A Faith-full Imagination

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The imagination, so one definition says, is “the faculty or action of forming new ideas, or images or concepts of external objects not present to the senses.” With imagination, we see what is not visible to our physical eyes, hear what is audible but not in the moment, and consider what is not tangibly before us, yet is in our mind’s eye or inner thoughts.

Albert Einstein, that wonderful scientist who saw things that were not yet clear, and ushered in breakthroughs with his theories of relativity, once said, “Your imagination is everything. It is the preview of life’s coming attractions.”

A lack of imagination is like living in a prison. The inability to grasp things beyond our sense, the inability to move beyond what is available to us, this lack of imagination shuts us inside of our limits. That’s why Muhammad Ali, known for some of his pithy sayings, in reflecting on that, once said: “The man who has no imagination has no wings.”

But with imagination, we can fly beyond our cages. With imagination, we have “the one weapon against reality.”[1]

The New Testament author of the epistle of Hebrews writes:

Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. (Hebrews 11:1)

If imagination helps us to see things that are not immediately visible, to fly beyond our limits and the cages of our circumstances, then, in a biblical sense, imagination is important because it is intrinsic to faith. Imagination strengthens us to know the invisible God, to live life with God, and to hope in eternal truth that brings meaning beyond what our senses immediately reveal.

That is why C. S. Lewis wrote:

Reason is the natural organ of truth, imagination is the organ of meaning. [2]

Imagination is important in our spiritual lives because it becomes a resource God uses to help us hear Him in Scripture, pray with faith, and live with endurance beyond what we can see. And that vital place of imagination in our life with God in Scripture, prayer and endurance is what we see in Daniel’s life

Throughout the book, but particularly in his prayer in chapter 9, we find Daniel’s imagination set ablaze by the power of God to fly beyond the cages of his circumstances. Even though Daniel had experienced exile for more than sixty years by the time of his prayer, his vision is not limited by the difficulties in front of him. Instead, he sees with the eyes of faith, with an apocalyptic imagination, who God is and what God can and will do because of His characters and promises.

May God give us a faith-full imagination today, no matter what our senses tell us or how our circumstances threaten to imprison us.

Lord God,
take my imagination
and by the power of the Holy Spirit
set it ablaze with faith,
that the eyes of my heart
might see reality as You see it
and, like Daniel,
rise above my circumstances
in You.

[This material originally appeared in a slightly different form in my message, “Exile Faith at Prayer,” delivered on December 8/9, 2019, at Eastbrook Church.]


[1] Attributed to Jules de Gaultier.

[2] From his essay, “Bluspels and Flalansferes,” in Selected Literary Essays (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013).; quoted here.

Exile Faith at Prayer [Daniel 9]

We continued our series on the book of Daniel this past weekend at Eastbrook Church by turning to Daniel’s famous prayer in chapter 9. Daniel’s prayer takes place in the first year of Cyrus’ reign, around 539 BC, and references Jeremiah 25:10-11 in recognizing that the time of the exile is reaching its conclusion. Daniel has been in exile for more than 60 years, but his imagination has not been closed in by the suffering of exile. Instead his prayer takes flight through an imagination set fire by the revelations of God.

You can view the message video and sermon outline below. You can follow the entire series at our web-site, through the Eastbrook app, or through our audio podcast.

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A Hymn Prayer to Christ from the 6th Century

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Jesu, the Father’s only Son,
whose death for all redemption won,
before the worlds, of God most high,
begotten all ineffably.

The Father’s Light and Splendor Thou
their endless Hope to Thee that bow:
accept the prayers and praise today
that through the world Thy servants pay.

Salvation’s author, call to mind
how, taking the form of humankind,
born of a Virgin undefiled,
Thou in man’s flesh becamest a Child.

Thus testifies the present day
Through every year in long array,
that Thou, salvation’s source alone
proceedest from the Father’s Throne.

Whence sky, and stars, and sea’s abyss,
and earth, and all that therein is,
shall still, with laud and carol meet,
the Author of thine Advent greet.

And we who, by Thy precious Blood
from sin redeemed, are marked for God,
on this, the day that saw Thy Birth,
sing the new song of ransomed earth.

All honor, laud, and glory be,
O Jesu, Virgin-born, to Thee;
whom with the Father we adore,
and Holy Ghost forevermore. Amen.

