Transformation: The Practice of Imagination

Universal Mechanics
wound up the world
to its present motion–
sea to cell,
worm to seal,
seed to tree?
blessed and cursed
with our devotion,
seek to find
what mechanism spawned us–
air, earth, water, fire,
the singing choir
of sons and daughters,
mirth and tears.
What inspires our need
for laughter,
We never tire
but ask these questions
every hour
with every breath
from birth
to death.

–Ann Bushnell, 2002


This coiled basket is made from discarded materials. I collect picture books and paper, also objects from nature to repurpose into artist books, journals and baskets.

This coiled basket is made from discarded materials. I collect picture books and paper, also objects from nature to repurpose into artist books, journals and baskets.
– Cynthia Gipple


by Ellen Lowery

Imagination may be a quality of human being.  We are able to see what is not present for better or worse.  Imagination may provide a haven from harsh realities, a conception of what could be. For better, it offers a vision of alternatives, such as seen in The Wizard of Oz or Alice in Wonderland. For worse, imagination may provide dark visions of shame and fear: our ideas about how we are judged, condemned by others, or allow us to form constructions of the enemy, as in Lord of the Flies and The Scarlet Letter.

A man who imagines the Bible to be the word of God may feel privilege to subdue his wife and she may feel this is acceptable and tolerate abuse of herself and children. In contrast, an abused child might imagine that God loves her and will guide her to better circumstances, or she may imagine she will find help from others, or books may offer her an alternate world.

Imagination allows us to transform discomfort into something else, possibly generative, but also possibly evil.



But change is life and life is change.

Transformation. It was surprising to find that Merriam-Webster definitions are so scientific.

They speak of formulas, mathematics, conversions, grammar, genetics, and finally false hair!

My own definition for transformation is more about creating, imagining.

This church was transforming for me. I came to the church as a child, but coming back in 1980 as a divorced mother with two boys, it gave us all a focus, a place to belong. Adults came to know my sons, interacting with them in so many ways. It has always been an extended family for my kids.

I was introduced to the power of story, the intrigue of dreams, the strength of friendship, the joy of imaging plays, poems, and programs of all sorts! And we are still the place that inspires the imagination.

My focus currently is the Gallery Committee. It’s the name we are known by, but is could easily be called the transformation committee.

We start with calendars, scheduling, advertising, negotiating; all the mundane, but then every six weeks or so we transform the Atrium with new works of art fill the space with color, dimension, imagination, that feeds our souls. The Gallery Committee enjoys the process of helping shape, group, and make the most of the artist’s work presented in our galleries.

The galleries were born of the imagination of architects, members on the planning committees, and a congregation that said yes! I for one did not see the potential of the Atrium, and the display space in the corridor. What I see today is that our building a prized display space, one of three in the White Bear/Mahtomedi area. Many people have told me that the art was part of the draw of WBUUC.

We are a community that is blessed with “soul”. Starting with our talented ministers. Our extraordinary choir, that blows the roof off every Sunday! Teachers in RE, justice makers in the community, cooks in the kitchen, and art in the Atrium. All are in the business of transformation.

WBUUC: Your time as a caterpillar has expired. Your wings are ready.

–Text & Photo by Karen Dahl








Images of transformation from my last trip:  The water and the erosion (slot canyons), the flooding and drying (the salt flats), and the wind (the sand dunes).

Antelope, Rattlesnake, Owl, and Mountain sheep slot canyons at Page, Arizona; Zabriskie Point,  Badwater Flats, and Mesquite Flat Sand Dunes in Death Valley, CA.

–Ken Stewart


“To live is enough.”
So says Shunryu Suzuki.
Present into past.

“Imagine there’s no heaven. It’s easy if you try. No hell below us. Above us only sky.”  (John Lennon, Imagine, 1971) “To live is enough,” observed Suzuki, the often understated Buddhist teacher.

