It is only the imagination, I suggest, that can bring us . . . to the full encounter with religious reality, because it is only the symbolic language of imagination that can resist the human drive for simple clarity and determinateness. The divine, the numinous, the transcendent, can never be encompassed by the clarity of what Coleridge calls 'consequent Reasoning.' Mind, without imagination, is not enough. Transcendent reality can only be intimated, guessed at, caught out of the corner of the eye, and for this only the splendid ambiguity of symbolic utterance and experience will serve. Since God cannot be seen, we must work with analogues of God: stories, images, rituals and gestures. And it seems to me inevitable that anyone who wishes to discover as fully as possible the human experience of the divine will turn to the artist's attempts to capture—in paint, in clay and stone, in words and the sounds of music—her and his own experience, whether within one's own heart or in the beautiful and terrible world around us, of the God who continues to reach out and touch us.
~ J. Robert Barth, S.J., from "Mortal Beauty: Ignatius Loyola, Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and the Role of Imagination in Religious Experience" in Christianity & Literature, Autumn 2000, pp. 69 et seq.
Father Barth's article, to which I was introduced by Peggy Rosenthal's post, "How Imagination Grows", at Good Letters: The Image Blog, is archived here.
For Father Barth's essay "Mortal Beauty: Jesuit Tradition and the Arts", click here.