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The Spirit of Imagination

There’s a great scene in “The Miracle on 34th Street”—the old classic, from 1947—in which Kris suggests that a healthy way to break through seemingly impossible differences is to visit that nation that so many people to seem to never visit, “the imagination.” In our nation in which political discourse and attempts at problem solving have become so feeble, ineffective, and ugly,
the point could not be more pertinent. Yesterday, on the Christian calendar, was Pentecost Sunday. The Pentecost story is all about the imagination. It has so much to say to us, and our world, today.

Hear the story again as if for the first time. If it really is your first time, all the better:

And suddenly from heaven there came a sound like the rush of a violent wind, and it filled the
entire house where [the first followers of Jesus] were sitting. Divided tongues, as of fire,
appeared among them, and a tongue rested on each of them. All of them were filled with the
Holy Spirit and began to speak in other languages….

[The people in the crowd were] from every nation under heaven…were amazed and
perplexed, saying to one another, "What does this mean?" But others sneered and said, "They
are filled with new wine." But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed
them,

"Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I
say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o'clock in the morning.
No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel: 'In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams….”

Notice how Peter counters those charges against his sisters and brothers: “These are not drunk, as you suppose”—they’re not high, crazy, out of their minds, no! And then Peter continues not by presenting evidence of a sobriety test, or by exhibiting diplomas or credentials, or by arguing via charts and graphs and statistical evidence that what they say is actually, quantifiably, objectively true. No.

Here is what Peter says, quoting the prophet Joel who was quoting God: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

St. Peter knew what the biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann, in our time, knows. Brueggemann writes:

The prophet engages in future fantasy. The prophet does not ask if the vision can be
implemented… The imagination must come before the implementation. Our culture is
competent to implement almost anything and to imagine almost nothing… It is the vocation
of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination, to keep conjuring and proposing
alternative futures.

What the Pentecost story teaches us is 1) As simple and troubling as “our culture is competent to implement almost anything…and to imagine almost nothing”; and 2) As simple and empowering as “It is the vocation of the prophet to keep alive the ministry of imagination to keep conjuring and proposing alternative futures.” And what the Pentecost story invites is for each and every one of us to be prophets.

So, dream on. And act on your dreams. Our nation needs your imagination, and your care and efforts. God bless you as you work to make our world a better place!