Suzuki and Lennon were unlikely soul mates – born a generation apart, separated by nearly 6000 miles of water, land, and culture and raised in starkly divergent religious traditions. Despite these differences, however, both echoed timeless questions fundamental to the human condition. Imagine there is no heaven (or hell) and the present simply dissolves into the past as each second passes in our life. If above us is only sky, as Lennon wonders, and this life is indeed it, is living enough?

For those who can embrace the notion that “to live is enough,” suggests a rejection of wrack-full lamenting, an acceptance of life’s limitations and a fervent satisfaction and gratefulness for the yesterday and the now.  It beckons and calls one to the present more ardently than ever before, opening our eyes, ears and hearts to beauty and the wondrous web of life in all of its manifestations:  a smile and gentle touch from a spouse;  a grandchild running towards you with arms outstretched calling “Papa”; a masterful book that draws your tears; glory of sunrise and sunset; fishing with a friend on still water in Ontario listening to the croaking of frogs and chorus of bird songs; wedding of a son or daughter; drifting into a nap on sun-drenched deck listening to wind rustled leaves; experiencing the unconditional love and adoring eyes of a pet dog; being moved by Bach’s “The Brandenburg Concertos” at the Minnesota Orchestra; a spirited rendition of “Buddy Holly” at the Minnesota History Theater; dinner and wine with a person you love; first dates and proms; children and grandchildren finding their calling; learning a new word and finding the perfect time to use it; the gift of “God Bless you” after giving a street beggar a snack bar wrapped with a five-dollar bill;  amusement of a pun; old and new friends; solving a problem or overcoming a challenge; the joy of giving; achieving peace and satisfaction.

“To live is enough” also means that we accept and embrace the fullness and other side of life’s experiences:  heartbreak of death and loss of loved ones; unmet goals and unfulfilled dreams; painful mistakes; parental failures; loss of job; promises not kept; sickening worry about a child; damaged or broken relationships; frustration; stress; being taken for granted; unexpected crisis; declining health; burden of caretaking; worry about money; lack of balance between career and family; shattered dreams; anxiety and depression; addiction; disappointing a friend; desertion; deceit; absence of appreciation; accident and injury; restlessness and dissatisfaction.

Wrapping our arms around the expansiveness of life – embracing the full range of experiences and emotions as we watch the present dissolve into the past – is our shared gift of life.  And like water flowing through a mill, life’s painful experiences turn our heart’s wheel towards a deeper and more joyous appreciation of what is now and good. Or as Billy Joel reminds,“…that when the truth is told / you can get what you want or you can just get old / you’re gonna kick off before you even get halfway through / why don’t you realize… Vienna waits for you?”

–Don Lifto


In The Moment
The river winds through
its rocky channel
tumbling over boulders
dancing in the moment
unconcerned the coming
falls will shatter it
into a million jewels.

–Bill McCarthy


The Water Strider
What occupies us by day is so small.
What really matters is a mystery.
Like the water strider who darts
and skates on water’s skin,
its world a mere molecule deep,
we are separated from the unknowable
depths that fall off cool and quiet,
ageless and enormous, just beneath us.
When the end comes, I believe it is water,
not dust to which we shall return and
only then to learn what has truly
mattered from the beginning.

–Bill McCarthy



Grow Your Soul: Transformation
With a butterfly metamorphosis is the seemingly miraculous change from caterpillar to adult form, a beautiful butterfly. With many humans transformation is never spectacular or quick. If we change at all it is slowly over many years, sometimes years of therapy, seeking to live in a better way. I’ve been trying to become more tolerant and to speak up for the causes I believe in my whole life. It probably doesn’t even show on the outside, but it makes all the difference if I have that awareness, that desire to change and do the daily baby steps towards becoming that person I want to be.

