We have “wittingly” exposed our children to the lyrics and notes of the musical Hamilton. Admittedly, any song with strings of language I’d rather not have the pre-k teacher at school alerting me to my child’s singing in class, we skip over. But after I saw the musical, my hesitation to allow its permeation in my family flew out the window. We began blaring it while we washed dishes, stopping to add dramatization and dance steps any chance we got; memorizing lyrics as the same songs played over and over in the car. Then one day, from the backseat came a child’s voice, “Mom, what does unimaginable mean?”
There are moments that the words don’t reach.
There is suffering too terrible to name.
You hold your child as tight as you can and push away the unimaginable….
There’s a grace too powerful to name…
We push away what we can never understand…
It’s the song which follows the death of Alexander and Elizabeth Hamilton’s son Phillip; a song about suffering and forgiveness. The way that it is written beautifully captures the audience by not only telling the feeling of pain, but also by asking we the people watching, to have pity for they are working out the unimaginable. Each time I listen to the haunting emotions both in lyric and in note, many things run through my mind, not the least of which is how tight I hold forgiveness, and whether or not I would be able to forgive, were this situation mine.
Pain is not where I wish to dwell, but as a wife and a mom, I actually can imagine it. Can’t we all? We do not wish to think of suffering in our own lives, so we look at the family we know of in pain, and we say “unimaginable,” and we say the same when we hear the stories of immigrant families fleeing their home countries because of war and violence.
“Unimaginable,” I say when I tell my friend of Corrie Ten Boom’s account of being in German prison camps that I have recently read. I emphasize the word more when I convey the grace she and her family showed the guards and cruel fellow prisoners who accompanied them in those places. Maybe though, the truth is not that it is unimaginable, but rather that I don’t want to imagine it. Not the pain, and maybe not even the forgiveness.
I answer the child in the backseat with a few unimaginables like these which she knows about, and then I say, “Jesus, being born of the virgin Mary, in a barn, even though he was a king.” My son sits next to me and I think, “Mary, seeing her son stripped naked and hung on a cross, thorns pressed into the head she once held next to hers, pondering who He really was.”
“Jesus, dying on a cross, to take the punishment of all the sins we will ever commit, so that we might be given grace,” I say to anyone still listening. This truth I would be a fool not to imagine.
In her plays written for radio, compiled into a book called The Man Born to Be King, Dorothy Sayers imagines compassionate women at Jesus’ death, saying “Poor Man: He preached so beautifully, He spoke so sweetly. He healed the sick, He fed the hungry. He was always so kind to children…” She imagines the selfishness present in us all, when her characters even say, as they watch him struggle to walk under the weight of his own cross, body beaten and splayed with whips, “let us hear your voice again, comfort us, son of consolation!”
I don’t want to imagine it, but I am able to.
“Jesus, my lord, I am here, the friend who loves you. We refused the cup and the baptism, not knowing what we asked, and the places on your right hand and on your left have been given to these two thieves,” Sayers’ imagines John bar-Zebadee saying. I am stunned to imagine it, because I choose ease over service. I too choose what I know and push away forgiveness I don’t understand, and sometimes in doing so I miss what is true and good and beautiful.
Father, as I recognize this season of Lent, let me recognize the sin with which I daily walk, so that I might imagine and taste and see your grace so freely given me; that I might embracingly know it.