The shape of daring imagination: coming out and coming home
We started to look this morning at what it is like to be scandalised, and the beginnings of moving beyond scandal. And I’d like to go back to the little boy, or little girl, and share with you what I have learned to pray for. It took me a long time to be able to pray for this, but I think it’s the prayer the little nine-year-old wanted to pray. It’s a prayer for four things: a home; a heart; a husband; and a ministry. I tried to think of an H word to fit the other three Hs, but ‘hinistry’ didn’t sound very good [laughter]. It would have been nice if we could talk about the four Hs, but we can’t. Home, heart, husband and ministry – obviously, change gender perspectives at will. And of course, if we live with our desire scandalised, these are four things that it’s very very difficult to imagine. They’re obviously good things – which of us does not want a home? Somewhere where we have a sense of belonging, where we’re recognised, where we are called by name, where we are received with joy – where we are received as we are, with joy, rather than being received on condition we pretend to be someone else. But home is a difficult thing to imagine when you’re scandalised: it’s a difficult thing to imagine that one’s desire for home, is good. So, imagining the arduous good: what might it be like recovering that little-boy longing, that little-girl longing for home, and making it real, or making it more real for ourself and for others? A heart: one of the things of the scandalised heart, is the sense of not belonging anywhere, and actually, not being sure that I can even rely on my feelings. Is this only me, or is this something we have in common? Having been regularly, and apparently religiously, taught to distrust my feelings on the ground that they were wrong – and of course that’s devastating. That means, you don’t really have a heart; or in as far as you do have a heart, it’s a heart which might be toxic to other people. ‘Be careful how you love them since you will only do them harm’. And how very very difficult it can be for us to receive a heart, the possibility that our love might be healthy, might not be frightened, might be able to imagine itself as building people up – this is a little-boy or a little-girl desire, and recovering it is central to the life of faith. A husband, or a wife: the little boy or the little girl longed for someone they could be with for ever. And how quickly voices of impossibility rushed in, to say, ‘No! Not possible! Never! You’re wrong even to want that’. And how difficult it is to recover the possibility that such a thing might be good, and possible, and blessed. Fighting off voices of impossibility, in terms of scandal – insisting, so as to be able to imagine the arduous good. Scandal closes down the possibility of imagining the arduous good. Ministry: as a little child, with a vocation, to exercise some ministry in the life of the church. Some ability to share the good news, to be part of something good, and positive, that shares the life of God: ‘yes, but only if you pretend to be someone you’re not’; yes, but so long as you don’t tell the truth’; ‘yes, but’, ‘yes, but’, ‘yes, but’ – the scandalised mind. The arduous good – imagining what it might be like to discover that we are exercising a ministry, starting from where we are; that such ministries are compatible with having a home, a heart, and a husband, whatever form that takes. And that it’s not wrong to want all these things – just like a greedy little child. How easily we are scandalised off from wanting all these things, like a greedy little child. Learning to imagine the arduous good…:
And he told them a parable, to the effect that they ought always to pray and not lose heart. He said, “In a certain city, there was a judge, who neither feared God, nor regarded man”.
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Books by James Alison