6th century hymn translated by John Mason Neale.

Finding Hope: Elizabeth

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[This is the devotional I wrote for the second week of Eastbrook Church‘s Advent 2018 devotional. Join in with the daily journey through Advent here.]

“But they were childless because Elizabeth was not able to conceive, and they were both very old…Elizabeth became pregnant and for five months remained in seclusion. ‘The Lord has done this for me,’ she said. ‘In these days he has shown his favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.’” (Luke 1:7, 24-25)

At the very beginning of Luke’s Gospel, we encounter Zechariah and Elizabeth, an older Jewish couple living during Herod’s reign in Judea. Of the few things we are told about them, Luke mentions that they live righteous lives before God but also that they have no children. Why does Luke tell us this? Certainly, it is at least to help us understand, in the midst of Zechariah fulfilling his priestly duties in the Jerusalem Temple, the significance of the angel Gabriel’s message of an unexpected miracle baby given to them in their later years. Perhaps it is also serves to remind us that righteous people do not always get what they desire. That theme lingers throughout the Bible from the book of Job through the Psalms and into the New Testament. Along with that, it is likely that Luke wants to emphasize how God often reveals Himself in a special way to those who have something missing from their lives. In fact, that is a special theme in the Gospel of Luke: God is close to those who seem on the outside, who carry a wound, or who only have the smallest thread of hope to which they cling.

In the midst of all the grand things God does in Scripture, and in the midst of the story God is writing in the human history, sometimes we may wonder if as human beings we remain too insignificant in the grand scheme of things. Even if we believe in God, we may wonder if we are simply hidden, unnoticed beings before the Divine Majesty.

The story of Elizabeth interrupts that strain of thinking like a hurricane. An angelic messenger blows in from the presence of God to say that hidden prayers have been heard and that God will indeed bring about their fiercest hopes for a child. Not only that, but the wild winds of the message will blow through human history as this miracle baby, John the Baptist, will come in the same untamable power of Elijah the prophet. He will speak words of hope to all people as a forerunner of the promised Messiah. You cannot cage that wind and, as it blows, Elizabeth sees the sails of her life refilled with the billowing winds of hope.

During Advent, Elizabeth’s story reminds us that the coming of Jesus brings hope to us. Jesus brings a “living hope” (1 Peter 1:3) that serves as “an anchor for the soul, firm and secure” (Hebrews 6:19). As we take the journey of Advent, reminded that God sees us and God enters into our world through Jesus Christ, may the sails of our lives be refilled again with the wild winds of living hope through Christ Jesus.

Reflect:

  • What is an area of your life where you are “clinging to a thread of hope” about what God can do?
  • How do you think you can “feed” the hope God has brought to you to increase your experience of it?

A Prayer for the second Sunday of Advent (from the Revised Common Lectionary):

God of hope, you call us home from the exile of selfish oppression
to the freedom of justice, the balm of healing, and the joy of sharing.
Make us strong to join you in your holy work,
as friends of strangers and victims,
companions of those whom others shun,
and as the happiness of those whose hearts are broken.
We make our prayer through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Join in with the daily Advent devotional here.

The Weekend Wanderer: 8 December 2018

The Weekend Wanderer” is a weekly curated selection of news, stories, resources, and media on the intersection of faith and culture for you to explore through your weekend. Wander through these links however you like and in any order you like.

85262“John the Baptist Points to the Real Hope of Advent” – Fleming Rutledge reflects on how both Advent and John the Baptist are apparently out of touch with the cultural currents that surround Christmas. Connecting with the longing for Jesus to come as Judge, “John does not proclaim Jesus as a captivating infant smiling benevolently at groups of assorted rustics, potentates, and farm animals. Instead, he cries out, ‘He who is coming after me is mightier than I. . . . His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire’ (Matt. 3:11–12).” Her entire article is compelling. [Thanks to David Bier for sharing this with me.]

 

brunson22a“‘A living martyr’” – World Magazine names Andrew Brunson as their “Daniel of the year,” following accusations against him in Turkey and his recent release from imprisonment.  “Jailed in October 2016 and subsequently charged with espionage and terrorism, Andrew Brunson found himself catapulted to the center of global headlines and U.S.-Turkey relations. Norine, jailed briefly then released, never left Turkey, knowing she might not be allowed to return to support her husband. Now they were home to family and friends.”

