On Saturday, I was in a small village on a sunny, windy day. The first time I died, the baker gave me life-giving nightwalker bread. I lived long enough to be knocked out and captured by a nightwalker. I came back to consciousness in the nightwalkers’ hideout, staring at a glowing blue orb full of small black, floating spheres. I didn’t last long. A nightwalker struck me down again, but, mercifully, gave me back my soul, one of the small black, floating spheres.
On Sunday, I thought I was just out for another lonely walk on the planet where my ship had crashed. But I was soon captured by a crew of three who needed a mechanic to fix their space ship. I lied about not having my tools any longer, but they insisted on taking me back to their incapacitated space ship to see if I could get it working.
It was an exciting weekend of adventure in the minds of my three kids, and they pulled me in to their imaginative adventure with nightwalkers (which have very long arms, black skin and spots that glow like stars) and as space explorers. They fell easily into the zone of imagination and creating worlds with each other. Each had a part. Each changed the story. Each added to the others’ fantasy. Nobody fought. At least, nobody fought until the end, when someone accidentally got hit on the arm with a stick, and the fantasy fell apart and instead of fighting the enemy and the elements, they turned on each other. Very Lord of the Flies in the end.
I’m still not sure why I gave in to the Elf on the Shelf this year. But I did. And Luke Jingles Frost tortured my kids for 24 days with creepy stares, sweet and mischievous deeds, and the mysterious ability to look like a doll during the day but move during the night like he was alive. The first morning Luke moved, my youngest son ran in to my room crying with terror. Luke didn’t help my daughter’s already fully developed fear of dolls and continues to feed my youngest son’s fear of stuffed animals. My oldest son was skeptical but intrigued. Now two months later, neither my daughter nor youngest son wants to be left alone in any room in our house. Our house is a total of 990 square feet. It’s difficult to really be alone.
I remember in middle school playing out a book with my best friend, Jen. We spent hours in a dry, golden California field playing the parts of characters in Susan Cooper’s “Dark is Rising” series. I clearly remember the reality of those plays and games in our minds, the world we built together, the stories we created.
All of this reminds me of the tension as a child of figuring out what is real and what is fiction, of the tantalizing ability to imagine and create worlds, of the terror of the possibility of the unreal being real, and of our capacity to create fiction in our world. I didn’t grow up reading the Bible, but as I watch my kids figuring out reality, I wonder what it’s like to have Bible stories like Jonah, burning bushes, Lazarus, God made man, and resurrection added to their reality.
At St. John’s College, where I attended school, near the end of each school year, the junior class throws a weekend long party for the seniors. The weekend is called Reality, which it’s not. It’s an escape from reality but an ironic recognition that the unreality reality of college and of the St. John’s life is about to end, and the seniors are graduating into the real world.
I finished a book recently in which the main character, just entering adulthood after graduating college and entirely lost in the purpose and meaning of life as an adult, gets to enter the world of his favorite childhood books. It’s fantastical but also fantastic. What would it be like, as an adult, to be fully immersed in one of our childhood fantasies? It wouldn’t be entirely safe because there are scary things – like Luke Jingles Frost, animated dolls, dragons, and the inability to know what is real and not real – but it would be exciting and adventurous and full of mystery. An unreality reality. A challenge to the thought that we have reality figured out.
I don’t think our imagination or the childhood struggle to separate reality from unreality ever ends. We tend to believe ourselves more as adults, to think unreliable memory and present experiences are our reality. But we retell history. We seek escape in stories written and on screen and put to music. We imagine our life along other paths and in the future.
As confusing as the Bible might be to a child or young, coming of age adult sorting through fiction and reality, as an adult, I love the mystery of the Bible and the inability to apply logic to God’s story. The story makes no concrete, “real world” sense to me. There’s part of me that would jump at the chance to enter a childhood book. From that part of me that understands the power of the-beyond-reality, to that part that doesn’t understand the words of a story or song but feels the meaning, to that part that could embody the character of Will in “The Dark is Rising” as an eleven year old, I start to fathom God’s story and love.
There is strength in new beginnings and strength in coming awake. I’m grateful to join the Ruminate team as blog editor, because I want to learn how to better wake up, and I am excited to do that with you.
Any honest PhD candidate will tell you that our work can be isolating. Even though a great deal of our work involves interaction (teaching, office hours, comparing notes with colleagues, attending lectures, and sometimes venting with other students about how we never have enough time), the majority of our work requires great stretches of time spent alone.
I’ve always loved the etymology of kindness, which comes from kin—those to whom we are bound by choice or genealogy. And yet I often find kindness is most difficult to practice with my family—those who have witnessed just how unkind I can be.
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