Rhythms of a Sacramental Imagination


When I was a young girl, I took piano lessons. My least favorite part about class was when my instructor, Ms. Escobedo, took out the metronome. I despised not being able to play the song as fast, or as slow as I wanted. To me, as an eight-year-old, I was a better pianist if I could play a piece of music equally as well at a rapid tempo as I could a slow one. However, Ms. Escobedo and the metronome thought otherwise.

Through years of practice, I began to appreciate the guidance of both. In fact, I became so enthralled with rhythm that I began trying to hear it everywhere. I would close my eyes in my backyard and listen for a rhythmic melody being played by wind rustling grass, planes flying overhead and even in the noise of cicadas. Or I would close my eyes in a bustling airport and try to find rhythm through the "noise" hundreds of people were making trying to get to their gates. I thought, surely God was orchestrating something great with all of these sounds! Ever since, finding a sort of "spiritual rhythm" became a metaphor for me to find hope and meaning throughout life. In life's most chaotic moments, I would try and convince myself that somehow it was part of God crafting a masterpiece of a song. And the Spirit is acting as the world's metronome.

This metaphor better defined and more broadly articulated is what people call "sacramental imagination." As Karlie Allaway describes it in "The Pioneer Gift": "[Sacramental imagination] sees the whole world as a potential means for grace, a means for knowing and loving God more fully and growing into who God has made us to be." So putting sacramental imagination into practice means looking for God in the unexpected things and moments. St. Augustine described a sacrament as "an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible grace." So, for example, a vacant lot is no longer an eyesore; it is a resource to do God's work. A coffee shop is no longer merely your favorite place to buy a cup of joe; it can be a beacon of hope to a community. A Monday is no longer a dreaded day of the week; it is another opportunity to expand the kingdom. "A sacramental worldview does something profound to your imagination. When you can see how beautiful everything is meant to be, or rather actually is, this makes you look differently" (Allaway, "The Pioneer Gift").

Like looking through a kaleidoscope, having a sacramental imagination enables us to see new shapes and colors of the Kingdom in the everyday, mundane things in life. It gives a different perspective to established things, new use for old things and new purpose to painful things. Sacramental imagination also gives a righteous weightiness to every part of the day. With this imaginative perspective, Kingdom-involvement penetrates everything and everyone; therefore, every decision, big or small, is an opportunity to display God's glory. Walter Brueggeman talks briefly about sacramental imagination in his book "Conversations among Exiles:" "Before us is the choice between succumbing to a fearful self-preoccupation that shrivels the spirit or heeding God's call to re-enter the pain of the world and the possibility of renewal and salvation." Using our sacramental imagination is a daily, moment-to-moment choice of living and breathing deeper into the eternal reality of the Gospel.

God has written and conducts a beautiful piece of music. The Son made our participation possible, and we are invited to harmoniously play our part. Through the metronome of the Spirit, this piece of music steadily and consistently goes on, and on, and on, into eternity. Take time and close your eyes today and listen to the Spirit's underlying beat. Expand your sacramental imagination by listening for rhythm even in the most discordant or atonal places in life. He is there. And it is all part of the same sheet of music.

Elizabeth Biedrzycki is serving in a newly created position as the South Texas Regional Coordinator. Through this position, she is networking with our institutions in the area and helping explore new avenues of ministry and impact for Texas Baptists. To learn more about her work, contact her at .

Related articles: Lessons from a London learning lab / Living life to the fullest in Wales: Part 2 / Living life to the fullest in Wales: Part 1