My mind wanders.
I remember it quietly wandering off during the sing-song rhythm of the speaker’s voice. And that was last Sunday. As a child, my imagination moved so easily between dreaming that my teacher’s and parent’s might say, “Come on Dougie, keep up with us.”
One day while walking with my family at a shopping center, I soon began to drift and dream. My body kept moving as my eyes followed the legs in front of me moving back and forth, back and forth. A few steps into Gimbels and I realized that I was following the wrong set of legs.
After a short panic, my parents arrived in the store and found me. They had walked into another store, but I was drifting off elsewhere and just kept following whoever was walking in front of me.
As I drifted, I was dreaming in “what ifs.” What if I could walk through that glass? What if I could climb up in the church’s rafters and fly from beam to beam? My imagination would ask a question and soon my reason was working alongside my imagination to construct whatever dreamy world I created.
The human imagination can ask all sorts of fantastic questions, and the human reason can build a logical though self-contained world from that question. Lewis Carroll asked, “What if you could walk through a mirror, and enter into another world?” Then he wrote “Through the Looking Glass” to answer that question.
Both “Alice in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass” are imaginative worlds that Lewis Carroll created with the richness of his imaginations and the precision of his logic. You see, these fantasy worlds were not illogical. They were perfectly logical. In fact, Lewis Carroll was not primarily a children’s author, but a logician.
He applied his logical mind to building these imaginative worlds. Each chapter in “Through the Looking Glass” is a move on a chess board. And yet, the story is not physically real.
This is both the gift and the danger of the mind. Reason working alongside imagination can answer all sorts of questions, but the answer may or may not be true. In addition to my dreamy magical worlds of walking through walls and flying in the rafters, I asked other questions like “What if I am kidnapped?” “What if there’s a ghost in the basement?” Or “What if my parents are raptured and I am left behind?”
The same imagination that brought such delight also filled me with terror. Because once my imagination set the question in motion, I began looking for clues as to why that might be true. A sound in the basement and a flash of light suddenly grows into a terrifying goblin living beneath us.
The gift of reasonable minds and active imaginations have helped us discover news worlds, land on the moon, write amazing literature, and find cures to diseases. But the same gift can also lead to terror and fear and evil worlds like terrorism and fascism and racism. Left unchecked, the mind will draw from its rich resources to churn out perfectly reasonable answers. But these reasonable answers may be wrong and even be disastrous upon my power to think
Our minds may ask questions like “What if there is no God?” “Or what if God is evil?” If I start with the idea that God is absent, a mere phantom, then my mind and imagination will work outward from the supposition to find reasonable assurance that I am right. While we all may face doubts at times, if we continually apply our skills of reason and imagination to doubt, then we will end up where we start–in doubt. The starting point of reason makes all the difference.
C.S. Lewis once suggested that a man who doesn’t believe in miracles will not be convinced of miracles because he sees one. His mind will build a case as to why he didn’t see a miracle at all. So while the mind is an amazing gift for processing, imagining and rationalizing, it fails in the initial act of discovery.
The human relationship with God is built on trusting God’s faithfulness in both the seen and the unseen. In one sense, this relationship is similar to human relationships that require trust as a fundamental starting point. Think of a husband and wife.Trust allows them freedom to rest in their shared love without the need for constant reaffirmation.
In this trusting relationship, the presence of the beloved brings a sense of peace and joy. While dramatic gestures of love may reaffirm presence, there are many steady, quiet affirmations through little actions. A shared conversation. A quiet walk.
Presence for me is often found in the gentle touching of one foot brushing up against the other’s foot during a night of sleep. This quiet assurance brings peace and a reminder that my love is there. A trust in the covenant faithfulness of my spouse allows me to rest in her presence and away from her presence. But that trust can be damaged. If the imagination begins to ask, “What if my spouse is unfaithful?” The mind can easily begin to question every action, every word.
This leads to fear of the unseen. For as soon as the spouse is not present the imagination begins reeling. Where are they headed? What are they doing? The mind requires constant reassurance of the spouse’s faithfulness. This is why we guard the trust our spouse puts in us. Once lost it so difficult to regain.
This is also why the Psalmist writes again and again and again about trusting the Lord instead trusting the arm of the flesh. As our trust grows more and more in my reason and the reasonableness of the world around me, the power of “what ifs” can begin to plague me. Like a jealous spouse, I begin discovering clues everywhere that reinforce the absence of God.
This dark hole of doubting chokes and smothers the joy of the soul. We need signs and constant reassurance that God is there. “Why can’t He just appear and take away my doubts?” But he is inviting me to trust in His covenant faithfulness—both seen and unseen.
And like a foot poking across the bed, His Word pokes across the space between heaven and earth. Again and again and again, He quietly calms my souls in the gentle intimacy of His Word. The Psalmist reminds me of how prone I am to trust in the unfaithfulness of my own mind—which can easily create fictions upon fictions.
Thus I am reminded to trust in something, someone outside myself. Ultimately, this trust is a gift. When I trust in the Word and trust in the Lord of the Word, I come to realize that I have been given a precious gift. I can use that gift to dream like a newlywed uses the gift of their new love to dream. They imagine a life together. They dream of children and home and a life of new possibilities. I can approach the Word as a dream. And wrap my open mind around the words and stories contained within.
I can learn to dream fantastic dreams like the prophet Ezekiel. This strange man ended up in exile in Babylon. Everything he saw around him suggested that the God of Israel was defeated by the gods of Babylon. In the midst of a crushing empire that dominated other nations by power and oppression, Ezekiel trusts the Lord. Thus his “what ifs” wrap around the faithfulness of God.
With an imagination immersed the commandments of the Lord, the covenant of the Lord, and the promises of the Lord, He begins to dream. And in the land of exile, he dreams of returning home and rebuilding the temple. He dreams of a stream flowing from that temple that will bring healing to all nations. His dream rooted in relational trust gave energy and hope to the exiled Jews. They joined in his dreams. And eventually, his dreams led them home.
That was over 2,000 years ago. The great and mighty Babylonian gods have long faded from sight. But the dreams of Ezekiel still inspire. In his dreams, we hear the God of Israel still speaking, encouraging, and challenging us.
So I’m kinda glad my mind wanders. By God’s grace, I want to let it wander in the garden of His Word. I want to dream even more dreams and not simply dreams of flying through the rafters and walking through glass. But dreams of justice and peace and kindness and love.
By God’s grace may the stories and songs of Scripture come alive in our imagination. And may we dream the dreams of God.