Imagination is the voice of daring. If there is anything Godlike about God it is that. He dared to imagine everything. ~ Henry Miller
Imagine a world where you grew up knowing you were one of the beloved. I mean really knew it. Oh, you grew up that way? Wonderful. I’m happy for you. No, really, I am. But if that’s the case, please imagine along with me and some others in the world (many, many others, actually) that you hadn’t grown up knowing that — sometimes, perhaps, despite the best efforts of others around you. Our minds are interesting places. Outward impressions don’t always reflect inward perspectives. We may appear to understand being loved while never quite believing it for ourselves.
Imagine that it took many years, much pain, great resistance even to the idea itself before you could consider the possibility for yourself. I’m not talking about imagination as in the not-really-real. I’m talking about being able to conceive of the truly real even when there’s no tangible proof in front of you. Can’t quite picture it? I’ve been told I have imagination to spare. Allow me, then, to imagine a bit of it for you, okay?
Beloved of who, you ask? Or you may still prefer beloved of whom? Of what? Why, beloved of God, naturally. Don’t believe in God? That’s okay. It’s not really required for this exercise. Know that I believe and do me the small favor of listening to how I now imagine God in an ofttimes cruel and insensitive world. You see, I can’t personally imagine anything more lonely than an inability to believe in anything greater than yourself. I’m not saying you have to call this power God, just that you may find yourself wanting to do so at some point. And I think you shouldn’t feel you can’t call that power God just because there are others who disagree with you about who God is. I spent many years deliberately trying to keep myself in that place. I’d rather never return there.
Sometimes, when there are dark things happening in your life – things you don’t understand and may never fully understand – you find yourself living in a world of imagination. As a very small child, I imagined myself in lots of places besides where I was. I imagined myself as lots of different people – people, in fact, who were not me. Anyone but me. And I remember those things from as far back as my mind will allow me to remember – as far back as I’m willing to allow my mind to take me. Imagining can be a gift when it’s too confusing, too painful to be where you are. But imagination can ultimately also allow you to see clearly things that are otherwise shielded from your view.
Let’s imagine some incredible, far-fetched, seemingly impossible things together, shall we? Some things that would be true now if we all believed in a truly loving God. I’d suggest you close your eyes as we travel into this impossible world except that, well, then you wouldn’t be able to read along and that just won’t work unless there’s someone handy to read this out loud to you. So, let’s just pretend we’re able to close our eyes and get started. A couple of deep breaths might be in order. Impossibility can be exhilarating. It can also be uncomfortable and downright infuriating. That said, let’s begin, shall we?
Imagine a world where every child was born into a world that cherished that child. Imagine we all worked together to insure the child was wanted and cared for despite the circumstances of birth, even if the parents seemed not to want the child. Imagine we desperately wanted to welcome all children into a village where they were protected and allowed to grow without fear of molestation of any kind instead of blaming them, along with their parents, for being born. Remember, now, I said we were venturing into the realm of the far-fetched. Take another deep breath — it gets worse.
Imagine a world where there were no religions in which some told you God loves you in one breath and that God will send you to hell in the very next breath. What is it, I wonder, some don’t understand about the word beloved? They must surely not believe they are themselves beloved. Punishment is about power and control, not love. Beloved is not conditional.
Imagine a world where people understand that their concept of God is not God. It’s, well, their concept of God. Imagine how small we make God when we think we can imagine even the tiniest part of God. Imagine what it would be like to imagine the biggest God you can find it in your power to imagine, then accept that you have failed even to begin to imagine God. Imagine being grateful for knowing that.
Imagine a world where people recognized that saying you should hate the sin but love the sinner proves they have already failed at being loving and that they need to take a closer look at themselves and their desire for judgment.
Imagine a world where people weren’t blamed for being poor, weren’t suspected of wanting to live their lives on a handout. Imagine a world that, instead, granted each individual the respect that comes from knowing they want better for themselves and for their families. And, even if there are some out there who work hard at not working, that we all have some responsibility in that, given we pride ourselves in pulling ourselves up by our own bootstraps, never willing to admit that no one does any of this alone — suspecting, however, that others should. Imagine knowing deep in your soul that you are no better than anyone else, then realizing you are indebted to many and always will be.
Imagine the end of the concept of charity and the return of the concept of the helping hand. Imagine an end to the false pride that pushes away a helping hand because we finally know we won’t be judged for needing help — knowing we all need help at one time or another and more often than we’re willing to admit.
