The Truer Land

flowers-139136937323p“The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.”
– G.K. Chesterton –

Fairy tales object to being outgrown.

I, at least, don’t seem able to do it.

Writers have long spoken this secret. C. S. Lewis avowed that a fairy tale not good enough to be read by an adult wasn’t good enough for anybody.

But sometimes you have to read for yourself, step into a glittering, strange, noble place and find out what it is really like from the inside.

Something about a brand new world for adventures–a whole creation, made up from the whirring cogs of a feracious mind–speaks to me.

New palettes for my imagination result, and suddenly nearly anything can happen, in a whirl of shimmering, phantasmal hues.

People can argue about the merits of so-called “fantasy.” Certainly, bad stories proliferate faster than the good stories. Wise people stand on both ends of the “fiction see-saw.” I don’t like to give up on stories, though. If stories–parables, they’re often called–were useful to Jesus, surely I am not presumptuous in taking them up. All I know is that the most fantastic things are often those that turn out to be True.

And the Truest things are often the most unbelievably, preposterously outlandish. And the most Wondrous things are the ones we most quickly forget.

What, a God who stoops to breathe air and trace earth and live in a flesh-tent as one of His created things?

Surely not, that bones long weather-cracked can stir with life?

What storytelling, that the Death of One could enact the Life of Many?

Many, Lord my God,
are the wonders you have done,
the things you planned for us.
None can compare with you;
were I to speak and tell of your deeds,
they would be too many to declare.

– Psalm 40: 5, NIV –

But we’ve told ourselves the history until it’s all drabness. We’ve talked ourselves out of the wonder.

Tales of another world come down to ours, melt into nothing more than a sanitized Sunday School lesson. We push and shove on the idea of God until we think we’ve contained Him to our comfortable, clean, neat little box. Never mind that we’re sitting on it and hopping a little to get it to latch–like a suitcase overfilled for summer break.

Nevertheless, Truth exists, in all its unconventional glory. But perhaps we humans don’t quite know where to draw the boundaries sometimes? Perhaps we erase lines where God has written them, and inscribe them where He has never said they should be?

What is His line, This God who is Truth in flesh?

He is Truth.

C. S. Lewis has a delightful way of turning about our way of saying things, revealing that our little self-constructed “lines” are only fog curtains to reduce the mystery. We like to solve mysteries–maybe it’s because we like to control them. But God, fully uncontrollable, is full of mystery. And He tells fairy tales that are true.

“Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened: and one must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths….Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’.”

So these books that open worlds?

They’re portals that take my concept of myth and turn it on edge.

For a little while, I give the author “the secret handshake”–agreeing to “suspend belief” for a moment so I can take in his new world for what it is. Fantasy. Make-believe.

And yet, at the end of the tale, I’m often met with unexpected truth–an old friend on a path I thought to be unexplored–, a thrumming Truth in this made-up world, pulsing with the life of what I’ve believed all along.

Not in the words. Not even in the faces of strange creatures or the curiosity of abnormal physics or familiarity of human nature.

In the echoes of certain stories, I feel that the deepest part of it is the Truest part. One element that supersedes fictional places or the boundaries of worlds. An other-worldly longing for Redemption.

“If we find ourselves with a desire that nothing in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that we were made for another world.”

And then, awakening in this Real world, with Real people, I see better.

After reading about things that I don’t expect to be true, I have fresh eyes to see the things that really are.

The point, after all, isn’t the contents of the finely-spun tale. It’s the lesson I learned in the reading–that, indeed, dragons can be killed.

Putting down a good story, I can see God’s Reality with fresh eyes.

Wise tales make the old seem new. They turn the oft-walked-by into a reason for joy. Good stories unmute the singing world so we too-deaf humans can hear the symphony at last.

Do you know how the clouds hang poised,
those wonders of him who has perfect knowledge? – Job 37:16, NIV

Have you wondered lately? About this Story of our Savior’s that’s being written all around and through and in us?

Let’s join the parade, the marching line of story-tellers that “tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, His power, and the wonders He has done” (Psalm 78:4).

Setting down our fairy tales, let’s go out and take off our shoes.

Let us love…for He has poured out Love first, to us, to make us His.

