Hope and Imagination

I’ve spent much of the past month wrestling with minor illnesses. While this has been irritating and not especially pleasant, it has had a couple of benefits. The first is that I have been very grateful not to have caught the Coronavirus. Anything that encourages gratitude is a blessing. The second is that I have been able to watch a few Netflix shows that I would probably not have found time for otherwise.

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A couple are worth mentioning. ‘The Queen’s Gambit’ tells the fictional story of an orphan girl who becomes World Chess Champion, all while wrestling with problems of abandonment and addiction. ‘The Crown’ tells a fictionalised story of the British royal family’s inner workings during the 1980s.

Both shows prompt reflection on how powerfully our lives can be influenced by the contents of our imaginations.

‘The Queen’s Gambit’ has inspired huge numbers of people, many of them young women, to take up chess. Chess websites and YouTube channels have seen a surge in interest, not because anything in the show actually happened, but rather because its inspirational tale of talent and friendship triumphing over disadvantage and exploitation brings hope.

Not so with ‘The Crown’, which this season takes a darker turn. It has inspired not hope but controversy, precisely because so much of what it depicts did not actually happen. Yet I find myself wondering if that is really what has upset people. Is it really because it departs from the facts that it has provoked opposition, or is more that it challenges our imaginations.

The truth of what it is like to be a member of the royal family, of what it was like to live through that period of history from within that family, is surely something that we can only imagine. The show itself underlines this. And it’s clear that many people want to defend their personal imaginings, their projections if you like, when they are challenged.

This seems to me to be very pertinent in the season of Advent. Advent invites us to reflect on our present experience in the light of something that we have not directly experienced, something that we can only access by way of our imaginations. Advent is about hope, specifically the hope for the coming of Christ into our midst – God with us, Emmanuel.

The way we imagine this exerts a powerful influence over how we live as Christians in the present moment. Disagreements about how to imagine it have caused controversy among Christians. People care enough about these things to want to defend ‘their version’. So this Advent I propose a test. Let us ask one another if our vision of God’s future is truly one of hope. Does it inspire us? Does it motivate us to deeper faith and greater service? Do we cling to it because we feel threatened by the alternatives, or trust in it because it is underwritten by the promises of Almighty God?

May God bless you all,