by Rev. M Barclay
In the season of Epiphany, we bear witness to unexpected manifestations of the Sacred. God appears in lands unfamiliar, in surprising flesh, among strange gatherings of people. God speaks through stars and in dreams. No words or texts or norms will do on their own. This is a time of imagining our way through periods and places of unknown.
For many of us, sacred imagination no longer comes easily. Somewhere between the ages of pre-teen and high school graduate, we un-learned the capacity to dream freely.
As kids, we don’t even have to try. We shape pies out of mud, create compelling storylines to bring our toys to life, freely try-on vocations of all sorts, regardless of skill-set, societal barriers, or really knowing what the job entails. Astronaut? Pet-doctor? Princess-Fairy-Zookeeper? The sky's the limit!
As we get older, we’re encouraged, for both good and terrible reasons, to prioritize the practical, the rational, the easily foreseeable and explainable. In some aspects of our lives this serves us well, but in the case of moral, relational, and theological possibilities, a lack of prioritizing our imaginations as a vital component of our shared life together has destructive consequences.
Without sources of nourishment for our adult imaginations, we are confined to the possibilities within the very systems of destruction many of us seek to overcome. It’s not that we stop imagining per se, it’s just that these systems dictate the direction of our dreaming for us.
Capitalism, white supremacy, toxic masculinity, the same theologies and theologians that have correlated God with patriarchy and colonization and queerphobia for centuries….without a counter-source of imagination, we dream only within the confines of what they deem possible:
Of each other.
Of what we might create.
Author Adrienne Maree Brown writes of our living in the midst of an “imagination battle:”
“Imagination has people thinking they can go from being poor to a millionaire as part of a shared American dream. Imagination turns Brown bombers into terrorists and white bombers into mentally ill victims. Imagination gives us borders, gives us superiority, gives us race as an indicator of capability. I often feel I am trapped inside someone else’s imagination, and I must engage my own imagination in order to break free.”
People are fighting for their lives in this “imagination battle.” It’s up to everyone, individually and collectively, to decide - not whether we will participate, that is not a choice - but with what we will equipp our imagination.
The same tools of destruction that got us here - or something else?
We cannot expect to imagine past that which turns us against each other if we are not listening to, reading, engaging, being in relationship with those whose lived experience births alternative wisdom. We depend on one another’s knowing to feed our abilities to dream. We cannot keep looking for God in only the same old places and expect to ever break out of our same old ways.
As this new year unfolds, may we seek out that which will nourish our abilities to dream in the directions of collective liberation, to imagine beyond “that’s just the way it is,” to practice creativity in our resistance to destruction, and to let God surprise us in whom and how They take on flesh.
“Love is an energy of possibility,” Brown says.
How might we nourish it - within and around us?
Rev. M Barclay is a United Methodist deacon serving as Director of enfleshed. M formerly served as Director of Communications at Reconciling Ministries Network, advocating for queer and trans justice in The UMC. They have also enjoyed working as a hospital chaplain, youth director, justice associate and faith coordinator for reproductive justice in Texas. As a queer and trans minister, M is passionate about writing, teaching, and preaching on finding the Sacred in the people, places, and ideas we might otherwise overlook.