, seen and touched (1 John 1:1), Christian life is pitched in realms where the seen and the unseen intersect. And even though the relationship with Christ is the basis for any Christian identification, Christians live (unlike those first witnesses to the historical Jesus) in the modulations of presence and absence announced by the angels outside the empty tomb: “He is not here” (Matt 28:6). So any scriptural pronouncements about the nature of the material revelation of God in Jesus Christ are stippled with invisibility. They are mediated, interpreted, and wrestled with through texts. Jesus Christ, as the historical revelation of God, is available only in modes in which visibility and invisibility cohere amidst the drifting clouds of unknowing. In the scriptures and the sacraments (most significantly, the Eucharist) we treat what we don’t fully understand and cannot grasp. …

Now We Must Dismantle the Tree

  Well, so that is that.  Now we must dismantle the tree, Putting the decorations back into their cardboard boxes— Some have got broken—and carrying them up to the attic. So begins the somewhat bleak conclusion of W. H. Auden’s For the Time Being. Written in 1944, in the thick of what surely must have been difficult series Christmases for war-torn Europe and its American ally, Auden’s Christmas oratorio concludes the story of Christ’s birth with a final statement on the dissatisfaction of the Christmas season. Auden treats on our own failure to live into the vision of love witnessed at the feast, on our desire to distract ourselves from the present moment with tribulation or joy. But, here we are, after the Christmas season ends, with ordinary time, a upsetting juxtaposition with the rich liveliness of the season of the feast. Auden’s portrait of the harsh contrast between the Christmas season and “the time being,” conflicts sharply with most American Christians’ (author included) preferred pictures of the Christmas season, wrapped in the glow of …

The Extraordinary Is Wed to the Mundane in the Catholic Imagination

“Words move, music moves / Only in time,” writes T.S. Eliot in Four Quartets; “but that which is only living / Can only die.”[1] One of the ideas that these poems stress is what we see in the lines I just quoted: for us, living, expressing, and being always involve time. We need time in order to do any of the things that we do. Yet, for this to be so, it always also means that the current moment is passing away. As G.M. Hopkins says, “I am soft sift / In an hourglass.”[2] Everything that we give slips through our fingers, never permanent, because the condition that makes our creativity possible, time, is also that by which we lose everything. We are poor creatures, unable to possess even the moment we exist in. But of course: Blessed are the poor. If we want to talk about the “Catholic imagination,” it is helpful to remember that we depend on time. We are not only creatures of time, but that in us which experiences eternity always …

Editorial Musings: Sacramental Formation in a Secular Age

In early 1950s Rome, two women—a biblical scholar and a Montessori-trained educator—began the great catechetical experiment known as Catechesis of the Good Shepherd. In a way, Sofia Cavalletti and Gianna Gobbi’s partnership is a kind of model for the mission of the McGrath Institute for Church Life, where we strive to nourish the Catholic imagination for the renewal of the Church. As a scholar of biblical languages steeped in ressourcement theology, Sofia Cavalletti never intended to tend souls in the garden of religious formation. Yet, through her unlikely collaboration with Gianna Gobbi, which spanned over half a century, she developed a method of catechesis rooted in the retrieval of the tradition that takes seriously the exigencies and dignity of children. They shared a commitment to the education of the whole person and an unwavering faith in the mystery of God revealed in Jesus Christ, which is unleashed in Scripture and Sacrament. Indeed, the catechetical method Cavalletti and Montessori developed serves as an icon of the kind of sacramental catechesis needed to nourish the imagination and …

Inexhaustible Stories

I repeat my question, but the class stares blankly toward the front of the room and then shuffles with nervous looks at the floor to avoid being called upon. The sun pokes through the little windows on this bright Sunday morning as I teach a Confirmation preparation class for seventh grade students at a small parish in town. At the beginning of the morning I had picked up over a dozen teenagers from a bustling basement cafeteria and embarrassingly stuttered through conversations with their parents as my students translated my English into Spanish. I prepared to begin our class in prayer and looked out to a scene of fourteen-year-olds in varying stages of rapid and unpredictable growth spurts sitting in the tiny chairs of the third grade classroom we had been assigned. The noise of cars whooshing on the streets outside our windows seemed distracting as I asked the class to consider the images used by Christ himself: vines and harvests, mustard seeds and sowers, fig trees and shepherds. As we sifted through our Bibles …

Imagining the Gospels

We declare to you what was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we have looked at and touched with our hands, concerning the word of life— this life was revealed, and we have seen it and testify to it, and declare to you the eternal life that was with the Father and was revealed to us— we declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; We are writing these things so that our joy may be complete. (1 Jn 1:1–4) There are those beautiful, singular memories from childhood that sear into your brain, sticking with you for mysterious, inaccessible reasons. Some of them are quite insignificant, and when they roll around into the conscious forefront of my mind at odd occasions, I never cease to wonder at what odd chemistry of impressionability and emotional resonance has caused them to be burned into my memory. As I was studying for my Scripture class during last finals week, …