It’s been a busy week and there hasn’t been much time for hitting the keys.
I even managed to miss the 30th anniversary of the killing of John Lennon. Not that I forgot, but just didn’t have time to say anything about it or reflect on the ongoing significance of Lennon’s life and music. I was going to ask Chris Evans about it when I stood in at the last minute to do Pause for Thought on his Radio 2 breakfast show yesterday morning (Friday) – he once expressed to me the irony of John Lennon writing ‘Imagine no possessions’ at a massively expensive piano in a massively expensive house on a massively expensive estate. But, he had Rick Astley (who neither gave us up nor let us down) and the very funny Peter Kay in the studio and there wasn’t time.
On the way to the BBC studios I wasn’t sure I’d be able to get through the streets around Oxford Circus because of the violence of the previous night’s riots and destruction over education cuts and increased university fees. But, the roads were clear and all evidence of trouble had been cleared away. Anyway, I got there, did the broadcast and then carried on in a cafe with a meeting about interfaith work in Kazakhstan. Weird, I know.
The script I did on Friday was about Advent: Putting the waiting back into wanting. I nicked the phrase from a major credit card advert from some years ago which promised to ‘take the waiting out of wanting’ (while failing to point out that the ensuing unnecessary debt might eventually be bad for you). Advent beckons us to slow down and not rush the story: don’t get to Christmas before you’ve worked through the story that makes sense of it. After all, you can’t get to summer without going through spring.
These are not actually random thoughts about the last week. Each event is connected by at least one idea: imagination.
- John Lennon, for all his absurdities, hypocrisies and contradictions (for which he is not exactly unique…) at least imagined a world that was different from the one he lived in. Yes, some of this was more fantasy than hope, but his restlessness with how things actually are compelled him to imagine a different world.
- It looks like the genuine anger and frustration of students is being hijacked by the usual ‘let’s-spark-a-riot’ suspects. But, it also seems that underneath all this protesting lies a genuine frustration with the way things are and the apparent impotence of ordinary people to do anything about it. Put bluntly, I wonder if the (unarticulated?) root of this anger is that the generation that created – and benefitted from – the disastrous greed culture of the last couple of decades is now compelling the succeeding generations to pay the price for this massive miscalculation. A case of ‘the sins of the fathers (and grandfathers) being visited on succeeding generations of the innocent? Dissatisfaction with the way things are provokes a casting around for what might be.
This longing for a different future seems to be fundamental to human existence. It’s almost as if we are made that way. Augustine recognised it when he said that ‘Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in [God]’. Maybe it is the same impulse that makes us pursue the scientific, philosophical or anthropological project – the restless search for understanding why the world is the way it is and why it came to be this way.
And this is where Advent comes in. Christmas is meaningless if it is just the pointless (if touching) story of a baby being born out of wedlock. Advent offers four weeks in which we can rehearse the story – of people’s experience of God, the world and each other – which then make the Christmas events comprehensible and explicable. Four weeks in which we get to put the waiting (for God coming among us as one of us) back into wanting (the light we keep hoping, working and longing for).
We anticipate Christmas. But we won’t rush it. Because we need the time and space to allow our imagination to be re-shaped – beginning to see the way the world could be, the person I could become.
Imagination isn’t fantasy. Imagination is what some of us think God applied when he said, “Let it be” and smiled with pleasure at what emerged.