Sandra M. Levy-Achtemeier, Ph.D.

Imagination Review - EpiscopalLife

EpiscopalLife, October 2009

 

In this book, rich with resources and resonant with clarity, Sandra M. Levy explores "the role that the human imagination plays in the development of religious faith." She begins with the idea that creativity clamors in the heart of any possible meetings with God, or "transcendence," her generous synonym.

Levy, a psychologist and priest, sets out to prove that imagination is essential in the meeting between the mortal and immortal, that song and story, ritual and poetry signify as counters on the path. She defines "imagination" first as "the inherent power to transcend the concrete," and ultimately as "that human capacity to receive and respond to God' revelation in our everyday lives." She looks historically at Samuel Taylor Coleridge's thesis in Biographical Literaria and at William James in Varieties of Religious Experience; she makes their writings not just accessible (a feat in itself) but also helpful.

In sections of Part I, Levy studies literature (by Coleridge and Denise Levertov, among others) and art (Matthias Grunewald's Isnheim Altarpiece, for one example) and concludes that "all good art ... creates an opening through the imagination's gateway, where, by the grace of God, the mysterious Ineffable shines through." She responds to story and ritual to make her point that the "religious community ... could not survive without our imagination's weaving of these stories into a complex of embodied symbols."

In Part II, Levy offers exercises for developing and strengthening the imagination at home, in communities and at churches. Many of her examples tie in well with the Episcopal Church's public-narrative project and with many churches' current commitments to art and talent shows. Part II is not so lyrical as Part I, but it is just what is needed to shift Levy's poetic theory of imagination into practice.

Martha K. Baker