It is of paramount importance to you to have a clear knowledge of the nature, end and functions of all the faculties of your soul; so that you may keep them within the province that God has allotted to them, and that no disorder may arise from the attempted encroachments of some upon others. This point becomes one of grave importance when there is question of the imagination, because it is the most rash, most ambitious, most violent and at the same time, the most seductive, of all the faculties.
Holding an intermediate place between the soul and the senses, it is the most accessible to the charms of the external world, and participates in the inconstant and tumultuous movements of our own sensibility. Confined to its own sphere of action, it is a precious auxiliary, which often facilitates the perception of the truth, and the accomplishment of good, by presenting them to the mind and heart under colors that render them amiable and attractive. When properly employed, it is an invaluable gift of God, who has given it to us to aid the infirmity of our nature, by rendering less painful the efforts that we are so often obliged to make in order to triumph over our bad inclinations. But when we fail to make a proper use of it, it then becomes for us a source of danger, and a great obstacle to our advancement towards perfection.
Placed between the will and the senses, it should neither be controlled by the latter nor emancipated from the sway of the former. The faithful observance of this condition can alone insure us all the advantages we may hope to derive from it. Should it prove to be a frequent cause of mischief to us it is because we let it act independently of the will's control -- in which case it is sure to become the slave of the senses. Separated from the intelligence, from which it receives light, and from the will, which points out its course of action, the imagination is a blind instinct, precipitous in its movements, impetuous and inconstant in its flights, violent and capricious in its pursuits. It is in constant agitation and torment, passing from one object to another, jumping with a single bound from one extreme to another, from sorrow to joy, from love to hate, from fear to hope.
It magnifies or diminishes things according to the caprice of the moment; and gives a color of sovereign importance to things which in reality are the merest trifles; a word, a look, a sign preoccupies and alarms it; it feasts on suspicion and anxiety, fictitious hopes and deceitful reports; it seizes with avidity on the things that please it, but scarcely is it in possession of the sought for objects when it abandons them with disgust. Hence the impressions to which it gives rise are as whimsical and as inconstant as itself; they appear and disappear in the soul without any apparent reason for their presence or absence.
The woman, whose imagination has been developed at the expense of her other faculties, may be said to lead a dreamy, fictitious, contentious and agitated life. This state is rendered still more dangerous by the agreeable forms which it assumes, and which flatter the mind and senses by their rapid and constant changes. Hence it is that women endowed with this doleful gift have the sad privilege of drawing around them persons of volatile minds and inconstant hearts. They invariably finish by becoming the dupes of their own fickle impressions, and are taken in the snares in which their vanity sought to inveigle others.
Could you but see the living tableau of one of those souls tyrannized by the imagination, the sight would arouse both your compassion and disgust; for hers is a fickle, inconstant, fretful and worried life. During the long dreary days not a single instant is completely and sincerely given to God. Her thoughts, affections, desires and occupations never rise above trivialness. Among the multitude of persons of her acquaintance there is not a single one whom she sincerely loves, or to whom she can render herself amiable. In the multiplied interviews to which she has devoted her life-time not a single genuine affection can be found: words which the lips pronounce and which the heart ignores; visits made through etiquette or inspired by frivolity; conversations that are mutually indulged in for mutual illusion or deception; -- such are the joys, such the occupations, of this woman.
With dispositions such as these there cannot be question of sincere piety nor of a Christian spirit. Piety resides in the will and supposes the love of duty; imagination abhors duty and seeks only after pleasure. True, the grace of God is all-powerful, it is not tied down to the development of our natural qualities, and God knows well, when He pleases, how to come to the assistance of the soul's faculties, and plant the germs of solid virtue in a heart that is frivolous and badly disposed; still it is an evident fact that among souls there are some better prepared than others to receive this divine seed, which takes deeper root when the heart is well disposed. Now, among all the agents that can unfit us for the reception of divine grace there is none so bad as an ungoverned imagination, because it is the source, especially among women, of the most fatal illusions.
A woman in this condition spends her whole life-time in deceiving herself and in deceiving others -- not purposely, but by a fatal and voluntary illusion; she can see nothing in its true light; all objects appear to her under strange colors; she forms her judgment of them according to the impression they make on the senses, or the effect they produce in the imagination. All this unfits her for the reception of those supernatural truths which fortify the mind without troubling the imagination, and, consequently, she remains insensible to the sweet impressions of grace which acts so mildly on the heart as to be unperceived by the senses. To such a woman piety is a mere matter of form, made up of certain practices which, in the guise of religion, flatter and feed her imagination. But the most terrible feature of this condition is, that it always grows worse, keeping the soul in a cloud of darkness, which even the special light attendant on death cannot dispel.
Thus, living and dying, they deceive themselves, and carry their illusions to the very tribunal of the Sovereign Judge. Then, and not till then, do they discover the truth which, though seeing, they did not perceive during life. Then, in doleful cries and lamentations will they exclaim, Alas! "We deceived ourselves, we have gone astray from the path of truth!"
Do not expose yourself to the same sad fate and doleful end; avoid the danger while it is yet time; train your imagination from a tender age, keep its activity under control, -- then, instead of being a source of vile it will be a source of most precious advantages to you.
One of the best means by which you can succeed in doing this is to fortify your will, giving it that authority and consistency which it needs in order to govern the imagination; without a strong will, that remains always self-composed in the midst of the tumult of the senses and the activity of the imagination, you will certainly fail to confine the latter to a just moderation.
That your judgment may enjoy perfect liberty and ease, your every act should be determined during peaceful calmness. Do not forget that, while you are passing through moments of excitement and pre-occupation, you are unable to see things rightly and execute them properly. When in this state of mind a project is proposed to your consideration; you will find that your heart is already fixed upon it before you have duly examined it; then the liberty of your mind becomes shackled either by vain hopes or fears suggested by some blind and violent instinct. In this and similar circumstances you should proceed with great precaution.
It is prudent and wise to defer taking action in any serious matter until self-composure is completely restored, until the mind is serene, the heart at peace, and the will in full possession of its liberty. Listen not to the plausible solicitations -- obey not the impulses of your imagination, but wait several days, or weeks, or even months if necessary; for a final determination taken in the midst of confusion and agitation will inevitably entail bitter regrets. Even prayer will not obtain for you, while in such a state of mind, all the light that you need. What you should first ask is, that God would lull this storm, and restore peace to your soul; but it is not the moment to pray that He may inspire you what to do in this or that difficulty, because, preoccupied as you are, you will perhaps take for the voice of God and of your conscience the cries of your troubled imagination.
When, after a mature and serious examination of the matter at issue, you have calmly discovered what course to adopt, it is then time to enlist the service of the imagination to aid your will, and get it interested in the work that you have to do, in order to impart new energy to the soul, and new light to the intelligence; when it is docile to the orders of the will it is a powerful auxiliary for good.
Never forget that the liberty of the mind and heart is an indispensable condition to judge rightly, to love with security, and to act with prudence; and that whatever tends to diminish this liberty should arouse your suspicions, no matter what may be its apparent advantages; for these can never equal the advantages accruing from an unshackled heart and mind.