Here’s one model who brought imagination for good – St. Stephen.
Christianity had its difficulty being welcomed by the people during the time of the Apostles – just after the Resurrection of Jesus. This so-called “religious movement” was approached with much criticism, and to such extent, persecution. Christians had to struggle being accepted – socially, religiously and politically. In particular, religious authorities kept handing them over to trial – and also to challenge their religious views.
Stephen was no stranger to these. In fact, many religious authorities sought to challenge his views not only from Jerusalem, but also from other cities (cf. Acts 6:9). Or to hear his wisdom? To those who heard him speak, some were not so happy at all. They were disturbed because of his unchallenged boldness. Witnesses, like St. Luke, mentioned that it was “the Spirit” that prompted Stephen for such eloquence (cf. Acts: 6:10) But perhaps one interesting thing here this: how was Stephen able to be an effective recipient of this ‘wisdom’ as prompted by the Spirit?
My personal take on this is perhaps Stephen’s docility to let the Spirit use his imagination. As such, one cannot ‘proclaim’ something if that ‘something’ is not vivid to him. This might explain Stephen’s boldness which penetrated and disturbed those who heard him speak. Stephen’s imagination of the glory of God became so intensely real for him that it was so impossible for those disturbed to stop him, so much so that they had to drag him and stone him to death. Stephen’s vision of Jesus glorified made him numb with the furious reactions of the disturbed because he was already filled and preoccupied in reaching God for what he actually saw.
And yet, another remarkable act on how Stephen imagined God’s glory is observed in his prayer: “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit…Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” (cf. Acts. 7:59-60). At the brink of his martyrdom he mentioned these words – still filled with imagination! He might have imagined once more that God’s glory is when forgiveness reigns. That apart from what others consider God as a “punishing God”, his prayer again affirms a forgiving God.
Hence, Stephen’s heroic virtues remains relevant today, especially for the youth. We just saw how powerful imagination can bring. Those who were infuriated (opponents of Stephen) also imagined – but they imagined without a listening attitude, being noisy at all (cf. Acts 7:57). Such imaginations proved to be life-threatening and destructive. On the other hand, Stephen, who used imagination for good welcomed the Spirit, gave him the vision of the glorified Jesus, and even became a witness of God’s mercy and forgiveness.
And I am beginning to reflect that perhaps, Stephen was martyred at the very ripe of his youth. Even now, his heroism resounds to the youth. That’s why he is a model to the youth! Young people today are perhaps obsessively imaginative. But, what are their imaginations? Good to know. If we have the premise of searching a meaningful life, then we say that if we keep vividly imagining a meaningful life, then we have this sense of hope, fulfilling life. But if we vividly imagine a meaningless life, then it would be easy to have a hopeless, throw-away life.
In a similar way, one becomes either a saint or a sinner because of imagination.