Imagination: The Most Underrated Spiritual Discipline
By Laura Jean Truman
Day 1 of 10: Imagination and Courage
“I wish it need not have happened in my time,” said Frodo. “So do I,” said Gandalf, “and so do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us.”
–J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring
You know what I did the day of Donald Trump’s inauguration two years ago?
I curled up in my PJ’s, turned off my computer, and had a Lord of the Rings marathon.
I had laid out my protest gear the night before, but when I woke up I felt like I was sinking into molasses. My anger had been fueling protests, phone calls to congressfolk, and blog posts, and at that point it all drained out. I was burnt out and dried up. Hopelessness crawled up around my shoulders and settled there.
I could have just shamed myself into trying more and working harder. I could have scolded myself until I was “better.”
But instead, I curled up with hot chocolate on a freezing winter day, and I watched Lord of the Rings, not to escape from my world, but to borrow a bit of courage from another one.
When Gandalf gently reminded Frodo that it was pity that stayed Bilbo’s hand, that “even the very wise can’t see all ends” – I felt a little bit of my hopelessness lift.
Stories lend us fire when we are out of our own. They show us how our story—the sometimes too-small feeling story—fits into a bigger story. When we’re tired, stories that speak to our imagination can wake us up, give us courage, give us empathy.
Y’all, I desperately need to stop trying to barrel through life, activism, and spirituality as if all I need is more willpower in order to conquer exhaustion. Willpower and rules don’t make us better, stronger, and kinder, though. Humans don’t run on sheer grit, and stories aren’t an elective in the fight for justice. Stories come to us as a gift—things that we accept, not achieve; and so stories are also grace. “Sit still and listen,” a good story tells us, “and get some courage for the road.”
A very good story pulls us back a bit so that we can see our so-small daily life as part of the bigger story of good and evil that is always unfolding in sacred time. Our very-small resistance is one piece of the bigger Resistance that has always been pushing back against this present darkness, and God, that gives me hope.
I cried on the couch on January 20, 2017. In calendar time, clock-bound time, Donald Trump was elected the 45th President of the United States of America. In sacred time, the story-time that runs outside history, Gandalf sat in the Mines of Moria and reminded Frodo that no one ever wants to live in times like this – but yet, here we are.
And I felt a little braver.
God, lead us to good stories this week. Remind us that it is OK to be human and need to be refilled and inspired. Amen.