It seems as if most of my son’s sentences begin like this:
Take, for example, the following actual quote: “Pretend the girl accidentally fell in love with the dragon.” This from a 3 year old who has no idea what “falling in love” means. But he knows that falling is usually bad, sometimes fun, and if life has taught him anything it is that accidents do happen. (That is, accidents happen from a certain point of view.) Something else you will hear in our home is the recitation of Scripture. This is when we learn to delight in, and to submit to, that deeper truth that God is sovereign over all of life. Just now we are in Psalm 119:33-40 –a song of love for God’s Word. So, at our best, we live our lives at home in a twilight of imagination and deep truth. Far from being an obstacle to seeing, it is in this twilight that we see most clearly.
Imagination is an avenue for seeing deeply truthful things with eyes unbound by erroneous and dogmatic insistence. Clearly the prevalent, problematic dogma being insisted upon in our times is one of rebellion in general –ultimately focusing on a rejection of the authority of God (and where he has placed his stewardship on earth).
I believe that imagination is a way out of this wilderness. It is in such stories as The Lord of the Rings that we find ourselves immersed in a universe of such moral clarity and truth that it hangs like mist on the Lonely Mountain. It seeps through our unguarded gates.
Belief is not as simple as intellectual assent alone. So children can grow their capacity for deep belief and strong commitment to truth by imbibing great gulps of imaginative literature. I would describe the role of imaginative literature in my own spiritual development with one word: essential.
Materialism is a joyless vice. It is a vice in two senses, being that it is both evil and it strangles out many good things. Imaginative literature is a tonic towards health, a talisman to guard the open arches of the city. So many well-knotted lies are untied in the mind of a child whose imagination is alive.
Literature is by its nature moral. Because literature is about people and people are moral creatures. Good literature allows a child to develop a moral clarity and sensitivity which no amount of dogmatic instruction can create. Certainly dogmatic instruction in truth is exactly what must be done. The Bible has the words of life (and Peter says “Where else could I go?“). So there is a sense in which the Bible is all we need. But the Bible is a book, written with words. It is also largely a story from a flawless Author (and here is that word Authority again). Understanding the language of stories and the power of words is an aid to our biblical understanding.
So, I believe, imaginative literature is like a key opening up doors to new paths in the mind –a vast cavern of delight and wonder. Here the soul becomes prepared for deeper truths –for facts to fill the gaps. Don’t be fooled into believing that the facts don’t matter. Here is a modern pot of stew we are all boiling in. But a mind awake to wonder is particularly suited for spiritual consideration of those facts.
So teach your kids the Book. Also, buy your kids good books. They are an inheritance of inestimable worth. However, not just any books will do. Like Eustace Scrubb in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader, a child who has read the wrong books is wholly unprepared for a confrontation with a dragon. He is as likely to become one as not.
The world, as we know, is full of the scaly sort. So keep an eye on your princesses.
From the Proprietor:
Tuesdays usually feature a Song of the Day, and when I read this post I thought of a song on my new album called “Windows in the World”, which deals at least marginally with what S.D. is talking about here. Stories are but one of many windows God has placed in the world through which we catch glimpses of his glory, hints of “what is too good to be real but is more real than the air [we] breathe” (to quote Rich Mullins). Hope you like the song.