To Go Through the Unimaginable
Another sentence Jesus never said: “He who hesitates is lost.” I failed to see “Hamilton” when it was a new and unknown play at New York’s Public Theater, and it was my fault: Terry Teachout in the Wall Street Journal had said it was fantastic and deserved to move to Broadway. While I hesitated, it did move to Broadway where it became a major cultural phenomenon (with famously scarce tickets).
Being almost last to the party is my usual m.o. But I have seen it now: and I like it.
“Hamilton” is encouraging in many ways: the use of African American (and other black) actors, the celebration of principle over expediency, the delightful word-play that is rap at its best. And way up there in the encouraging department is a breath-taking scene of reconciliation towards the end.
Hamilton (the character) had an affair with a married woman, whose husband extorted money from him over time. These payments were discovered, and they seemed to implicate Hamilton in the wicked financial speculation of the husband. To the contrary, Hamilton says: he committed adultery and made the payments to keep it secret—all unwisely. Everything comes into the open, leading of course to great pain to Hamilton’s wife.
After this their son dies in a duel.
Life can be hard in so many ways. Their reconciliation is tentatively told with small movements commented upon by the chorus as they occur. The song is called “It’s Quiet Uptown”—where Hamilton owned his house. His sin, the harm of it, is called “the unimaginable”: Lin-Manuel Miranda’s lyrics keep playing on that word. First they “push away the unimaginable” but then, uptown, they “learn to live with the unimaginable.” They are in their separate worlds. Hamilton: “I never liked the quiet before/ I take the children to church on Sunday . . . And I pray/ That never used to happen before.”
The chorus asks us to have pity on him if we see him on the street, walking by himself. They say: “He is working through the unimaginable.” His hair greys; he walks and walks. The chorus asks us: “Can you imagine?”
Then he is beside his wife, Eliza. The chorus now says, “He is trying to do the unimaginable.”
What is unimaginable? First, his sin; also, their son’s death; then it’s unimaginable to go on living; and then—there’s something beyond. Those early “unimaginable” things are things we know about; they are, we might say, unimaginable because we can see how hard it would be to go through them. But this—this is something new, unimaginable in a new sense.
The chorus asks us to see them walking in the park. They ask Eliza to look at her husband. The chorus tells us: “They are trying to do the unimaginable.”
First, he was trying; now, they are. “There is a grace too powerful to name/ We push away what we can never understand/ We push away the unimaginable.” But here, this time, they don’t push away. We see Eliza take Alexander’s hand.
It’s a quiet gesture. They tell us, “It’s quiet uptown.” And the chorus, at last, names for us what is really unimaginable, this grace too powerful to name. “Forgiveness.” They ask: “Can you imagine?” They repeat, in case we missed it: “Forgiveness. Can you imagine? If you see him in the street, walking by her side, talking by her side, have pity. They are going through the unimaginable.”
I saw this in London with a theological friend. He named the unimaginable: It’s a new creation. The new creation.
Every time we pray, “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive,” we ask for God’s new creation to come to be in our lives, that new creation which Jesus inaugurated on the cross. We ask God for the unimaginable.
Out & About. This Sunday, Sept. 15, I am to preach at the Church of the Incarnation at the traditional services: 7:30, 9, and 11:15 a.m. The subject is those famous words that Jesus never said: “God helps those who help themselves.”
Also on Sept. 15, from 6 to 7:30 p.m. at Incarnation, the “Good Books & Good Talk” seminar will meet to discuss Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita. If you read the book, you’re welcome to the conversation.
The Nashotah course, Ethics and Moral Theology, starts in Dallas Monday, Sept. 16, meeting from 6:30 to 9 p.m. at Incarnation. The reading for the first class is chapters 1-4 of the late Daniel Westberg’s textbook on Anglican moral theology, Renewing Moral Theology.
Wednesday, Sept. 18, I will speak on the creeds at the Brown Bag Bible Study at St. Philip’s Church in Frisco, Tex. The one-hour program begins at noon. More info here.
Sunday, Sept. 22, I am to preach at Church of the Redeemer in Irving, Tex.