Hopeful Imagination

In 587 BC, the Babylonians assaulted Jerusalem and destroyed the Temple.

For the Israelites, it was the end of the known world. All that they knew was made as nothing; their props and their symbols, which held it all together, were gone.

The Temple was burned, the holy city destroyed, the Davidic dynasty terminated and the leading citizens deported. Public life in Judah came to an end.

It was amid this national trauma that poets like Jeremiah, Isaiah and Ezekiel wrote, holding in their words the shock of events and the disturbing sense of loss.

But to their exhausted despairing people – who saw nothing new, who hoped for nothing new and could speak of nothing new – they spoke of something new.

And maybe the hinge for this door of possibility is in Isaiah 43. 18: ‘Do not remember former things; behold, I am doing a new thing.’

To the endlessly negative and disturbed narratives around them, they bring, (in his lovely book of the same name) what Walter Brueggeman calls ‘hopeful imagination’.

It seems a good call for any in leadership positions today, whether at work or at home.

The world has known many 587’s since the Babylonian assault; and recently we have known a few more.

Covid has ripped through the texture of our world, destroying the fabric of our personal and communal lives.

We’ve witnessed tempestuous storms, floods and droughts, as creation is crippled by our relentless assault.

The cost of living crisis brings good people to their knees, with the vulnerable, vulnerable again.

The abuse of Ukraine continues, war crimes and genocide on our door step; geo-politics drawn wrenched and screaming into new alignments.

While in the UK, it is no time to be ill; no time to ask for a doctor, dentist or ambulance; no time to travel by train and no time to ask the ‘racist, misogynist and homophobic’ Metropolitan police for help.

As in 587 BC, hope is difficult. Yet again, it is the end of the known world. We are unsure what will be recovered; and, if it is, when it will be so and how it will be so.

Experts may state their case; but the bigger truth is that no one knows anything… and the uncertainty takes its toll. Times like this find us out.

People fall headlong into a binary world, black or white, us and them, ‘I’m right, you’re wrong.’ The binary world is the creation of the insecure in a dismal bid for certainty.

The crisis plays out differently in us all. For any with survival fears – financial or physical – loud alarm bells will be ringing within.

For those with a disposition towards it, the anxiety loop will be working overtime.

For those who ride it, the wheels are coming off the wagon of control, which is deeply disturbing.

For those seeking a parent figure; for those struggling with a sense of abandonment, huge rage might be dumped on perceived leaders who are failing us.

I recognise the particular fears in myself and the panic they generate. So, I parent myself, which we will all need to do in these times.

Anyone in a position of leadership will be feeling extreme turbulence. You are a lightning rod for a swirling and potent mixture of reaction around you; and when this echoes your own disturbance, you will be particularly vulnerable.

So we need to be careful of ourselves, mindful, as the waves of terror wash over us and around us.

We will be mindful because there are other narratives.

One of these narratives is the present, where daffodil and hyacinth still appear by the side of the road; and where human kindness, laughter, generosity and solidarity break out endlessly.

There is a present. There is my life and your life today. We are alive.

Another narrative is that there is a future; there is a new thing…though much letting go on the way, much relinquishment of old things clung to. It is a struggle to relinquish; but we relinquish to receive.

In days such as these, another 587 BC, spirituality is anything which keeps you close to these narratives of hope; anything which keeps you close to the fire.

Here, in the negative flood, beneath the cloud of unknowing, is the island of hopeful imagination, for truly, nothing is the end of the story.

Breathe deep…and camp there when possible.

Leave a Reply