I’ve been reading C. S. Lewis’s Space Trilogy and found myself fascinated, once again, by the intersection of ordinary human life, artistic imagination, and the Eternal Image of God imprinted on each human soul.
I am well aware that I just sent up red flags for a number of non-faith readers who have a strong inclination to react against anything smacking of religious doctrine, mystical mysteries, or the shenanigans of fantastical faith. I deeply sympathize. But as writers like Tolkien, Lewis, and Chesterton, and poets like Emerson, Longfellow, Hopkins, Donne, and a host of other gifted souls have shown, the human race—though divided by space and time—share an imaginative core that transcends not only our own limitations but reaches into a mysterious reality that none of us can properly define.
In the unpredictable way of unfolding events, I found myself dealing with a host of tough issues this winter. How to sustain others when the remedies to life’s painful realities remain ever elusive? As my children who chose “helping” professions have discovered, it can be near impossible, in a given situation, to make a wrong world right.
But that is not what is asked of us. In great stories, we do not flip the page to discover the elixir of life, a prescription for happiness, or the formula for perfection. Everything does not go smoothly. We don’t want it to! We want to know how Frodo will manage his mission even when it is beyond his strength. We enjoy hanging out with Sam, Merry, and Pippen because, despite all dangers, we trust their simple, kindly spirits to endure faithfully. We go adventuring with the kids into Narnia, hoping against hope that, after grief faced, they’ll return home again better for their experiences. We take trips to other planets and meet other beings to learn how life might be experienced at any time and in any place. We ride other people’s imaginations because they enlarge our own. The universe gets bigger, we see with fresh vision, and our hearts beat to a new rhythm.
February is a short month, but it can feel interminably long. Dreary runs the muddy brook, choaked by winter’s broken stems. Ash-colored fields crackle underfoot as naked trees moan overhead in the throes of relentless winds. Drooping spirits are tired of work yet unable to rest in a world where children are shot in random acts of violence, wars steal homes and lives, and arguments break out over anything and everything. Few converse. Most curse. And disconnected humans despair of any hope of meaning. We can’t live like that. Not really. Hope is an essential ingredient in life. As Hopkins says at the end of his poem on Justice, “O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.”
There is no crime in grief, fear, or even anger. But the isolation of hatred kills us all. Thus, the value of imaginations unleashed and shared. In “Once upon a time…” “It is a truth universally acknowledged…” “It was the best of times…” “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen…” “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit…” we discover not only other souls; we find our own.
Though no story is perfect and few lives run true, an Image above and beyond the mere human self rises in our imagination and leads us on.