“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 –