Satisfied Imagination: The Charged World
The satisfied imagination is a nuance that discovers delight in the familiar and in the repetition of the mundane. Lewis writes that the medieval scholastics were the great masters of the satisfied imagination. They created a cosmology of unbelievable complexity. Their model of the universe was not only systematic but also incredibly repetitious, almost mind-bogglingly so. And they reveled in this extensive reiteration.
The model divided the heavens from the earth. All in the realms of the heavens was perfect and ordered, immutable and noncontingent. On earth everything was subject to change and decay and randomness. The medievals delighted in their model because it depicted the heavens as the realm of perfect order that we on earth should attempt to emulate. Contemplation of this order and harmony returns our minds to the source of order and harmony, that is, to God.
And perfect order is simply perfect repetition: each thing fulfilling its nature as it was created. The sun rises each day. The stars appear each night. Each created object fulfills its nature again and again. Only humans have the ability to live at random and to interrupt the pattern.
This ordered repetition of the familiar, Lewis writes, is also where we begin to understand that God is the ground and supplier of both our personal and material reality. All things have their source in God’s sustaining and creative power. Once we embrace this concept, all reality becomes a conduit by which we can apprehend God.4
Through this realization, we must learn what it means to reenchant the familiar, to see the world around us anew. G.K Chesterton writes,
Now, there is a law written in the darkest of the Books of Life and it is this: If you look at a thing nine hundred and ninety-nine times, you are perfectly safe; if you look at it the thousandth time, you are in frightful danger of seeing it for the first time.5
How can we do this? Lewis notes that any pleasures we experience are “shafts of the glory as it strikes our sensibility.”6 God breaks into our lives through the simplest things: a dog’s smooth fur or the way new leaves appear as green mist on springtime trees. We apprehend God through our pleasures, but we often aren’t aware of it.
As long as familiarity breeds contempt, we will fail. If we are to properly use the satisfied imagination, Lewis notes, we must overcome four obstacles. First is inattention; we are simply not aware enough. The second is the wrong kind of attention. We could imagine that our pleasure in the mundane is simply internal and personal, that its source is not divine. Third is greed; we want the experience again and again. And the fourth is pride, believing that we have been supplied with a secret knowledge denied to others.7
The satisfied imagination acts as a corrective to the “grass is greener” mentality that prompts us to always seek the next thing or the new vista. “The world is charged with the grandeur of God,”8 writes poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Most of the time we are essentially asleep, and we cannot see past the mundane. We must come awake and stay awake if we are to fully use the satisfied imagination and experience Chesterton’s thousandth look.
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