Years ago, I facilitated a course having to do with religion for interested students at Perkins School for the Blind in Boston. Though I had never before been around folk who were blind, it proved a meaningful time for me and I believe for the students. So it was with interest that sometime later I read an essay by one who had been blind since the age of 8. After becoming blind, he discovered inside himself everything which others described as being outside, or exterior to themselves. Friends thought he was remembering what he had once known. No! That was not the case at all, for he knew that he was perceiving that which he was sensing interiorly. He had, he wrote, “entered a world of enchantment, but an enchantment which supported my life, which nourished me, because it was real.” He became convinced that there is inside each of us someone who sees. His blindness allowed him to have contact – quite concrete and a good deal closer – with what is going on inside us all. He found that it was no longer difficult to believe that God was in some sense present within him…simply “alive” in his imagination.

Is it too much then to think that it may be within the hidden recesses of our imagination that the orchestration of this dance linking us, God and the universe happens? “The whole of my pleasure,” wrote Charles Darwin of his travels with illiterate companions on the high Andean uplands, “was derived from what passed in my mind.” Our imagination is a precious gift of being. Unity of self is tightly related to the life of the imagination. The poet Rilke urged that we treasure the world we carry within ourselves. Gifted with imagination, I would venture, is not wholly unlike our having received into our hands Eucharistic bread, ready to be charged with divine influences. Prayer and eternity meet at the crossroad place of our imagination. My imagination is furnished with the values and dreams serving as signposts for my life’s journey; here also is the memoried hope of Paradise. Our spiritual life if it is real must partner with the imagination. I have encountered pathways within my imaginative self that have aided in reaching that which was high in myself and enabled a more discerning understanding of what it means to be here, as wrote the poet Rilke, “Once for each thing. Just once; no more. … And never again.”

While in my late teens living on our family’s farm, I had just returned from being with friends on a night out. Having put the family car away, I stopped to look skyward while leaning on the house-yard gate. It was a lovely and spectacular summer evening. The Milky Way seemed a flowing river of brilliant stars curving across the dome of heaven. Mine was not “a glance-and-pass-on-sort-of-thing.” Lingering there in the dark, my thoughts, suffused with wonderment, melded into a prayerful “teen-ager-size” thanks for the sheer joy of living! Even then…gazing upward at the night sky I felt spoken to as if my prayer had been heard.

Since, I have read of the 14th century mystic Julian of Norwich who asked, “What is the use of praying if God does not answer?” Yes! I had no doubt of God’s knowledge of me. That Van Gogh starry night still registers in my imagination, for it was then in that star-speckled dark that I for the first time seriously entertained a mounting appreciation for the works of God. Thinking back from where I am now, 70 years hence, I realize that it was upon the pathway of my imagination that God truly became a felt presence, graciously endowing me with an invigorating sense of both his presence and his love. It was a moment of spiritual illumination.

The Rev. Merle G. Steva is Minister of Visitation Emeritus at First Parish Church, Saco. He may be reached at [email protected]