Continuing with one last segment from Davidman’s letter to H.H. Lewis: “My last criticism concerns content. Poetry must appeal to the imagination and the emotions; correct political statement is not enough…And to appeal to imagination and emotion, the poet must use both himself; he must work through the five senses, not through the power of argument…if you do not take the trouble to imagine your subject completely, how can you expect the reader to do it for you?
“Just stop reining in your imagination; let it go and take a look at the real lives and sufferings of real people on this earth. Then come back and tell simply what you have seen.”
While argument has its place in prose and public speaking, I’ve excerpted the above comments on poetry because of Davidman’s emphasis on the imagination. In an age of data and information our imaginations are atrophying, we also confuse imagination with imaginary – they are not synonymous.
Is what the Apostle John saw in Revelation Chapters 4 and 5, the Throne Room, imaginary? If so, we should forget about reading them. Can we see what he saw with our imaginations? Yes we can. Was Jesus walking with two disciples on the road to Emmaus imaginary? No it was not. Can we use our imagination to walk with them, to hear them, to feel the road beneath our feet, to experience the ache of weariness, the perplexity of hearing (on the part of the disciples) that the tomb of Jesus is empty? Can we sense the disciples’ intrigue with Jesus, their wonder when He vanished from sight?
I have often heard others say that they found the subject of history boring; then there are the few who tell me about a teacher who made history come alive. The former usually had teachers who told others about history, the latter had teachers who showed their students history, who gave them a guided tour of people and experiences, who transported their classes to walk and talk with those who lived and loved and died decades or centuries or millennia ago. But you can only escort others to where you have been yourself, otherwise all you can do is to give facts and figures and read words – data and more data and more data – what good is it to read about the road to Emmaus over and over again if we haven’t walked it?
This is one reason why I love using the historical present in speaking and writing, it helps in transporting us back to the time and place of focus. It isn’t, “Jesus said, Let not your heart be troubled,” it is rather, “Jesus says, Let not your heart be troubled.” It isn’t, “And Peter and John ran to the tomb,” it is, “Peter and John run to the tomb.” Go back with me to the Upper Room, go back with me to Easter morning; hear the words that Jesus speaks as the apostles hear them, run with Peter and John to the tomb, don’t be a bystander, don’t sit in the bleachers, get out on the field and play the game.
But our audience can only get out on the field if we take them there, and we can only take them there if we have been there first, and we can only go there first if we use our God-given imaginations. The Bible is a book filled with images, images that we try to explain away and reduce to the mundane – how sad…all those images without people who will use their imaginations to experience them and thereby understand them with their hearts. I’ll tell you what, if you’ve ever been to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon you won’t forget it; nor will you forget if you find yourself in the Upper Room.