 

Mar Mattai Monastery Iraq“The Vanishing: The plight of Christians in an age of intolerance” – Janine di Giovanni reports on something that many of us have been highlighting for the past few years: the excavation of a persecuted Christian minority from the Middle East. “The Christians here have endured invasions by Persians, Kurds, and Turks, but they have recovered after each persecution. This is, in part, their tradition: they believe in their sacred right to their land. . . . The persecution of Christians in Iraq began as early as the thirteenth century. But in recent years it has reached a tipping point, setting off a mass exodus. In 2002, when I was living in Baghdad, six months before the US invasion, there were nearly 1.4 million Christians in Iraq. Today there are between 250,000 and 300,000 left, according to Samuel Tadros, a fellow at the Hudson Institute.” You may also want to read this recent, similar statement from the Archbishop of Canterbury: “Christians on brink of extinction in Middle East, warns Archbishop of Canterbury.”

 

2013_9-16-The-Russian-Orthodox-Church“Israel expropriates almost 70 acres of Catholic Church property” – On a related topic, The Middle East Monitor reports: “Israel’s occupation authorities expropriated almost 70 acres of Palestinian land in the Jordan Valley and West Bank on Tuesday, Shehab news agency has reported. The land is owned by the Roman Catholic Church — the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem — in the villages of Bardala and Tayaseer near the West Bank city of Tubas and in the Jordan Valley respectively.” Is it for security or settlements? Either way, the church just lot its property to the state.

 

A Uyghur woman walks pass a statue of Mao Zedong in the“The Uighurs and China’s Long History of Trouble with Islam” – On a related topic, in The New York Times Review of Books, Ian Johnson offers an extended reflection on Islam in China, with particular attention to the Uighurs in northwest China. He also gives some helpful reflections on why China has struggled to accept Christianity, as well as other religions viewed as subversive.

 

Screen Shot 2018-12-06 at 11.36.26 AM“All the presidents at the Bush funeral service together recited this core prayer. Except one.” – There was a little kerfuffle in the Twitter-sphere when people noticed that President Donald Trump and the First Lady Melania Trump did not recite the Apostles Creed after the homily during George H. W. Bush’s funeral at the National Cathedral. Michelle Boorstein offers an even-handed reflection on the history and significance of the Apostles Creed, and also why the Trumps did not recite it during the service. You can also read my article about why we now recite the Apostles Creed when taking communion at Eastbrook Church.

 

pexels-photo-684387“The Dominant Approach to Leadership in the Church and Why Jesus Means to Upend It”Kyuboem Lee over at Missio Alliance: “There’s a reason many pastors feel used and abused—they’ve been living as cogs in the wheels of the Church Industrial Complex (as my friends JR and Dan White say in their book, Church as Movement). What is the remedy? It’s certainly not trying harder to keep the machine going. Jesus said there is a different kingdom—and a different way of governing, or leading. A different theology of power for a different kingdom. And out of it, a different way of structuring ourselves as society or organization or community. The greatest in this society will be the servant of all.”

 

civil war“Battle Lines: Recovering the profound divisions that led to the Civil War” – Numerous people have recommended that I read Andrew Delbanco’s The War Before the War: Fugitive Slaves and the Struggle for America’s Soul from the Revolution to the Civil War. I haven’t had the chance to get there yet, but a tantalizing appetizer came this past week in Gordon Wood’s in-depth review of both Delbanco’s book and Sean Wilentz’s No Property in Man: Slavery and Antislavery at the Nation’s Founding. The review sends you deep into the history of slavery in our country to some profound wrestling with what was really going on.

 

3309“Unknown John Donne manuscript discovered in Suffolk” – This might just be the English-major in me, or it might be the poetry lover in me, but I found this article about a recently discovered manuscript of John Donne’s poetry fascinating. Donne is that well-known 17th-century love poet, who eventually became an Anglican priest and metaphysical poet. “A previously unrecorded handwritten manuscript of John Donne’s poetry has been found in a box at an English country house in Suffolk. Dating back 400 years, the bound collection was kept for at least the last two centuries at Melford Hall in Suffolk.”

[I do not necessarily agree with all the views expressed within the articles linked from this page, but I have read them myself in order to make me think more deeply.]