[As the possibilities of “post-pandemic life” slowly emerge, this excerpt from Shelly Rambo’s insightful theology of trauma seem applicable. How do we restore “embodied practices of imagination” at this time?]
The practices of sensing life are embodied practices of imagination. When Bessel van der Kolk speaks about the path of trauma healing, he says a primary bodily connection to the world needs to be restored. In the course of his research he has discovered that, of all capacities lost in the experience of trauma, the loss of imagination is perhaps the most devastating. For trauma healing to happen, the capacity to imagine one’s life beyond a radical ending, to imagine life anew, must be restored. “The degree to which we are successful, as clinicians, is the degree to which we can restore these capacities of delight, hope, and imagination,” he says. Restoring the sense of trust and meaning is not purely cognitive; it involves instead a different sense of the world. Sensing life is this kind of reconnecting process; it is an exercise of imagination in the face of what is unimaginable.
This second movement of Spirit witnesses a process of coming into life, of sensing it again. The Spirit’s witness, here, is to forms of life that are less discernible, more inchoate and tenuous, than visible and secure.
- Shelly Rambo, Spirit and Trauma: A Theology of Remaining (2010, p.162)
The exercise of imagination is dangerous to those who profit from the way things are because it has the power to show that the way things are is not permanent, not universal, not necessary. Having that real though limited power to put established institutions into question, imaginative literature has also the responsibility of power. The storyteller is the truthteller.
We will not know our own injustice if we cannot imagine justice. We will not be free if we do not imagine freedom. We cannot demand that anyone try to attain justice and freedom who has not had a chance to imagine them as attainable.
- Ursula Le Guin, The Wave in the Mind
To say that a work of imagination is subject to correction is, of course, to imply that there is no “world of imagination” as distinct from or opposed to the “real world.” The imagination is in the world, is at work in it, is necessary to it, and is correctable by it. This correcting of imagination by experience is inescapable, necessary, and endless, as is the correcting of experience by imagination…. One of the most profound of human needs is for the truth of imagination to prove itself in every life and place in the world, and for the truth of the world’s lives and places to be proved in imagination.
– Wendell Berry, The Loss of the University
To bear the times pressing upon us, our children need a larger hope. They need a larger, more gracious vision than a veiled set of instructions for skirting the vortex of death by shoving others in. To keep their hearts open in the rising tide, their imaginations need a bigger boat. Rational self-interest isn’t going to get them across the troubled waters ahead. The odds against them are stacked too high. The hope they need is not rational. To have real, embodied hope, to resist the unmaking of the earth and its goodness, will require of them not acts of reason, but of acts of faith.
We have no right to ask our kids to make the hard sacrifices necessary for a viable future when we have been so busily sacrificing that future for our present. We cannot make them proposals of calculated benefit, suggesting that they fight for social justice and environmental protections because otherwise the economy will fail and leave them bereft. This makes no sense to them, because they can see that the economy is already failing and will likely leave them bereft regardless. There remains no reasonable cause for the self-sacrifice and courage that a livable future asks of them. Their choices are apocalyptic: to fight unto the end, or to love unto the end.
[Apologies to Canadians that the link is for Amazon US but Friesen Press doesn’t seem to have their relationship to Amazon Canada streamlined. Canadians might be better off trying Commonword.]