Imagine a world where it would never have been necessary for Ghandi to have said, “I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. They are so unlike your Christ.” Imagine yourself helping change the world — whether Christian or not — so no one feels the need to say it again.
Imagine a world where each of us realizes we are damaged, fragile beings and are beloved nonetheless. Imagine that you found it absolutely impossible to believe you are beloved and, at the same time, that others are not – even those with whom you disagree. Imagine realizing it’s not necessary to get good before being beloved, that being beloved is all the encouragement we need to begin the process of getting good — then acting like it.
But imagine, also, a world where you walked away from your beliefs — your imagining — because you became convinced that others had told you and continued to tell you that you were not one of the beloved – would never actually be. Imagine a place where people wouldn’t say, “We never meant for it to sound that way,” while continuing to do the things (or failing to try to stop the things) that insured the idea would continue to be spread. Imagine yourself wandering for forty years through anger and pain. Imagine, though, that after all those years you found people who told you the others were wrong. Imagine you slowly began to believe these people were right. Imagine you realized they saw a God it appeared so many others had long ago discarded as, well, too namby-pamby. I mean, what’s up with that “thou shalt not kill” nonsense? Imagine a world where people didn’t feel the need to insert their own fine print in order to justify their petty wants or needs.
Imagine a world where people were not harmed or ridiculed for believing in their concept of God, a world that realized we’re all talking about the same God. Imagine, even, that no one was harmed or ridiculed because they chose not to believe in God. Imagine that in each concept there are places where our encounters with God point to something far greater than we’ve understood over the millennia. Where we realize our mistaken translations of many of those encounters over the years while we’ve convinced ourselves that we are the chosen. Imagine a world where being right was unimportant, where being good was, instead, our guiding light. Imagine being gracious because we actually believe in a gracious God.
Imagine a world where we took care of each other – where we fed each other. A world where we realized there’s enough to go around simply because there really is enough. A world that wasn’t so self-centered we’re content to let others starve to death rather than share. Imagine a world where we wouldn’t have to be ashamed of our own selfish behavior, or desperately pretend we’re not, because the selfishness simply wouldn’t exist.
Imagine a world where exclusionary concepts are rejected as never in the nature of God, but always from the nature of man. Imagine flying out into the universe, then looking back down at humankind. How small we are, floating in a vast universe clinging precariously to a blue-green ball. Then imagine looking around from your vantage point above the earth. How big God would appear in a universe in which we’re still unable to find an end, even after years of searching.
Imagine a world where it is unnecessary to try to be bigger than God. Imagine how much better we’d treat each other when there was no longer a need for a cosmic pissing contest among those claiming to know the mind of God. Imagine if your Dad really wasn’t bigger than my Dad — just part of the bigger body of humanity.
Imagine a world where the definition of profanity encompassed anything that included hurting one another. A place where words weren’t considered nearly as filthy as actions of violence against our neighbors, even against ourselves. Imagine a world where violence wasn’t glorified.
From Mitch Albom’s Have a Little Faith1,
- “But so many people wage wars in God’s name.
- ‘Mitch,’ the Reb said, ‘God does not want such killing to go on.’
- Then why hasn’t it stopped?
- He lifted his eyebrows.
- ‘Because man does.’ ”
Imagine a world where this wasn’t true.
Imagine, too, a world where God wasn’t blamed for the worst man can offer by people claiming to be God’s voice here on earth. All the while, these same people continue claiming to have God on their side, excusing any and every atrocity imaginable. Imagine refusing to believe these people know anything of the God of mercy, turning your back on their message of hate – presented, they say, in the name of love. Imagine yourself beloved in the face of overwhelming messages to the contrary.
Imagine that the greatest gifts you can receive come from giving rather than by receiving. That in the giving, you receive more than you need.
Imagine a world where we all knew the difference between needs and wants. Imagine that we could pass that on to our children instead of the belief that our individual rights trump everything else. Imagine a world where we respected our neighbors enough they didn’t feel the need to arm themselves against us. A world where their difference didn’t make them wrong – merely different. Imagine a world where we embraced rather than feared the differences.
Imagine a world where God is God and we understand we are not.
Imagine yourself beloved.
1 Have a Little Faith: A True Story, © 2009, Mitch Albom, Hyperion Books