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July 24, 2011

Question: Does imagination play a role in faith?

 Imagination has a very important role to play in the life of faith. But its role is an ambiguous one. Like a double-edged sword, imagination may lead us into truth or error. ‘Abdu’l-Bahá (1844-1921), the successor and authorized interpreter of the teachings of his father, Bahá’u’lláh (1817-1892), the Prophet-Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, said: “Imagination is one of our greatest powers and a most difficult one to rule” (Grundy, Ten Days in the Light of Akká, p. 30).

On the one hand, the word “imagine” allows people of faith to envision and to bring into being those higher realities which do not yet exist in the “real” world or our individual lives. A great university began as a one-room tutorial school. Imagination was required for its development. Bahá’ís imagine the world as one and work diligently for its realization.

Many people of faith have discovered that visualization exercises restore inner peace or lead to the realization of a cherished desire. All the great holy books give an ideal vision of the individual as a noble creation of God or a society living under divine rule. Imagination has God-like qualities, possessing the ability to capture the esthetic qualities of truth and beauty in the arts, literature, drama and music.

In its negative aspects, however, the Bahá’í writings warn against the seductive powers of “idle fancies” and “vain imaginings.” Many of the higher prophets have been rejected, persecuted and slain because the manner of their coming or their teachings did not conform to what the hearts of the leaders of religion and the people had devised. History repeats itself in our day.

In contemporary society, fantasy, diversion, and wish-fulfilment have become marketable commodities that have created a profitable, non-stop “dream machine.” It is vital that we refine our sense of vision (imagination) to the point that we do not confuse the thorn with the flower: “Even as the swiftness of lightning ye have passed by the Beloved One, and have set your hearts on satanic fancies. Ye bow the knee before your vain imagining, and call it truth. Ye turn your eyes towards the thorn, and name it a flower ... ” (Bahá’u’lláh, The Persian Hidden Words, no. 45). - Jack McLean

Printed in the The Ottawa Citizen July 17, 2011
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