I don't mean misplaced it temporarily like I do my cell phone at least once a month. I lost the ability I had as a child to see the wonder and creativity infused into even the most ordinary things in the world. There were times when it briefly sparked, illuminating life with its light and warmth, but it would fade yet again as the business of life dampened its glow.
Several year ago, a hike through a swampy woods on a blustery, 50 degree day in Northern Michigan rekindled that spark.
I'll be honest - this was not where I intended to be. My plan for the day involved an NBA game and a nice cup of Cherry Chocolate coffee while vegging on my sofa, but here I was on a trail hemmed in by barely budding trees and surrounded by lots of wintery grays and browns.
The dullness and potential serenity of this woodsy jaunt could not restrain my 6-year-old caffeine-in-a-bundle, Vincent; his equally frenetic friend Marilee, who was at times literally a blur; and my 12-year-old son Braden, who gamely tried to keep up with the other two. Vincent took the lead ("Stop! Wait! I'm the leader!"). Makeshift wooden gun in hand, he fearlessly led us through a gray/brown maze of lingering winter bursting with wolves, superheroes, villains, and invisible zombie giants, as Marilee screamed at...something, I'm not sure what. Bugs, maybe.
I must have absorbed some of their energy, because I soon realized this ordinary woods offered a smorgasbord of very cool things. Uprooted trees might not actually be zombie forts, but they were pretty awesome in their own right. So as the kids screamed and wildly shot giants with their stick guns, I fired up the camera app on my first generation Droid and started to see the mystery and wonder of the woods.
I had to keep halting their breakneck progress to take pictures. Hints of beauty poked through everywhere. Cold, clear streams trickled over smoothed pebbles and under fallen birch branches. Yellow marsh lilies pushed their way through the dead reeds of the swamp, pressing against an aging wooden boardwalk, compelling me to see life where before I had only seen weariness and decay.
Late fall and winter tend to make me think weariness and decay might just be the norm. It's been a while since my wife and I grilled salmon on the deck or curled our toes in the brown sand of Northern Michigan beaches. Once summer leaves, even the sun takes a break most of the time up here. The cold and the snow force the hibernation of animals into caves, mice under weeds, and neighbors into homes.
This time of year always reminds me of other kinds of winters that chill our hearts and freeze our souls, times when the life that once oozed out of us retreats, barricading itself underneath blanks of snowy grief, fear, and anger. That's when I lost my imagination, I'm pretty sure - when a winter in my life settled in. Something froze that should have stayed warm; a stream of life froze for a while, and some important things - hope, joy, wonder - stayed cold. I got drifted in, and I didn't shovel myself out for a while.
Those kinds of winters need a seriously warm spring: a spring with a Son that melts all those things which threaten to entomb us; a spring where one little step on the ice breaks everything loose; a spring in which a Shoveler will make a way for us when we are too tired to dig ourselves out.
The sun finally broke through on that blustery day, and Marilee forced me to choose not just one, but two superhero powers to fight the undead giant threat. So, I became Iron Thor. I tried to be Jean Grey, because claiming my mind as a superpower actually had a very empowering feel to it and I didn't have to actually do anything. Not only did she not buy it, she taunted me with her superpower: "I'm Storm - I can make wind."
"I can, too," I said, and Braden laughed. Storm changed the weather around us, calling down mythical lightning strikes on the invisible zombie giant chasing Vincent, who trailed all of us while loudly affirming his ongoing leadership. At some point, amid screaming children and marshy spring mazes of villains, ghouls, and wooden boardwalks, I felt a spark begin to smolder deep within.
There is something about that creative spark, the ability to see the awesome in the ordinary, the insight to see the mystical in the mundane. “The function of imagination,” said G.K. Chesterton, “is not to make strange things settled, so much as to make settled things strange; not so much to make wonders facts as to make facts wonders."
C.S. Lewis wrote of the baptizing of his imagination while reading George McDonald's Phantastes: "It is as if I were carried sleeping across the frontier, or as if I had died in the old country and could never remember how I came alive in the new.” If you have read his Chronicles of Narnia, you know how Lewis called us "farther up and farther in," to a land which even our most vivid imaginations cannot conceive.
I am guessing that the two youngest members of our group are the most likely to "make facts wonders" on an ordinary, every day basis. I also suspect that the God of Wonder, who created Traverse City's marsh lilies and inspired Lewis's Marshwiggles, takes great delight in carrying the childlike among us over a crumbling boardwalk, across the dead frontier of winter, and into the resurrected life of Spring.
"The trumpet of imagination,” says Chesterton, “like the trumpet of the Resurrection, calls the dead out of their graves.” I didn't tell Marilee and Vincent that. They had enough to deal with already. But I think I saw the Lord of Imagination out of the corner of my eye, moving through His blustery but glorious Spring to help Merilee and Vincent in their epic battle to save us from the things that would destroy us, and bring us safely home.