–Judy Fawcett


Imagination is what Raoul Wallenberg possessed when this under-achiever-playboy was sent to Hungary as a diplomat with the Swedish crown to protect and rescue the Jews rounded up by the Nazis.  He immediately went to work finding buildings to house Jews and provided them with Swedish passports.  He did this on a massive scale, sometimes having to promise that the donors would be saved from being tried as collaborators with the holocaust.  (Good Evening, Mr. Wallenberg, and Wallenberg: A Hero’s Story). Aryan women stormed the prison where their Jewish husbands, sons, and fathers had been sent to await deportation and worse. Depicted in the film identified by the street name Rosenstrasse, they made such a fuss that Hitler let them go, fearing a massive public resistance. Hotel Rwanda and Hidden in Silence depicted similar imagination when Paul Ruseabagina and Stefania Podgorska respectively engaged their imagination to protect victims of war.

Imagination is what Khan Abdul Ghaffar Khan, the Muslim “Frontier Gandhi” possessed when he created the hundred thousand person unarmed force standing against the British tyrrany:

“I am going to give you such a weapon that the police and the army will not be able to stand against it. It is the weapon of the Prophet, but you are not aware of it. That weapon is patience and righteousness. No power on earth can stand against it.”

David Hartsough, a Quaker, had been lecturing on Gandhi’s concept of inter-position, protective accompaniment, when he met Mel Duncan, a Presbyterian, at The Hague in 1999. Their imaginations and skills led them to found Nonviolent Peaceforce where unarmed civilians have been protecting civilians in the bloody wars of Sri Lanka, Mindanao, Philippines, South Sudan, Guatemala, Myanmar, and most recently in Syria. In the bloody genocide in South Sudan, in 15 months and 1000 accompaniments of civilians sheltered in the UN compound, none was harmed. In a breathtaking situation there, two of NP’s protection monitors refused to step aside when assailants said they wanted to kill the people in a hut. Three times the assailants demanded the protectors step aside, three times the assailants went away, saving the lives of 14 women and children.

Like Wallenberg and others, they were people doing their job when suddenly the situation called for their imagination. NP’s Mel Duncan admonishes us “to spark our moral imagination”. It is transformational.

–Ann Frisch


Growing Up With Change

Change is inherently inevitable and I am constantly curious to see what the future brings. I sometimes think about who I will be in five, or even ten years. This person in my mind is different than who I am now. This person is different due to decisions and changes that I will have had to make. I have always associated change as simple and good, but change can be very difficult.

When I was about six, I decided to stop dancing ballet. A year later that time was filled by choir and my life was soon enveloped in music. Looking back, I think “What if I stayed in ballet?  What would my life be like?” My life was transformed by an easy decision I made when I was six year old. I am planning on becoming an Opera singer, but who knows, I could fall in love with something else. Maybe it is just growing up, but I have had to make some difficult decisions in the past year.

The difficult changes that have been made have shaped me more than all of the easy decisions combined. I have learned to embrace change, because not only does it shape who you are, but it lets you recognize what is really important. This year my parents got separated and I moved, with my mom, twenty-five minutes away from my dad. The separation didn’t affect me the way I originally thought that it would.

I wasn’t upset that my parents were getting divorced, but I was upset that I couldn’t go home and talk to my dad. I now had to pick up the phone, or drive just to talk to him. I now have to be focused on getting quality time with each parent. Because of the separation, I have spent more quality time with each parent. It is one thing talking with someone for a bit each day, but it is totally different when you are spending quality time each week together. I have learned so much about my parents throughout the past three months, more than I have in my lifetime. I knew them before as parents, but now I know them as people. Their personalities reach far beyond just mom and dad, but they are still my mom and dad. They still push me to be the best I can be. They comfort me when I’m stressed out, which is most all of the time. But most importantly, they will help me grow together.

Who knows where I will be in five, or even ten years. Maybe I will be singing on a stage, or maybe not. Change is a part of life, and I think that is great. I choose to approach change with open hands and an open heart. I choose to face change with an open mind. I choose change because, let’s face it, life is boring without it.

–Ava Harmon