M. C. on “Moral Imagination,” a Pathway to Justice & Compassion

Theologian and sociologist Gregory Baum has written that classical theology “supposed that faith resides in the intelligence. It may be more realistic and ultimately more profound to say that faith resides in the imagination.” If this is so, then spiritual education should nurture the imagination. 

On a journey into imagination. Photo by Porsche Brosseau. Wikimedia Commons.

M. C. Richards, who along with many other artists, taught art as meditation in our creation spirituality programs for years, would agree with Baum. She testifies: 

I would place the development of imagination among the primary goals of education. Imagination is the ability to picture in the mind what is not present to the sense.

In creativity, we do not always have in mind exactly what the future can bring. 

Imagination in the craftsperson works in various ways. There is much to ponder on here. She does not always build toward a prior vision. Often images come in the process of working. The material, his hands—together they beget.

Imagination and problem solving often come in the process of bringing differences of ideas and people together. That is one reason why diversity is so important. 

Painter Anna Bjerger Shares Her Artistic Process. Video by Louisiana Channel.

Richards links imagination with prophetic consciousness and action when she talks of “Moral Imagination:”

We are not always able to feel the love we would like to feel. But we may behave imaginatively—envisioning and eventually creating what is not yet present. This is what I call Moral Imagination.    

Moral imagination begins the process of birthing the justice that does not yet exist. It can move us from injustice to justice by imagining a new future. Imagination is the special gift of the prophet—compassion and imagination go together. 

From the child’s ability to imagine, grows as well the adult’s capacity for compassion: the ability to picture the sufferings of others, to identify. In one’s citizenship, or the art of politics, it is part of one’s skill to imagine other ways of living than one’s own. 

Imagination presumes union with, not flight from, matter and sensuality. It is the transformation, in their metaphysical vibrancy, and in the life they lead through the senses . . . the long course of the fire, expectations fulfilled and the surprises, imagination already stirring toward the next form, the broken shards, the ground-up slabs. *

Wind propels a boat on the Baltic Sea. Photo by Michael Held on Unsplash.

Surprises abound. Surprises are possible. 

Imagination is to the artist what wind is to sailing a boat. A necessary ingredient whereby spirit works. Injustice gets recycled. Justice and compassion can happen. Imagination says so. 

  • * From M. C. Richards, Centering: In Pottery, Poetry, and the Person, pp.14f., 92, 115, 143.

    Adapted from Matthew Fox, Wrestling with the Prophets, pp. 232-238. 

    See also Fox, Creativity: Where the Divine and the Human Meet. 

    And Fox, A Spirituality Named Compassion.

    To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE

    Banner Image: Examples of hand positions used during wheel-throwing. The images were extracted from a video recording of an Indian Multani potter throwing a 2.25 kg sphere. Photos by nora Gandon, Reinoud J. Bootsma, John A. Endler, Leore Grosman. Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you agree that imagining other ways of living than one’s own, is integral to compassion and justice and bringing about a future that works for all?

Recommended Reading

Wrestling with the Prophets: Essays on Creation Spirituality and Everyday Life

In one of his foundational works, Fox engages with some of history’s greatest mystics, philosophers, and prophets in profound and hard-hitting essays on such varied topics as Eco-Spirituality, AIDS, homosexuality, spiritual feminism, environmental revolution, Native American spirituality, Christian mysticism, Art and Spirituality, Art as Meditation, Interfaith or Deep Ecumenism and more.

Creativity: Where the Divine and Human Meet

Because creativity is the key to both our genius and beauty as a species but also to our capacity for evil, we need to teach creativity and to teach ways of steering this God-like power in directions that promote love of life (biophilia) and not love of death (necrophilia). Pushing well beyond the bounds of conventional Christian doctrine, Fox’s focus on creativity attempts nothing less than to shape a new ethic.
“Matt Fox is a pilgrim who seeks a path into the church of tomorrow.  Countless numbers will be happy to follow his lead.” –Bishop John Shelby Spong, author, Rescuing the Bible from FundamentalismLiving in Sin

A Spirituality Named Compassion: Uniting Mystical Awareness with Social Justice

In A Spirituality Named Compassion, Matthew Fox delivers a profound exploration of the meaning and practice of compassion. Establishing a spirituality for the future that promises personal, social, and global healing, Fox marries mysticism with social justice, leading the way toward a gentler and more ecological spirituality and an acceptance of our interdependence which is the substratum of all compassionate activity.
“Well worth our deepest consideration…Puts compassion into its proper focus after centuries of neglect.” –The Catholic Register

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4 thoughts on “M. C. on “Moral Imagination,” a Pathway to Justice & Compassion”

  1. Avatar

    YES!!! Beautiful DM today Matthew on the sacredness/spirituality of our imaginations, especially Moral Imagination, to help us re-discover and create a more Just, Compassionate, Beautiful future within and among us for our Humanity and for our Sacred Mother Nature/Earth within God’s co-Creative~Evolving LOVING Diverse ONENESS….

  2. Avatar
    Shirley Blancke

    Absolutely I agree. The trouble with so much religion today is the substitution of rules for imagination. I would not agree though with M.C. Richards that the imagination has to substitute for the senses. It enhances them as in visionary experience which I know personally.

  3. Avatar

    I appreciate the way in which M.C. invites us to consider the possibility of the imagination, inspiration and intuition as spiritual organs; that give us a sense of feeling connected to life. She sees these spiritual senses of imagination, inspiration and intuition as a portal through which we can perceive the spiritual world that we are connected to, beyond the threshold of what we experience with our five human senses with which we encounter the physical world. Creating with both our five physical senses and these three spiritual senses; opens our perceptual understanding and meaning of life as well as deepens our connections to not only the world of matter, but also the world of Spirit, incarnate in all matter. As M.C. states, in this way all physical experiences are spiritual encounters with the Divine, both unfolding inwardly and emerging outwardly; as we converge with the fullness of all of our senses.

  4. Avatar

    Imagination is useful when opening up to intuitive solutions to problems, but caution is also advised. It’s easy to flatter oneself that you can “imagine” how someone else feels, or to think that you know what’s best for someone, but there’s a huge difference between how you imagine another person feels/is experiencing, vs. what that person actually knows. The disconnect is frequently painful and jarring, and discrimination often takes place in this gap.

    To cultivate innovation while preventing arrogance and colonialism, the dominant group’s members must embrace humility and practice egalitarian brainstorming with members of the entire group, insuring that no one’s voice is slighted, ignored or drowned out. Group/community imagination and inspiration must work at “ground level,” not with bosses and leaders dictating and imposing their own ideas, no matter how “brilliantly imaginative” they feel they are. And there must be total respect for the “lowest” members of the group: absolute equality, NOT self-congratulatory, condescending “see how noble we are, listening to (and maybe claiming the ideas of) this lowly faceless, nameless nobody!” Everyone has a noble personal identity, has valuable insights and is worthy of respect.
    We must stretch our imaginations to encompass this Truth.

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