"the imagination is continually at work"

The other night we read a children's book at the dinner table, because the illustrator is a friend in the neighborhood. It was a story about a classroom of kids (in an underprivileged neighborhood, I think) who couldn't go to the zoo because of bad weather, so their teacher encouraged them to imagine a story with zoo animals. The animals talked with the kids, and included a blue lion king, a pink and green zebra piano player in high heels, and a rapping elephant drummer with his hat on backwards. Pretty amusing. The motto repeated several times in the story was "If I can see it, it can happen, it can happen right away!"

That got me thinking. I assume it was meant to encourage imagination in kids. Which is important, imagination is a good thing. But I wondered if that was the right use of imagination, or whether imagination was being promoted as a means of escape from reality.

Because what else can this mean? "If I can see it, it can happen, it can happen right away!" It's not about reality, reality doesn't change just because we want it to. And even if it means getting a vision that we can work towards, that change definitely doesn't happen "right away." I can certainly sympathize with disappointment about the world around us, and I've often used imagination to try to escape the reality I don't want to face—but is this a good thing? Is this something I want to teach others?

I don't think so. Because I don't think that's what God gave us imagination for. I believe God gave us imagination to explore and understand reality, the real world around us and our real selves. To appreciate the imagination that conceived the real world, God's imagination. Not to "create" an alternative world in our minds that we like better, to try to hide in a false world because we don't want to deal with the real one.

These thoughts reminded me of some lines by Simone Weil in Gravity and Grace:

Grace fills empty spaces, but it can only enter where there is a void to receive it. We must continually suspend the work of the imagination in filling the void within ourselves.

The imagination is continually at work filling up all the fissures through which grace might pass.
She's saying that the sufferings and emptiness that we experience can become the places where we encounter God, where his love (grace) fills us. But if we try to fill those painful voids ourselves, through the wrong use of imagination, trying to comfort ourselves with a temporary escape from reality, we miss the chance for God to enter there. Attempting to heal ourselves, we miss God's healing. And when we make a habit of depending on our own power to change an imaginary world inside us, we do not depend (in faith) on God's power to change the real world around us.