The Forgotten Act of Faith-filled, Imaginative Living


A morning devotional I read recently prompted the reader to “switch off the car radio while driving, look around and notice where things are not the way they are supposed to be. Then pray and ask the Lord what He would want to become a reality there.” To see the situation with God’s eyes – imagining what it would be like if His dream for the earth became a reality. As I left home that morning, I expected that I would probably see what I have seen so many times before – homeless people scratching in other people’s refuse bags for food and stuff to salvage (that certainly isn’t the ways things are supposed to be) or pollution or potholes. But this particular morning and less than a minute after I left home, I saw it. I noticed: high walls, electrified fences. Many of them. Everywhere.

Homes and streets are supposed to be places were we dwell. Nowadays it has become places where we hide, turn in upon ourselves, while we desperately search for other places to dwell in such as shopping malls and coffee shops and restaurants. No longer do we dwell and spend time in the ‘hood serving and living with our neighbours, we try to make a life and find enjoyment by joining the anonymous masses running on the same treadmill that keeps the monstrous wheel of consumerism and individualism going.

I listened to a sermon by Walter Brueggeman recently where he challenged Christians to imagine what life could be like if we had to shape our lives according to our faith, and not according to our fears. He said that societal structures are set up in a way that reinforces fear. And people who are afraid have no energy. We fear danger, we fear not belonging, we fear not having, we fear not being secure, we fear “our stuff” to be taken away from us – and how has that shaped our lives? High walls, electric fences. Our homes and neighbourhoods now resemble our fears, not our faith.

I have a memory of driving through Phoenix, (a residential area close to our own and one of the largest Indian communities in South Africa) and looking at the fences around their homes. It was quite clear that the majority of these fences were erected some time after the homes were built. And I wondered what life was like in Phoenix before the walls, before the fences. I could imagine neighbours chatting to each other from their gardens, the smell of curries in the air, kids playing cricket across neighbouring lawns. I started imagining what my (lack-of-)community / neighbourhood could look like if the way we lived was shaped by our faith and not by our fears. If we could really dwell again in our neighbourhoods…

I have a dream. I dream of buying a simple house with a big fence and a huge open porch. And when we move in we will invite all our friends and all the neighbours to come to our “break-down-the-high-wall-and-take-down-the-electric-fence” party. And as it goes down we will shout, “Hurray!”. And we will give people sandwiches and we open our arms in embrace and tell them that they are welcome. People are hungry for welcome*. And we will invite them to pop in and have coffee with us on the porch as we dream together. I imagine living boldly amidst crime in a violent society and vulnerably and openly in culture urging us to keep ourselves private and separate. I imagine planting herb gardens where neighbours and friends can help themselves; vegetables and fruits for beggars. those who are hungry and yes, the monkeys too.

I imagine a city where kids are safe to walk to school or a friend’s house. Where people cycle to work with a smile and wave at each other (rather than rush to work in their racing cars and glare/swear at each other). I imagine communal vegetable gardens and green areas becoming well maintained and safe again packed with picnicking families, playing kids and runners alike.

Our own wellness is locked up in the peace and wellness of our city. Eugene Peterson says that there is an indissoluble connection between geography and spirituality.

Let us dream again about life. Let us live again by faith.

Isaiah 58:12 (ESV):
And your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt;
you shall raise up the foundations of many generations;
you shall be called the repairer of the breach,
the restorer of streets to dwell in.

Let us be repairers of what is broken. Let us be restorers of streets and neighbourhoods and cities.

Holy Spirit living breath of God
Breathe new life into our souls and the places we inhabit**
Give us dreams and imaginative visions.
Give us faith for what we cannot see.
Give us boldness to break down walls.
Give us wisdom in bringing restoration.

*Phrase from Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition by Christine Pohl

**Phrase adapted from Keith and Christy Getty’s song, Holy Spirit


7 thoughts on “The Forgotten Act of Faith-filled, Imaginative Living

    • Thanks Marc. I appreciate your feedback. I am always surprised when someone actually reads my blog…

  1. Wonderful and thought-provoking post and blog. Although I attend Mass relatively close to the Durban CBD (near where Anton Lembede St. and King Dinizulu Rd, I think), I live in Hillcrest, and your words here remind me of a passage from one of my favourite books, which comes to mind whenever I arrive at my parish (which is in a rather dilapidated area). It’s from John Senior’s The Restoration of Christian Culture, written in 1983. Excuse the long (but paraphrased) quotation!

    The only way out of the current crisis is to simplify, as Thoreau said. Whether as freemen or as slaves, we shall have to return to poverty. The choice is only whether it will be the desperate destitution of the slave state or the healthy frugality of what Chaucer called “glad poverty”: “Glad poverte tis an honest thing certayne . . . .”

