Buechner is lecturing on preaching.

Imagination--I wanted to talk a little bit about imagination. The more I think about it, the more it is hard to describe as a human phenomenon. Yet I think it is; it is a very specific muscle of the brain that everybody has. We say some people are imaginative, other people are not imaginative; I think everybody's imaginative if they want to be, if they work at it. Imagination is a way of summoning up, reliving, sharing realities that are either unseen or elusive or hard to grasp. Everybody can do it. I could say right now, "Let's all sit here until we can imagine the taste of a strawberry, until you can taste it." And if I said one by one raise your hand when you can taste the strawberry, eventually the last hand would be raised, I think.

Imagine the sound of a cardinal singing. Imagine the smell of the ocean at low tide. We can do it. Everybody can do it, and it's a lot of what, I think, imagination in writing is all about. You're talking about these unseen realities, the reality of the Kingdom of God. Imagine it, summon it up with this power you have. What's it like? For a moment it was like that basketball game, that innocent ridiculous joyous little gymnasium crowd, the Kingdom of God. It's like stumbling on what you think is a rock, and it's a diamond as big as the Ritz. Treating images, evoking, evoking. That's what poetry is all about. Evocative calling forth when you're speaking with such concreteness out of your own experience of the reality of holy things as well as secular things that you enable your hearers to hear them as realities. To evoke them, not to explain them but to evoke them.

I think the greatest service that C. S. Lewis perhaps ever did, the greatest single service that that very skilled Christian writer ever did was to use as an image for Christ the figure of Aslan, the great lion. I'd trade everything else he ever did for that one thing. If you've ever read the Narnia books, you know what I'm talking about. Christ is not the Tab Hunter with the shaved armpits. He's not gentle Jesus meek and mild; he's the lion. And one of the things that keeps being said about Aslan is he's not a tame lion. He's a wild lion. He's a dangerous lion, but he's a wonderful lion. When he appears, the children sometimes climb on his back, and he lets them bury their fingers and the faces in his great golden mane, but also he's a fierce lion. It's a wonderful image, which cuts through so much that needs to be cut through.

Imagination is a way, not only of creating images, of evoking, using metaphors, but it's entering the scripture. Experiencing the scripture. Where the story ceases to be something out there but becomes something in which you participate. Try being Abraham in the wonderful way that Kierkegaard tries to be when he imagines that moment where Abraham is told by God to sacrifice Isaac. You know we pass over that story so easily. How wonderful, yes. God said to sacrifice Isaac, and Abraham so faithfully went out and all but did it and then God said, "You don't have to." But what was it like to be Abraham and to be told "take that child that you've waited for for 75 years and slit his throat." Imagination is way of entering the scripture so it becomes your story and your congregation's story.

  • from a lecture on preaching at Princeton Theological Seminary's Henderson Conference in 1986