We are strangely drawn by the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not heard, news from a country we have yet to visit. — C. S. Lewis
I have always loved great storytellers. Whether it is Lewis or Tolkien, Annie Dillard or Garrison Kiellor, storytellers have often been used in my life to challenge me, to impart some needed wisdom, or to remind me of the value of virtue. Even when it comes to the Bible it is the stories that often affect me the most profoundly. I don’t believe that I am alone in this, either. Many of us have learned far more about the forgiveness of God from stories of David and Bathsheba or Peter and his betrayal of Jesus than when we were just given a theological assertion.
I believe this is why Jesus used parables. There were no history lessons, no theological dissertations — He told stories that were so succinct that it would only take five minutes to tell, yet so profound that you could live off of them for a lifetime.
Think about the genius of telling stories. How do you express the eternal love of God to a crowd of people who differ in education, degree of spiritual hunger, and depth of maturity? You tell a story that will not only communicate to each person on his own level but, as his perceptions increase and deepen, so will the meaning and significance of the story.
Two of my favorite kinds of stories are Fantasies and Myths. C. S. Lewis wrote somewhere about how a myth takes things that are hidden by the veil of familiarity and restores to them their rich significance. An example of this would be an apple. When as children we first encounter an apple, we are in awe of its beauty and taste. A few apples later, however, and — ho hum — its just another apple. But when we read of a magical apple and “the veil of familiarity” is removed, once again, we encounter the “magic” of God’s creation.
Fantasies and Reality
I have never understood those people who make the sign of the cross when they even hear the word, “fantasy.” My experience in reading such stories has been an increased sense of honor to superiors, valor in battle, patience in afflictions, loyalty to friends, and perseverance in trials. Far from being an escape from “real life,” such stories actually remind me of Christian realities.
One particular way that Fantasies mirror reality is in the secret entrance into the other world. In George MacDonald’s Phantasies, Anados awakes one morning to discover that his bedroom is in the middle of an enchanted forest. You will remember that in C. S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy discovers the entrance to Narnia was in the back of a wardrobe. Just as Christ had said, the kingdom is at hand. It is right there in front of you — always has been. You simply need the eyes of faith to see it.
We live in a world alive with the presence of God. Right now there are angels and archangels all around us, there is a cloud of witnesses above us watching how we carry on the work of the King. Do we see such things? Are we ever in awe of Who made us, of where we are? Do we see and experience the life of God that pulsates all around us and through us? We need to wake up and discover that we are part of a story about a King and His kingdom.
Another parallel between Fantasies and reality is that we do not always know who is on God’s side and who is not. All is not as it appears, either in Fantasies or in Christ’s Kingdom. The beautiful Queen turns out to be a wicked witch. And the frog? Well, the frog is a prince, if you would just take the time to kiss him with the love of God.
Again, I am aware that some people ridicule and condemn Fairy Tales. Interestingly, such people are portrayed in these stories as those who bungle their way through the magical forest oblivious to the snickering of the hobbits, the singing of the elves, or the whispering of the streams. Such people in “real life” are those to whom the world is closed to the supernatural: those who have a neatly packaged theology that spurns mystery and barks at those who profess to experience the miracles of life.
While some Christians have ignored the call to discipleship and the cost of living a godly life, others have ignored the stupendous promises for this life and the one to come. Did Jesus promise us abundant life in the here and now or not? Did Jesus tell those who consistently abided in Him that they could ask for whatever they wanted or not?
The Secret Name
There is one particular promise that, to me, is so mysterious and so stupendous that at first reading it, it appears too good to be true:
To him who overcomes I will give some of the hidden manna to eat. And I will give him a white stone, and on the stone a new name written which no one knows except him who receives it. (Rev. 2:11)
I wonder if this verse has been written into the consciences of all people. There must be another world. There must be a way for me to become whole. There must be a time when Truth, Goodness, and Beauty shall reign. It is this verse that inspires so many to write of frogs turning into princes and beasts becoming lords. Think about it. You were a rogue, a rebellious maverick who fought against your Creator, rejected His Son and His love. Did He send archangels to destroy you with fire? Did He unleash His terrible wrath? No. Instead He said before the foundations of the world were laid that He knew you and loved you. Further, when He transformed His thought of you into flesh and blood, it was with a unique intention and design.
Each believer has a secret name reserved for him in heaven that will perfectly and comprehensively describe who he is in the eyes of his Creator and Savior. Has there even been a Fairy Tale more unfathomable, more stupendous?
One of the most common questions of all people is, “Who am I ? “ Tragically, how many people seek to answer this question by seeking to please others, comparing themselves to those whom God has given a different name? You have a unique contribution to make to the world around you. While some of you are running around trying to impress others by being who you are not, people are starving for the you Christ designed for you to become.
In Arthurian legend, there is a story of how Arthur was concerned that the men needed a greater quest to give their lives a sense of holy purpose and nobility. One evening while sitting around the Round Table, he declared that no one would eat until something magical occurred. This would be that evening when the Holy Grail appeared — the cup that Christ was to have drunk from the night of His passion. After it disappeared, one of the Knights suggests that the men go on a quest to find this Chalice. But he offers this insight to set parameters around the quest. He told the men that he thought it would be ignoble if they all rode off together, that each man must find his own way. Accordingly, each Knight found those parts of the forest where no one had walked before and there began his quest.
Yes, we are all in the same Kingdom, serve the same King and live under the same Bible. However, how this works out will be different for each person. Different cultures, different ethnic groups, differing personalities, different missions, and callings and giftings — this is the design of God. Anything that seeks to homogenize is not of God. While we will all avail ourselves to the same means of grace (Baptism, Eucharist, the Word taught and studied, fellowship and prayer), how such things craft and transform us will be unique to the individual God created each of us to become.
I realize I am treading on theological ice here, but consider the promise in Revelation 2 that you will be given hidden manna. I reverently suggest that there is a place in God where only you fit. It is the place where you are to go to meditate on Christ, to praise and worship the Triune God, and to receive the life — the manna, if you will — that He has for you. It is from this place that you bring back to the world around you this spiritual food for others. Find your own path. Learn from others, honor those wise men and women whom God sends to you from time to time to help you on your way, but do not take up someone else’s path.
Paul said that we are living epistles, we are living stories. You are the hero of the story but you are not sure what this means because you have amnesia. You can’t seem to remember who you are. A wise person has told you that there is a King on top of a mountain Who knows who you are. To complicate matters, the mountain bums with a unique flame. At the bottom of the mountain the blazing fire is excruciatingly painful. Yet, the higher up the mountain you climb, the fire begins to burn within you, giving you spiritual power heretofore unknown to you: a power that equips you to overcome your enemies. The story is full of constant surprises, intrigue, conflict, betrayals, battles won and lost, found treasures, and an ever increasing awareness of yourself and the world you find yourself within. If you remain true to God and keep to your path, the story ends with your meeting the King face to face. Not only do you discover that this King is your elder brother, but you are given a white stone on which is inscribed your name. And together you will live happily ever after.