    It is time to go back to those conditions in which human beings can grow again, not just to clean air and water, which some technologists think they can get by heavier applications of the chemistry that got them dirty in the first place, but to natural air and water, to flowers and trees and more importantly to neighborhoods and villages where we can walk at a normal human speed, shop in friendly stores where the butcher and the grocer know their customers, send our children off to a school where the parents know the teacher and the teacher loves his subjects and his students. We shall fail; but, because we can converse with one another, there is the possibility that we can become friends and, though it will not solve world crises and economic depressions, we can live in decent if modest homes, as families, without which men are not even chemicals, but random sets.

    Simplify, as Thoreau said, not by changing governments – a change of collars on a dirty neck – but in a single, honest, unremembered act, as Wordsworth said, of kindness and of love. As the first significant act in the change of heart, really – not just symbolically – smash the television set, then sit down by the fire with the family and perhaps some friends and just converse; talk alone, even one night a week, will cut your use of energy, and love will grow. Don’t force its growth. The hearth, like good soil, does its work invisibly, in secret, and slowly. After a long time beneath the earth of a quiet family life, green shoots of vigorous poverty appear; you have become, in a small way, poor. If several families, sharing this humble secret, buy old houses on the same slum block and fix them up, they will have restored a kind of Auburn right in the midst of their ruined city and begun the restoration of that ordinary, healthy, human thing, the neighborhood. Children, away from the television set, will begin to play outdoors again; several families can support a private, local school where children can learn to read and write again instead of how to cope with mass transit systems and avoid venereal disease.

    If you cut out all excess technology, and keep grandma around, living in a less pretentious but more livable house and if – I save the best wine for last! – you sell the car and learn to walk again, think of the money you’d save and all the time now spent on exercise and jogging. And women wouldn’t have to work to make the instalments and insurance. It really does seem silly to have to say so; you would think we all would know; but half the wages of working wives go on increased taxes and the cost of getting them to work – the second car, the frozen foods and nursery schools, those sweet little drive-in orphanages, worse than old-folks’ homes. If women stayed home, someone would know where the children are and where the old folks are; food would taste like meat and vegetables again because it would be cooked, not just defrosted; life would be wholesome, good and full of love again because she would be home; pianos would shake old music from the scores; children, parents and grandparents would sing together of an evening and tell stories by the fire. Someone would even be home to love and care for the crippled, sick and dying. Only women can conceive and nurse; and in their physical, psychological and spiritual mode they do so long after the weaning of their children.

    Who is rich or poor? There is a spiritual destitution, a sterilized third world here in the United States worse than anywhere in Asia or Africa, where the sick and aged die in no one’s arms, children are prevented and, if some break through the chemical and physical barriers, aborted; and if by accident or parsimonious planning one or two get by, they are sent to the Lilliputian gulags where they suffer a systematic, scientific child abuse according to the latest issue of Psychology Today and are trained to survive in a world without home or hearth, without the warmth of a mother’s, and therefore of anyone’s, love.

    It is late. Late in my life, perhaps in yours – it is always later than you think – late in this twentieth Christian century. It will be very difficult to live and work at an honest trade in a Catholic village, to reserve a tithe of time for prayer and to offer all our works, prayers, joys and sufferings in sacrifice to Him. [But], if unlike myself, you always do your best at honest work, practice steady prayer and accept the trials of daily life with a merry heart, the saints say that at the hour of death the walls of your interior mansion suddenly become like crystal and the white radiance of the presence of God shines through. When you attend your own funeral, they say, the bells will sound like crystal glass, ringing like the laughter of angels, and you will see that real Pietà no artist has dared depict because no one could look upon it and live. Pain here on earth, which seems to close down on us, descending like sheets of steel, is really the thinnest filament through which in death we pass as Christ entered the room where the Apostles waited, without even opening the door. There, here, now – just through these visible walls of things, closer than our own breath, in the real Pietà, Jesus holds His Mother in His arms and wipes the tears forever from her eyes. She smiles, gazing on Him.

    It is no dream; but true. We know it is true because He said it was, who can neither deceive nor be deceived. If we practice a tenth or a hundredth part of the Catholic Agenda now, then at the hour of our death, with Mary’s arms uplifting us, we shall cry with St. Catherine, “Blood! Blood!” which is to say, “Amen.” Work, prayer, sacrifice.

    • Thanks so much for taking the time to share this beautiful passage with us Piers. I will have a look at the book it is quoted from on amazon.
      (I am not quite sure I share all the sentiments regarding the roles of women though!)

  2. Haha, questioning the wisdom of feminist ideals and promoting motherhood in today’s world is about as counter-cultural as it gets! But I highly recommend gleaning whatever you can from John Senior, even if some of his ideas sound strange to our modern ears.

  3. […] and our privacy is actually not the best thing for us (or perhaps even for our country)?” (see my post on faith filled imagination for more on this point). “What if we believed that we could learn about love, joy, peace and […]

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