If this pandemic has reminded us of anything, it is that we human beings have an amazing propensity for imagination. No sooner did COVID-19 cancel all of our plans than we began imagining the elaborate St. Patrick’s Day parties and Easter celebrations and Cinco de Mayo bashes that would make up for the festivities we lost in March, April, and May. After a few months when this reality started sinking in, we imagined a return to the way things used to be: standing in a carefree crowd of people again; visiting our favorite beauty salon or barbershop, movie theater or music venue, restaurant or watering hole; physically touching the friends and family we love without apprehension; standing shoulder to shoulder in the sanctuary, singing at the top of our lungs. Now that we’re more than half a year into this mess while factors that seem largely out of our control escalate—climate change, racial injustice, political catastrophe, approaching a million dead to coronavirus worldwide—we fearfully imagine doomsday scenarios that turn us even more inward, hunkering down and holding onto what little we think we’ve got, and imagining, “Will this ever end?”
The good news is that we’re better than this. It’s not just that the factors around us and beyond our control are inherently hopeful by the grace of God—as the psalmist reminds us, weeping may endure for a night, but joy comes in the morning (Psalm 30:5)—it’s also that we are made in the image of a creative, relational, imaginative God of wisdom and wonder. So, while we have a propensity for an endgame imagination, we also have the tenacious ability to wonder beyond limits; certainly beyond the limits and limitations of this isolating pandemic.
Walter Brueggemann cranked out another brilliant book just a few months ago called Virus as a Summons to Faith: Biblical Reflections in a Time of Loss, Grief, and Anxiety where he writes, “We are gifted with imagination that will not settle for explanation. In our imagined autonomy we have been on a spree of self-indulgence and self-actualization that has exercised little regard for the neighbor. And now we are required to wonder more deeply.” Imagination is infinitely good. Indeed, people of faith must imagine the world as God intends it before we can get to work making our time and context look like what we faithfully see. But when imagination becomes so bleakly insular that we only have vision for self-indulgent uplift and worst-case scenarios, the Holy One, in whose image we are made, invites us to adjust our individualistic focus toward a deep wonder.
I wonder how my friend is doing who went through a divorce right before COVID hit and is now a single parent of two young children. I wonder if I should carve out time on a weekly basis to contact them.
I wonder if the earth is feeling any better since we slightly slowed down our constant pull from its resources, and whether I can do things differently to foster its well-being for the future. I wonder what that would look like.
I wonder what is going through the rapidly forming minds of children and adolescents in my community who went home for spring break in March and went back to school five months later under completely different circumstances that I never had to endure. I wonder what I can do for them.
I wonder if the things I needed to forgive and be forgiven for in my life were ever going to be dealt with when things were “normal,” and if the unprecedented circumstances of these peculiar days might be a call to unprecedented mercy. I wonder what that unaddressed forgiveness might do for that person, for those people, for me and my relationships.
I wonder whether going back to doing things exactly the way we always did them at church is what’s best for our congregation and the wider community. I wonder if this present time of thinking outside the box is Jesus’ invitation to follow him beyond the confines of familiar comfort into a new way of living the Gospel that will heal and mend broken relationships between God and neighbor unlike ever before.
God of mystery beyond human certainty, I thank you for walking with me as I wonder about this life you have breathed into me for such a time as this. Stay with me, Holy One, as I wonder deeply so that your peace that transcends all human understanding would deliver me from what I want and fear for myself and into what I need and love for this whole world that is ultimately in your caring, forgiving hands of great wisdom and wonder. Amen.