Rev. Danielle K Bartz December 17, 2023
Luke 1:46-55 “Holy Imagination”
In November I wrote a novel, a fictional novel that I ended up entitling “The Girl Who Ran with Unicorns.” I did it as part of National Novel Writing Month, an international movement to encourage people to write. The goal is to write every day of the month of November and by the end of the month have written a 50,000 word novel – which is about the length of a short, beach read. While I have done National Novel Writing Month before, and made the goal of 50,000 words, it had previously been a push for me to get there. I would get there, but some days I was just writing pointless dialogue or needlessly detailed descriptions in order to meet my daily word count. I remember writing one afternoon a couple of years ago, thinking as I did – ‘wow – this is so bad I don’t even want to read it myself.’
I didn’t experience that struggle to meet the word goal this year, however. In fact, I reached the word goal by mid-November and by the end of the month my finished novel was over 83,000 words. I was genuinely surprised by this. In fact, how much writing I did was only limited by how much time I had. The story just gushed out of me. In fact, I became so committed to the story and characters I created, I am working on the sequel, which is also pouring out of me.
Now, I am apparently incapable of doing anything without reflecting on the why and how of it. This is maybe charming, but mostly it is just annoying for the people in my life who are subjected to my random musings on my emotional and spiritual reasons for everything from why I wrote a novel and a half with a sense of ferocity, to why I purchased certain stamps for my Christmas cards this year. If it is any consolation to those who have been subjected to these musing, please know they exhaust me too.
So, anyway, I was wondering why the story I am writing was coming so quickly and easily, especially compared to previous years or other writing I do. Here is what I came up with: my story this year isn’t solely dealing with the world as it is, rather I have created a world within the story that I fervently hope for. A world where love and devotion for neighbors, friends, and especially the vulnerable are the center of all relationships. A world in which people gather to stand against injustice, not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it is how humanity lives into its promise infused in us during creation. A world in which kindness is the basis for all interactions.
This does not mean I wrote a utopia, a fantasy that has no basis in reality. In fact, there are forces of evil in the story – evil in the forms of greed, prejudice, hatred, and fear of loosing power. But the power of those who stand against the whirlwind of evil is far greater. They do this not by force but by a commitment to the truth that we, humanity, have far more capacity to do good. And that good, grace, and love when shared with wild abandon grows exponentially.
I wrote a world that I desperately long to live in, a world based on my faith in God’s creation and the promise taught through the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. There is not a drop of religion in my novels, but my faith takes up all the space between the lines on the page. The story has been so easy to write because it is what I have been imaging all my life.
That is why, I think, I have always been so drawn to Mary’s song – the Magnificat, that we read as today’s scripture. She paints a world that grows from her imagination, her holy imagination. A world in which the promises of humanity that were and are a part of our creation by God are fully realized.
This song is important, so I am going to read it again. As I do, listen to the world she creates:
And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for he has looked with favor on the lowly state of his servant. Surely from now on all generations will call me blessed, for the Mighty One has done great things for me, and holy is his name; indeed, his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things
and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his child Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, according to the promise he made to our ancestors, to Abraham and to his descendants forever.”
The world she describes is not the world she lives in, in particular not the world she experiences as a woman. Jesus was born into a world in which power over the other was a way to maintain both privilege and fortune. It was a world built upon the idea of scarcity. It was a world that pushed all those who didn’t conform to certain standards, usually through no fault of their own, to the margins. It was a world of empire. It was a world in which many of the religious institutions were far more concerned with maintaining their authority through enacting human-created rules instead of leaning upon the grace and wisdom given from God. The world in which Mary was singing, the world in which Jesus was born into, is very much like the world we live in today.
But did you hear how she allowed her knowledge of the world to be infused with holy imagination? “He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things and sent the rich away empty. He has come to the aid of his child Israel.” This is one of those times when word tense is incredibly important. In her song, Mary tells of how God has fulfilled God’s promise, and will continue to fulfill that promise through Emmanuel – God in flesh, Christ with us. The world she creates is both now and not yet. It is a world we are both waiting for, and already living in when we allow our holy imaginations to fill the space between the lines on the pages of human history.
This is what it means to be a people of faith. We live in a world groaning for God, and we know that God is already here. Our faith gives us both the courage to imagine something more and the power to make that something more real for all.
I didn’t realize it, but I was so inspired by my own holy imagination that I wrote and continue to write a story in which the world I know exists and the one I hope for are intertwined. But what is more important is that everything I wrote it based upon my own experiences. I wrote about a world in which I am already living in, I just gave it a stronger voice.
Now, I know perfectly well that writing novels is not for everyone. In fact, my mother told me that she couldn’t think of a less relaxing activity to do. But we all have outlets for our holy imaginations. What is yours? Perhaps like Mary you sing yours. Maybe you express it by showing hospitality, holding parties, welcoming strangers because it feeds your soul. Maybe you experience it in moments of total quiet or maybe in the midst of beautiful chaos. I don’t know what it looks like for you, but I do know that you each have within you a holy imagination longing to be experssed.
A friend, far wiser than me, once said to me years ago that hope is holy imagination enacted. Hope is when we don’t just imagine what can be, but we live that imagination every day. During this season of Advent, when we are waiting for a promise already fulfilled, and we are wondering how a weary world rejoices in that promise that is both now and not yet, let us all give voice to our holy imaginations. Because that is how hope is created. And hope is how a weary world rejoices. Amen.
God our hope, you infused each of us with the power to imagine the world you envisioned for us at the moment of our creation. For this great and powerful gift, we give you great thanks. And it is in that spirit of gratitude that we come before you now in prayer.
There are times we know, God, that the power of our imaginations can be countered by the power of the forces of evil in this world. Give us the strength to stand strong in the whirlwind, to join our voices together, to sing a new song of what you are already doing and what you will continue to do. Help us to give voice to our hope, built upon the imaginations we have inspired by you.
One of the ways God that we experience the possibilities of your creation is through times of prayer. In these moments of silence, we open our spirits to you, offering you all that we carry and listen with eagerness for your voice…
Great and loving God – your promise has been fulfilled and is being fulfilled over and over again in the ways you enflesh yourself amongst us. So, we pray in the name of Jesus Christ, Emmanuel, who taught us what it means to truly embody you. And we pray in the way he taught…Our Father…