Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An Invitation to Imagine

Now to Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.                                                                                              
Ephesians 3:20-21

“Tell us a story.”  “Yes please!  A story!”  The demand was insistent, halting our evening walk. The seven of us college students gathered in a circle, skirting rocks and bushes, as the requests came furiously.

Imagine...these colors?
 “It can’t have any love in it.”

“Or death.  There is no death.”

“It should be set in the Old West.”

“And horses, it must have horses.”

“Yes, and there should be a ghost.  The ghost of Dodge City.”

They waited expectantly, looking at me, their assigned narrator. I took a deep breath; without further preparation, a tale began to unfold, weaving itself full of magical maps, caves hidden in the middle of gopher towns, and a well-traveled ghost with a British accent. When others heard of it, they shook their heads in disbelief.  "You have such an imagination."

Imagination: a quality stereotypically confined to wild-haired authors or a precocious child who explains lakes as giant footprints. It is a feral and fearful tool, beyond our neat controls of human-ordered reason, able to prod the consistent, stolid fabric of reality, peaking under its layers and glimpsing something of the other.

And yet we only know God through our imagination. We require metaphors to describe Him as Rock, Shield, Father, Bread of Life, Living Water, Shepherd, King. Jesus Christ, the Word, was metaphor incarnate as He became flesh and dwelt among us. And then He used imagination to tell us of precious pearls found in the mud of a farmer's field or a sheep wandering away from its ninety-nine companions—stories that are rapiers of truth, sliding easily between our limitations to poke us in the sensitive places and spur us on to action and reflection.

But His reality is even greater than all of that. For ours is a God who loves us in a way that surpasses knowledge, takes our sin as far as the east is from the west, knows each star by name, knits us together before we are born.  He is indeed beyond imagination.

This task of Bible translation, too, is beyond our human imagination. Millions of people remain without Scripture—how can it ever be accomplished? On a much smaller scale, how can I even imagine to get on a plane and depart for Papua New Guinea?  And yet, this imagination is but a child’s finger-painting next to Michelangelo’s ceiling. God, through His mouthpiece of Paul, throws down the gauntlet.  Here is who I am; ask, imagine—I am greater!

Greater, for He takes this imagination and makes it an inconceivable reality. A boy’s lunch, packed by his mother's loving hands, would never feed thousands of people anywhere except in someone’s fantasies. But it did. The giraffe’s angular neck stretched to graze the top of trees ought to be relegated to a sketchbook. But it isn’t. And these people I meet, brushing against me in the hallway, have personalities so complex and vivid that they shouldn’t be here.

But they are. And our God knows each of them intimately.

And so, I write this blog and invite you to imagine with me. To meet God and see Him work in ways far greater than you could have ever conceived. Through this blog, I also invite you to go beyond imagination and glimpse for an instant the realities of my life as a linguist with Wycliffe Bible Translators, as well as the reality of this island, that for many exists only on maps or in National Geographic, rather than as people who live and breathe and contemplate supper and have a favorite color.

I assure you, it’s a journey far greater than even you can imagine.