This past weekend, as part of our plans to insulate our attic bedroom, I was searching out the “art” part of the project and stumbled upon these lovely works from England. They’re part of a folklore, fairy tale genre that hints at a different world—they’re not the world itself, but just a hint of it, a marker pointing us in a direction beyond what we can touch, taste, and feel in this here and now. As Lewis says, they are “only the scent of flower we have not found, the hint of a tune we have not heard, the news from a country we have never visited.” Lewis proposes that our love of fairy tales reveals that we’re made for more than this life, more than buying and selling, living and dying, watching Glee and filling our our March Madness bracket. He proposes that the fairy tales themselves point towards another part of our world, invisible yet real.
As Dennis Haack writes, “Right up to the medieval age, the church believed that fantasy creatures, sorcerers, ghouls, goblins, and ghosts were as ancient as creation. Their inclusion reminded everyone that humans are more than mere mortals or machines.” Fairy tales hint at the grand meta-narrative that permeates the universe, the cosmic struggle between good and evil. This is why Christians like CS Lewis, JR Tolkien, and yes, even JK Rowling, tell fantastic tales, and it’s why nearly everyone’s a fan of at least of one of these authors.
During the Victorian age though, much to Lewis’ dismay, fairy tales were sanitized and moved from the parlor to the nursery. Twentieth century evangelicals have taken the whole thing a step further, often vilifying Harry Potter and Halloween, rather than leaning into to the truths contained therein: there are powers beyond this physical realm—real evil exists in the this world, and real good. Honor, sacrifice, and courage are things that matter, as does beauty and our longings to be caught up in a story larger than our sanitized lives.
Some of this stems from our desire to protect children from the realities of this cosmic struggle. I understand the desire to shelter, but hear this: Life is not safe. Following Christ is not safe. Confronting evil in the world, whether in our own hearts or in the power structures around us, is not safe. But neither is it boring. In our attempts to make our faith safe and sane, we’ve created a Precious Moments version of Christianity, with pastel figures splashed across the pages of our children’s bible, highlighting our sanitized view of the faith. There’s pastel Noah entering the ark with all the happy animals (but no drowning masses). There’s the pastel version of David strumming on his harp (but no picture of him cutting off Goliath’s head). There’s no pastel Tamar, disguising herself as a prostitute and sleeping with Judah either. (Did you know that in the original version of sleeping beauty, the princess was wakened, not by a kiss, but by giving birth to twins, conceived while she slept as the prince…well, you know how these things happen!)
We’ve sanitized it all, sort of pretending that there is no cosmic struggle, that there are no powers higher than our college degree and credit card. The result is often, as Dennis Haack says, a church that offers a “therapeutic God and advertises church as a ‘safe’ place.”
What’s needed is the recovery of our authentic sense of mysticism, our sense that the world is bigger than what we see and touch, that the invisible forces of evil in our world are real (because they are), and that we’re invited into God’s story, even more so than Edmund was invited in by Aslan. This is the kind of life I want to live—saturated with mystery and glory, right in the midst of bill paying, shopping, and yes, even insulating the attic.
What are your thoughts? Have we sanitized our gospel too much? How about our fairy tales? Why are Christians afraid of Harry Potter but not CS Lewis?