Baseline Weekly - Sanctified Imagination

During this shelter-in-place mandate, our family has missed some significant “in-person” events: my father-in-law’s 100th birthday celebration in April and our youngest son’s doctoral graduation in May. Many of you have had to change or postpone graduation parties, weddings, even memorial services. The isolation has been difficult and enduring, and yet I also think of those among us who have suffered under even more trying physical and financial circumstances during this period.

One of the meaningful outcomes of the last several months for Mark and me has been weekly Zoom meetings with our four adult children and two grandchildren. I am not sure we would have imagined these kinds of online check-ins had the pandemic not shut down in-person visits. Since we started in March, we have created virtual birthday parties by wearing silly hats and singing happy birthday while the birthday person blows out a candle on screen. Last week was no different as we celebrated our daughter-in-law’s 27th birthday with ice cream and waffles.

As we waited for everyone to join the call, I was having a conversation with three-year-old Violet. I asked her what has been going on in her imagination lately (She has a very vivid one). With a pause and very furrowed brow, she leaned toward the screen and responded, “Nana, my imagination is broken.”

Of course, that “out-of-the-mouths-of-babes” comment was hilarious and endearing to me. But I have found myself echoing that same type of complaint to God lately: “Lord, my imagination is broken. I can’t envision Your new normal for me or for us.” So I have spent time in Psalms of lament. It is the season we all find ourselves in, one way or another. Whether it is the devastating consequences of a worldwide pandemic or the ongoing consequences of centuries-old racial injustices, we are confronted with the present state of our souls in the Psalms of lament. There are 50 of them, and that could keep us busy for a while this summer. Now, before you decide you are done reading this because, well, you’re sick of hearing people complain, let me share something I’m learning. Laments have a progression that goes beyond complaining and includes these four elements: TURN, COMPLAIN, ASK, and TRUST.

For instance, Psalm 57 (in the Message):

TURN: Be good to me, God—and now! I’ve run to you for dear life. I’m hiding out under your wings until the hurricane blows over. I call out to High God, the God who holds me together. He sends orders from heaven and saves me, he humiliates those who kick me around. God delivers generous love, he makes good on his word. (vv. 1-3)

COMPLAIN: I find myself in a pride of lions who are wild for a taste of human flesh; their teeth are lances and arrows; their tongues are sharp daggers. (v. 4)

ASK: Soar high in the skies, O God! Cover the whole earth with your glory! They booby-trapped my path; I thought I was dead and done for. They dug a mantrap to catch me and fell in headlong themselves. (vv. 5-6)

TRUST: I’m ready, God, so ready, ready from head to toe, ready to sing, ready to raise a tune: Wake up, soul! Wake up, harp! wake up, lute! Wake up, you sleepyhead sun! I’m thanking you, God, out loud in the streets, singing your praises in town and country. The deeper your love, the higher it goes; every cloud is a flag to your faithfulness. Soar high in the skies, O God! Cover the whole earth with your glory!(vv. 7-11)

Prayer is sanctified imagination and the lament we just read is prayer. Every lament leads to hope and trust, but the pathway to get there can be very rough. God gifted David with a vivid imagination as he wrote many of the Psalms in such open, often raw and authentic ways. He also gifted imagination to Eugene Peterson without compromising truth when he translated the Bible into The Message in 1993. Our imaginations are a gift from God.

Lamentations is one long lament from the prophet Jeremiah, and Peterson inserted this commentary at the end of that book:

There’s an end to evil. One can’t hurry healing. In Lamentations, suffering isn’t an ominous disaster to be avoided but a difficult healing operation to be accepted. Disabling sins are dealt with so that God can restore wholeness to our lives. Sorrow and suffering aren’t everlasting. What are everlasting are God’s love and mercy, which come to us new every morning, freshly and faithfully.

I want my life to be restored to wholeness; I want our neighborhoods and communities to be restored to wholeness. How about you? Lament leads to trusting in God’s restoration.

I close by relaying what Violet said to me right after she lamented that her imagination was broken. “My imagination is broken”, she complained, but quickly, without hesitation, she exclaimed, “But my daddy fixed it!”

How is your imagination these days? Are there things God envisions to do in you, perhaps priorities and broken dreams that He wants to fix, in order to shape us to be His best version of ourselves? “It’s been broken, but our Daddy