And sing…for we are surrounded by hosts of witnesses, crying out His praise in a thousand languages that we have largely trained ourselves to ignore.

And wonder…for this is the Greatest of Stories and He has brought us about for this season, for His praise.

Beyond the Climax, when Jesus sets all right and inaugurates the True “Happily Ever After,” we will finally see.

“But this is precisely what is written: God has prepared things for those who love him that no eye has seen, or ear has heard, or that haven’t crossed the mind of any human being.” – 1 Corinthians 2:9, CEB

I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder.
 – Gilbert K. Chesterton, emphasis mine –

See also: Psalm 40:5, Psalm 65:8, Daniel 4:2, Job 5:9, Psalm 17:7

Thank you to Public Domain Pictures and George Hodan for today’s photo.

When the Creator Wields a Pen

books in church

“Earth’s crammed with heaven,
And every common bush afire with God,
But only he who sees takes off his shoes…”

– From “Aurora Leigh,” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning –

Sometimes everything you’ve always known and heard comes together in a moment of crystallization. A few sentences in a classroom awakened me to something spectacular.  A teacher first told me about the Story, the story of how to really take off my shoes.

God has a Story, you see.

Creation, fall, redemption—what tale would end well without this pattern? I realized that God thought of it first.

It resonated deeply with me, that life isn’t just a haphazard collection of moments.  There’s an Author who already knows what His Story’s final chapter will say.

Creation–the “Once upon a time,” when all was fresh and spotlessly lovely.

Fall. The “But then” of the Story. Someone comes along and crashes the perfection.

The fall sweeps me into a hope-vacuum and everything becomes focused on me and my constant failures, my own desperation. The Story seems beyond repair. Ruined.

The world mirrors my personal failures, compounded, and spreading like a virus. What can solve this sin-death? (Romans 7)

Christian literary critic Gene Edward Veith, Jr., says,

“The most important part of the fairy tale is the invariable ending: ‘And they all lived happily ever after.’ Fairy tales…may begin in suffering, but they are resolved in the most intense happiness…Good fairy tales end with consolation” (Reading Between the Lines, 145-146).

This is why fairy tales resonate–because life is a Story and we hope so hard that things will work out. We want to believe in “happily ever after.” We long for the fairy tale to be real. But after a small dose of what’s out there, our happy endings start to look a little naïve.

And then Redemption stirs.

The Word took on flesh (John 1:1-5, 14). The Author became a character in His own book. Somehow, some startling way, a hope emerges in the mess.

My heart can’t quite wrap around the starkness–the blinding, universe-shaking moment that the dragging, imploding darkness flees with the explosion of glorious light. The Creator stepped into a Tale of His own creation, to rescue the characters that had so utterly failed to accomplish their own redemption that only the Author could make it all turn out right again. The Writer dies, so the written might live.

We get to be a part of this Greatest Story ever told. Our Creator Savior is writing the Ultimate Story with broken tools like you and me (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Taking off my shoes means seeing God’s Story in those He puts in my path.

To point out His hand at work in another’s life is powerful. Hope is always powerful.

Over and again, I’ve heard words like these: “I thought it was all for nothing. But then God did this with my pain….”

It’s always a better Story for the conflict.

It’s always a deeper satisfaction for the pain.

In His story, it’s always a more magnificent love in spite of the rejection, a more soul-thrilling joy after the night of sorrow, a greater light when the darkness turns and hides.

Each life, each story that reveals redemption, is a little piece of the puzzle that comes together in a Story too good to be fully imagined.

And I get to be a part of it. And you. And each one that we reach out and touch and say, “Come on this journey with me.”

“But only he who sees, takes off his shoes.”

Sometimes people stumble onto truth, unknowingly straying into holy places on the Pages of God’s Story. I don’t know if English author Michael Morpurgo has found or ever will find the Source of true hope and unquenched optimism, but his words effectively echo the Christian confidence:

“Wherever my story takes me, however dark and difficult the theme, there is always some hope and redemption….I know the sun will rise in the morning, that there is a light at the end of every tunnel.”

I know the Son will rise in the morning. That no night, no tunnel, no battle, is too dark for His light.

“God creates out of nothing. Wonderful you say. Yes, to be sure, but he does what is still more wonderful: he makes saints out of sinners.”
– Søren Kierkegaard