Converting the Imagination

Patrick Manning, Ph.D.


The promise of fullness of life

“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (John 10:10). This promise of Jesus speaks to our deep human yearning for a life of meaning. He promised not only that but “a good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over” (Luke 6:38)–in other words, a life overflowing with meaning. Many people of Jesus’ time were enticed, so they followed after him and in so doing discovered peace, joy, and love that persisted even in the face of great trials and suffering. As centuries wore on, more and more people were attracted to this way of Christian discipleship and likewise experienced a fullness of life that they had not found elsewhere.


The struggle today

That vision of fullness of life has faded in our own time. Modern culture, while raising the standard of living around the world and greatly expanding human knowledge, also challenged ancient worldviews and ushered in many alternative visions of human flourishing and approaches to achieving it. Now no single clear vision for life predominates. Many people find themselves overwhelmed and disoriented by this onslaught of alternative visions and the many distractions of consumeristic, media-saturated society. They feel tossed about in a vast, tumultuous sea, grappling for an anchor or some source of direction and stability in life. Even among Christians, many have ceased to find meaning in the Christian tradition for their lives. Increasing numbers are abandoning Christianity (and other religions) altogether. Deprived of a meaningful vision for life, large segments of the population are succumbing to anxiety, depression, and other forms of mental illness.


A way to recover the fullness of life

How can we recover a sense of the meaningfulness of life? Is it even possible? In fact, Jesus’ vision retains its life-giving power to this day. The living proof are those modern disciples who inspire and intrigue by their inquisitiveness, serenity, joyfulness, loving demeanor, and passion for living. These exceptional individuals testify to the possibility and the reality of a Christian faith capable of meeting the challenges of living in postmodern society. What is their secret? What have they found that has eluded so many? They have undergone a radical transformation.

This should come as no surprise because such a transformation of heart and mind has always been the condition for entering into the fullness of life Jesus promises (see Mark 1:14; Matthew 3:2). However, this transformation takes on a particular shape in those who live out of Jesus’ vision in today’s pluralistic, fragmented world. It involves not only a transformation of one’s desires but also a transformation of the mind, or better yet, of the imagination. It is a transformation in the way one makes meaning of the reality one encounters, a transformation characterized by heightened awareness of one’s own meaning-making and a uniting of the deep meaning of symbol and ritual with the capacities of critical thinking in a “second naiveté.”

This transformation is for many the condition for recovering the meaningfulness of life and for responding to Jesus’ call to discipleship in contemporary society. Nurturing such transformation is the essential task for Christian communities today and one that requires the efforts of the whole community – religious educators, worship leaders, clergy and spiritual leaders, artists, and families. Enter here to start thinking how.