This week’s texts are about imagination, the ability to call something that is not already there into being, to paint a picture of a preferred future, and to sense an alternative reality and outcomes.
Prophets and bards and saviors have this ability to imagine, as exemplified in our scripture passages from Isaiah, Malachi, the Psalms, and Luke’s gospel. There is a new thing on the horizon, a time and way which will bear little resemblance to our current set of circumstances.
Religious imagination requires a form of alertness that too often seems dulled by the noise of our culture. There are so many stimuli in our lives that the noise around us drones on, and we fail to hear. Sometimes this happens when someone we love is trying to communicate a deep need or desire; it can sound like the rest of the ‘blah, blah, blah’ of our lives, and so we tune it out. At other times we become so accustomed to seeing news of violence and death that we actually stop paying attention to the stories of the precious lives affected. You know this condition.
Such numbness is the antithesis of God and God’s own-image creation, how God imagined we humans would be! Many of us have become hard of hearing and slow of feeling. Thankfully, not all of us have.
“Dad, I hear a fire truck!” exclaims oldest son Ben, to which I reply, “No, I don’t think so. You must be hearing things.” Thirty seconds later, the sirens pierce the air. “You were right, son!”
I don’t know why I’m surprised. Ben has very sensitive hearing, technically known as hyperacusis. He can pick up sounds long before anyone else in our household, especially frequencies like a siren. We’ve stopped doubting the presence of an oncoming emergency apparatus. If Ben says it’s on its way, it probably is!
Our human senses are a marvelous gift. It’s not just our hearing, but also our sight, our smell, our taste, our touch , our intuition that develop uncanny sensitivity, revealing dimensions of the world to us that at first are not so evident. Beyond our intuition of the moment, however, lie the seeds of our imagination, our God-given capacity to anticipate a world that is remarkably different than the one we currently inhabit.
But do we trust the announcement of the coming day? When the prophet hears before we do, will we accept that declaration or will we brush it aside? Can we pause long enough and concentrate steadily enough to begin to hear and see for ourselves?
Read today’s texts again. Allow yourself to imagine this new (or other) world order. There is hope in that vision, the confidence that God is not yet through with God’s creation, that the better day still lies ahead.
Our world today isn’t really tuned in to such a hope.
If you are a follower of Jesus, you have been given the capacity to see and hear things that others may not yet sense. You have been given stories to tell not just of the past, and not confined to today, but stories of tomorrow, filled with promise and possibility. You know that there is reason to hope.
Why would you keep such things to yourself?
Jesus’ words in Luke may be one reason. He describes a difficult present, and acknowledges the fear in the face of potential persecution, ridicule, betrayal, and for some even death. Perhaps then it is even more essential to imagine the promise of Jesus: “not a hair on your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.” (Luke 21:18-19)
One of the most compelling images in scripture is in Isaiah 65:25. Popular images of this text, known as the “Peaceable Kingdom,” are portrayed perhaps most notably in the folk art of Edward Hicks. It takes audacity to see the lion and the lamb lying together, and the whole of creation governed by the declaration, “They shall not hurt or destroy on my holy mountain, says the Lord.” It takes imagination.
For today, may God grant you ears to hear, eyes to see, and a heart to anticipate that day in which “with joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation.” (Isaiah 12:3) Imagine it. Why not live it?!
Hymns & Songs:
New earth, heavens new, Harris J. Loewen (Hope Publishing, 1991)
How great is our God, Chris Tomlin
Open my eyes, that I may see, Clara H. Scott
“Many of us are becoming aware of dimensions in our humanity that are not properly looked after by any of the things that are normally supposed to make us feel all right.” (Rowan Williams in Tokens of Trust, p. 27)
“Instructions for living a life.
Tell about it.”
― Mary Oliver
A Prayer of Hope
There are Christians
Who have hysterical reactions
As if the world had slipped out of God’s hands.
They are violent
As if they were risking everything.
But we believe in history.
The world is not a roll of the dice
On its way toward chaos.
A new world has begun to happen
Since Christ has risen…
We rejoice in your definitive triumph
With our bodies still in the breach,
Our souls in tension;
We cry our first “Hurrah!”
Till eternity unfolds itself.
Your sorrow now has passed.
Your enemies have failed.
You are the definitive smile for humankind.
What matter the wait now for us?
We accept the struggle and the death,
Because you, our love, will not die!
We march behind you on the road to the future.
You are with us. You are our immortality…
Take away the sadness from our faces;
We are not in a game of chance…
You have the last word!
Beyond the crushing of our bones,
Now has begun the eternal “Alleluia!”
From the thousands of openings
In our wounded bodies and souls,
There now arises a triumphal song!
So teach us to give voice
To your new life throughout the world,
Because you dry the tears of the oppressed forever…
And death will disappear
–Luis Espinal, S.J., available here: http://www.xavier.edu/jesuitresource/jesuit-a-z/A-Prayer-of-Hope.cfm