Lifting the Veil: Imagination and the Kingdom of God
Lifting the Veil by Malcolm Guite is “a defense of the imagination as a truth-bearing faculty, and more than that it is an appeal to artists [of all kinds] to kindle our imaginations for Christ…” (p. 11). Not satisfied with the nihilistic milieu of the contemporary art world’s encompassing all mediums nor with the relegation of artwork as, “something to numb the mind as it faces the brutality of day-to-day living” (p. 11), Guite explores, through theory and practice, that artwork is a product of imagination that can help us grasp the meaning of life.
Guite is a poet, singer-songwriter, Anglican priest, and an academic. His academic work focuses on examining the relationship of art and faith. His poetry, and this book, have a decisive and simple style while his band Mystery Train performs blues and Rock’n’Roll. His poetry practices the ideas that he espouses and his music celebrates the transformative joy of sound.
The primary goal of Lifting the Veil is to defend the Christian use of the imagination. The secondary effect is to defend the need for imagination in the church and in the lives of Christians.
Guite writes, “How all of us might have a part to play in lifting the veil, removing the film of familiarity, opening our eyes and ears and, most of all our hearts, not only to the ‘loveliness and wonders of the world before, an inexhaustible treasure’ but also to the one through all these things were made and in whom they hold together?” (p. 13).
The thoughts in this short but rich text are a distillation of lectures given at Regent College titled “Imagining the Kingdom.” Guite clearly senses our culture’s understanding of art (both inside and outside the church) that is mired in subjectivity and a distrust of all things that cannot be rationally accounted for. He points to scripture, to Christ’s own words, to show how Jesus uses imagination to help those who have ears to hear and eyes to see.
I found this book to be the most refreshing and useful text on art and faith that I have read in the past few years. It is more succinct and focused than Dan Siedell’s Who’s Afraid of Modern Art? and draws on the books of C.S. Lewis, Dorothy Sayers, Coleridge, and Shakespeare. He even includes quotes from J.R.R. Tolkien’s “Mythopoeia”.
Anyone interested in an understanding of how art can help develop their faith needs to read this book. In a time when virtual reality is consuming more and more of our own reality, Guite defends the use of imagination to pierce the veil of our perception so that we can see God’s reality. He celebrates the oddities and strangeness of our creativity as a means of encountering God. He is definitive and concise while also acknowledging the mysteries of Christ. Most importantly he is able to establish the foundations for a theology of imagination.
Lifting the Veil is a wondrous bridge between matter and meaning. Its message is pertinent to anyone who wants to find more meaning in the world around them. It demonstrates that all Christians should love and adore the arts (not necessarily all art) as an outpouring of God’s imagination. Each of us can find a place like Jacob’s Peniel if we allow art to lift the veil from over our eyes.