Learning to swim on dry land

Mental Floss is a fantastic site. Like Brain Pickings, Mental Floss is full of wonderful internet curators of creative content. If you are just now hearing about these sites, then take a moment to peruse their stuff (and maybe make a donation). 

Recently Mental Floss posted these vintage photos of people learning how to swim. One of these photos quickly reminded me of the spiritual life:


I have no idea where these lads are, but from what I can see they are not near any water. Imagine that you have to teach people how to swim without the aid of a pool of water.

The Christian spiritual life is one that is built on practices: fasting, praying, studying, worship, contemplation, silence and sabbath (to name a few). These practices are not just things we try to do when we feel like it, these practices define the spiritual life. Put another way, if you are not doing these practices you are neither spiritual or religious. 

An often overlooked aspect of the spiritual life is one of the imagination. We tend to leave our imaginations behind when we become "adults" and this is to our detriment toward maturity. It is our imaginations that give us the creative space to find ways to do that which we thought to be impossible or improbable - like learning to swim on dry land.

Dry land is often the landscape of the spiritual life. Some Christian teachers will tell us that if you want to learn to swim in the abundance of God then you must first find water. There is no other way to swim. You have to find the living water, be baptized and then you can learn to swim in the abundance of God's sea of grace. Notice that this approach is not invalid, but it also lacks imagination for those who are in a deep desert and the only water that is visible are mirages. How do those in the wilderness learn to swim if there is no water? 

Imagination is required. Imagination is needed in the spiritual life. Imagination is not a child's play toy, but perhaps the most valuable gift we have to foster the spiritual life.