Recovering our imagination ©Suzanne Grimmett
New Year’s Eve
Isaiah 11:1-3, 6-9
2 Corinthians 5:16-21
What if hope is not an idea or a feeling but a practice?
If hope was active engagement rather than a thought, the most obvious ground for it to be nourished would be in courage.
While fear isolates, courage engages us with one another, empowers us personally and gives us the willingness to draw closer to one another, risking again the possibility of love and solidarity.
Richard Fay in a recent sermon here said, “Empowerment is the starting point of all that God does in us.” So often I think we believe the opposite- that we are meant to begin with heads bowed in contrition, believing in the failure of ourselves and our species and passively waiting for a future that will inevitably be no better than our past. So often we live into the roles culture has prescribed or the image our own worst critics have reduced us to becoming.
On New Year’s Eve, I think it is appropriate to locate a better starting point if there are to be new beginnings in a life of active hope.
The novel, Imagining Argentina by Lawrence Thornton set in the years of terror under Pinochet, describes a character named Carlos who ‘has a gift for creating futures by acts of anticipatory imagination’. His stories begin to create alternate futures to the terror of the times, and he argues that humankind has to believe in our own imaginative power because the shape of the future rests ultimately on the strength of such prophetic imagination. Carlos realizes that in living in fear and anxiety he had been living inside the imagination of his oppressors and says, “as long as we accept what they imagine…we are finished.”
I wonder what we have been tacitly accepting- what verdicts about humanity, our communities, or ourselves? Where are we living inside fear or anxiety? Often, assessments of ourselves have sprung not from within but from the agenda of others. We so often don’t have a courageous grasp of our own possibility. These can be the voices of the media or political or social leaders or, more personally, the judgmental voices of our parents, our teachers, or previous bosses or partners. Can we have the courage to refuse to accept what others have decreed to be true and stop living only as far as what they have determined as normative or possible for us? God’s work of empowerment begins when we choose to co-create with God an alternate imaginative and loving vision for the future, including our own.
The expansiveness of the vision of God proclaimed by the prophet Isaiah makes our own dreams for justice and peace look small in comparison. Would we be prepared to dream of a world where;
The wolf shall live with the lamb,
the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a little child shall lead them.
These images were captured in a series of 62 paintings by Edward Hicks on the theme of “The Peaceable Kingdom”; one of which is reproduced in your service notes. Could we imagine a world where even the predators become companions on the way, the earth could live in harmony and life would flourish? It is to such an outcome that the reading from 2nd Corinthians speaks. The little child leading the calf and the lion together is the figure of the Christ child, through whom God was reconciling the world. This reconciliation has been made possible because God has come in solidarity with all created things, sharing the pain and the struggle and living in such intimacy with us that we can stand in courage and solidarity with one another.
Solidarity is the word of the year for me. We are most clearly not all in the same boat with this pandemic, but, as others have said, we are in the same storm. We can be aware of the fragility of all life and equally aware that life is more precarious and painful for some than for others. A new creation, where the lion can lie down with the lamb, is one where our love for one another and creation sets us on a path of courage and hope, mustering our wills and imagination to bring into being our most beautiful dream of a just and peaceful world. We are agents of the new creation which begins everywhere, because the Christ who reconciles all things may be found everywhere in creation.
The light which sets aflame our hope and enlightens our imaginations has come that we can choose a new path. Christ came in the midst of human chaos and stands yet defiantly in the places of greatest darkness. As Madeleine L’Engle says;
He did not wait till hearts were pure.
In joy he came to a tarnished world of sin and doubt.
To a world like ours, of anguished shame
he came, and his Light would not go out.
Could you imagine your life as a practice of active hope? As we stand in solidarity, defying all expectations that we should judge or exclude one another, perhaps we might together find the courage to imagine something different. As we imagine, so we live. To have hope is to no longer expect less of ourselves or accept less for ourselves and one another. May we find the courage to stop living inside the imaginative world of those who would oppress, dehumanise or limit us, and this year occupy instead the imagination of the God who calls us with joy to be co-creators of a more loving future.
 As quoted in Walter Brueggemann, The Prophetic imagination: 40th Anniversary Edition, (Fortress Press, USA, 2018)xxxiii