What can we imagine?

This morning, I was drawn to the video posted by Rev. Nicholas Knisely (Dean of Trinity Cathedral here in Phoenix) inviting us to imagine 10 dimensions and giving pretty clear guidance about how to do that. As a closet physicist (who hates math) and a theologian-in-training (always in training!), I found it fascinating on so many levels. It was even more exciting for me because my 13 year old, science-hating son connected with it in a pretty powerful way.

Now, I’m not expecting everyone to resonate with the science, the theory, the proposal, whatever you want to call it, of the existence of 10 dimensions. I’m not looking for proof, scientific or otherwise. But the thought experiment that rolls out in that brief video has inspired me to consider how the imagination works. Further, as a leader of a church and a member of a denomination (PCUSA) that is in need of an imaginative renewal, I think I need to spend some time thinking about how to facilitate the act of imagination. I’m still thinking about the “how” but ere are some preliminary thoughts:

It’s hard enough to figure out what’s going on in our 3-dimensional human experience which is all the more complicated when the 4th D – time – is factored into the equation. To contemplate various trajectories/outcomes over time and then adding in the infinite possibilities is to overwhelm even the most curious. For those multitudes whose preference turns toward concrete answers that connect directly with human finitude, the endless imagining of higher dimensionality may not even be of interest, let alone possible. Like the 2 dimensional being viewing a 3 dimensional object in the 2D world, perception can only stretch as far as the training of physical reality allows.

Unfortunately, it is impossible for us to jettison who we are. We cannot throw out our 3-4 dimensional ways of seeing and being in the world and simply open our imaginations to the infinite with great ease. As creatures, humans are bounded by a physical reality. However, there is help to be found in history. If we want to see the possibilities in a 5th or 6th dimension, we need only observe the effects of time and circumstances on a particular turning point in history. It would be helpful to look at something as fundamental to us as the Reformation. When Martin Luther prayed and wrote in his cell, it is certain that he never envisioned that multiple trajectories would be inspired by his work. Yet his work opened the imaginations of many others and various potentialities became realized as theologians and like-minded Christians organized themselves according to theological proclivities.

Revisiting this history can inform our imaginative processes as long as we are careful not to appropriate the understandings and behaviors of those long ago days. Imagination is not simply a journey to the past to retrieve some fundamentals and claim them as relevant for people who have moved through time and space to a way of being that is vastly different from those days. Instead, if we understand that the Infinite of Infinite – the Triune God – was and continues to be the source of all creation and the fountain of all revelation, then we should expect to be surprised at the multiplicity of expression and the abundance of potential yet to be brought to light. It is our task to be on the lookout for these possibilities to be revealed.

As the gathered people of God, the Church, is already bounded by a different reality. To be sure, it is defined by the finite creatures who invented and inhabit them. But if the created ones can learn to look for, to begin to imagine God’s infinite possibilities, the Church can share the multi-dimensional gospel about an infinitely dimensional God whose vision for creation both transcends our limited way of seeing and imminently informs our present way of being.

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