In 1978, I remember clearly a medical student coming to talk with me and saying that smallpox had been eradicated. A 3,000-year-old disease had come to an end after ravaging humans in some part of the world for nearly all that time. All of my generation has little rosettes on our arms where we were vaccinated but my future children would not need to have them now.
“Wow,” I thought. “If we can eradicate a disease like that what else could we eradicate?”
I wondered at the imagination of someone at the World Health Organization who imagined a time when smallpox would be no more and began working towards that goal.
It reminded me of William Wilberforce who imagined that slavery could be ended in England and the colonies. At first he was virtually alone in that imaginative belief. It was almost impossible for most people to imagine something so established coming to an end. But in Wilbeforce’s lifetime it actually happened, in England.
Our imaginations about the past are vivid and clear very often. I can vividly recall, in my imagination, all my visits to the dentist with painful clarity.
But our imagination of the future is not nearly so clear. Perhaps that is why I am so attracted to visionaries. They seem to imagine a future I can only dream of. When they spell it out to me I get excited and begin to join in their imagined future.
On my fridge at home is a magnet with the words “Make poverty history.” Imagine a world where we end poverty as we did smallpox and slavery, wouldn’t that be something?
One of the gifts I am so grateful for is a vivid imagination. All my spiritual life God has helped me imagine people freed from beliefs and practices that dominate their lives in painful and sometimes destructive ways to lives of fulfillment and even joy.
My imagination sometimes makes me feel stuck and unable to move forward. Then I am so grateful for those people who help me get my imagination back on track.
How is your imagination limiting or freeing you at this time?