Sunday, June 28, 2009
Spirituality, Imagination and the Healing Power of Art
By Sr. Mary Lonergan
“Yours to drive a new furrow
Nor sow any longer among the briars.” -- Jer. 4:3
We can define spirituality in many ways: in terms of integration, of self-transcendence, of growth in our relationship with God, of the activity of the Spirit within us.
Brian O’Leary, Spirituality Professor and an outstanding spiritual director at National University of Ireland’s Milltown Institute, says that no matter which definition is preferred, we are always dealing with a process – a process facilitated by our capacity to understand, to feel, to act, but mostly by our capacity to imagine. It is through imagination that we reach understanding, have our feelings engaged and are energized into action.
Imagination, Brian says, mediates reality to us and allows us to discover meaning, to weave together the strands of our reality that we name as past, present, future. It affects the way we experience these strands, interpret them and find meaning in them. More importantly, it can give us the power to change them.
Imagination allows us to re-imagine and heal old hurts and wounds. It allows us to be creative with our future, to play with multiple possibilities, to dream great dreams, release our creative energies and, ultimately, give focus to our hopes. It helps us see clearly that present is not separate from past and future. Healthy imagination enhances our lives and helps make us well integrated and whole.
And what does all this have to do with suffering and healing? M. Scott Peck begins The Road Less Traveled with the stark sentence: “Life is difficult.” We know that suffering, universal suffering, is an enormous challenge to the faith and belief in a loving, capable God. Extreme suffering diminishes the self, destroys the ability to communicate, paralyzes the deepest and innermost strivings and hinders the achievement of human wholeness. Unrelieved suffering brings Winter to the soul. It becomes hard to believe in a God who cares. In fact, it is hard to believe in God.
There is no easy answer to suffering, no easy path to wellness, mental, physical or spiritual. Ultimately, we want to believe that healing comes from God in and through the recuperative power of body, mind and spirit. (Our faith-filled grandmothers might say, “God heals those who try to heal themselves.”)
Not having my grandmother’s wisdom, and, like Julian of Norwich, being somewhat “unskilled” in art and medicine, I nevertheless truly believe that art, in all its forms -- music and movement, painting and poetry, dream and dance, sculpture and song and story -- can aid us in discovering the meaning and the mystery of God in our lived experience. I believe art can arrest life and make it available for contemplation, capturing the eternal in the everyday. Artistic images, whether we are creating or contemplating, can embody feelings, thoughts, desires, hopes, despairs. Art can unlock the doors of sorrow never opened, never expressed; can unearth hope turned to stone; can conquer grief never owned.
Carl Jung would have us believe that each person has a vast soulscape waiting to be explored, and that the creative arts can become the channels into the imaginative world, confirming the presence of a healing power within us, ready to be set free. In the Gnostic Gospel of Thomas we read, “If you bring forth what is within you, what you bring forth will save you.”
I believe that when artist and mystic unite, art becomes prayer made visible, and we can expect nothing less than a radical transformation of how we view and relate to our world. We can transcend suffering and plough a new furrow toward a better horizon – no longer lost “among the briars.”