Song of the Day: Pretending to (and Towards) Believe

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It seems as if most of my son’s sentences begin like this:

Pretend…”

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.
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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.


21 Comments

  1. Curt McLey

    @curtmcley

    “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.”

    Nice, nice, nice, Mr. Sam. And sorry I couldn’t match the articulateness of this paragraph. Pretty good song, there too, AP. You should really think about writing songs for a living.

  2. Ron Block

    @ronblock

    Sam,

    That’s one for every parent to read. When my first was born, I told my wife, “Out of all the things they will be, my kids must be readers.” And they are; I’ve made books a staple. We’ve got books overflowing everywhere (need to get rid of some). Along with that, of course, is daily Bible reading; it comes just before we go to sleep.

    Isn’t imagination both the way into and the way out of the wilderness? In materialism we shut the imagination off to beauty and truth, but leave it open to worry, fear, falseness, and all the general littleness of mind that goes with the wrong use of imagination.

    And intellectual assent itself accomplishes very little. True faith (in the sense of an arrow) involves intellect, imagination, and will. It is choice made by imagining that what God says, is. It is “calling the things that are not as though they are,” which pulls the hidden substance of Eternity down into the seen realm – the promises of God brought to fruition in our lives by endurance in faith.

  3. Loren Eaton

    Pretend the girl accidentally fell in love with the dragon.

    Someone needs to right a short story about this immediately. This is prime speculative stuff. The fact that it was thought up by a three year old and is better than anything I’ve imagined yet is more disheartening. I think I’m going to go cry into my coffee.

  4. Sir Wilbur

    “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.”

    Very well said young man. Good stuff….and perhaps most importantly, the truth is not up to our imagination. We are not to serve a God of our own design, but rather the God of truth.

    I wish I were more like you in respect to reading. I guess I always had “something better to do” while you were reading! Thanks to my wife, and in some part to you and your influence on me, it will be different for my youngin’s.

  5. Marcus hong

    The Ice Dragon by George R.R. Martin. A little disturbing, in some ways, but a story about a little girl basically falling in love with a dragon. We read it in my Children’s Fantasy LIterature and Moral Formation class here at Princeton Theological Seminary. Yes, that’s right folks. I hope it encourages you that future ministers are taking a class where we read C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien and talk about how they can be positive influences and on how “fantasy literature” can be good in fostering a “moral imagination.” I, and the 120 other folks taking this class, completely agree with your article here. Thank you for writing it.

  6. Jeanne Z

    It makes my heart hungry-er…just to read through those thoughts of faith and hope. I recently started reading The Chronicles of Narnia out loud to my 6 mo. old son, which means I must admit I am reading them more to myself than to him since it is largely probable he is not the least bit comprehensive of words that can’t be chewed on (in the literal sense). But I am fascinated at my own response. Returning to many of my childhood books, I often find the language and the story “elementary” and no longer entertaining..but not these. I find myself aching for Narnia as it was in its original state and longing for a lion who is certainly not safe, but always good. I feel the anticipation, hoping that Edmund won’t do that dastardly deed of betrayal and yet knowing all too well the temptation he feels inside. And yet, when forgiveness comes, tears well up for the day when all will be made right and above all our imaginations will be free to see and love the King.

  7. Stacy Grubb

    When I was a little girl, one of my sisters, my cousin who lived next door, and I had a phrase that I suppose we made up and we’d use it when we played to direct the others on the setup of what we were all supposed to be pretending. If we were on our bikes playing “road,” for example, we may say, “Plack like Uncle Vension’s trailor is the police station and plack like MeMaw’s house is the grocery store…” and we’d “Plack like” a little community. Growing up the way we did, there wasn’t much to do other than use our imaginations and we sure schemed up some crazy things that we still laugh about to this day. My little boy now thrills me with is vivid imagination. He embellishes his true stories, not in a way that I think he’s meaning to lie, but just that he gets really caught up in how cool it would’ve been had it happened that way. But the untrue parts he always ends by saying, “Maybe.” “Momma, I saw these cool shoes. They’ve got wheels on the bottom of them and you can skate. And if you go really fast, fire will shoot out of the back and take you up into the sky and you’ll make a jet string [his term for jet stream] and you can shoot geese from up in the air. Maybe.” One of my favorite things to do is to give him a book he knows well (he’s only 4, so not yet reading) and have him “read” it to me in his own words. We don’t do that nearly often enough, though. This a good kick in the pants reminder for me to engage his natural love of storytelling more often.

    Many aspects of God’s Word require a great deal of imagination to believe and understand. As Sir Wilbur said, He is not a God of our own design and we have to accept things that exceed our finite abilities. That’s one very good use of imagination.

    Great song, as well. It sounded, to me, like something that would fit well on a Kenny Loggins lullaby CD, which I have an affection for.

    Stacy

  8. Tony Heringer

    Sam,

    You are right. This topic is similar to Travis’ post, but not right in the comparison. Both of you guys articulate different points on this subject in fine style.

    I’ll be redundant and re-post the Spurgeon quote from Travis’ post. It’s an excerpt from an article talking about his use of story. It fits even better here as it goes with the song and I know that you also have a fondness for Spurgeon (for the full article go here
    http://www.internetevangelismday.com/spurgeon.php):

    “A sermon without illustrations is like a room without windows,” he commented. He was constantly on the lookout for illustrations and filed them away for use. He read secular books widely, as well as drawing parallels from nature, medicine, agriculture and the wider world. He was very much in touch with the culture of his day. One of his students remarked how hard it was to find illustrations. “Yes,” said Spurgeon, ”if you do not wake up, but go through the world asleep, you cannot see illustrations; but if your minds were thoroughly aroused, and yet you could see nothing else in the world but a single tallow candle, you might find enough illustrations in that luminary to last you for six months.”

  9. Leigh McLeroy

    Well said. Especially “So many well-knotted lies are untied in the mind of a child whose imagination is alive.” I’m grateful I grew up in a house of good books. They were my “windows in the world”, and taught me how to see. Thanks, S.D. and Andrew.

  10. ginger

    “The world, as we know, is full of the scaly sort. So keep an eye on your princesses”
    ‘Tis sad & it makes me cry. The beautiful part is that the princess can be soothed by imaginative literature & redeemed by the Word of Truth. And then dance to music of a poet. Thanks to the authors of each. Truly.

  11. Josiah

    SD and AP,

    Wonderful thoughts, lyrics and music. By reading and listening I feel as though I’ve had a wave of fresh air hit me through the window that this post opened for me. Thanks!

  12. Robert Treskillard

    Sam,

    I really like this. You not only wrote it in a poetic way, but a powerful way. And you began, putting your words on your feet, with a touching story.

    Particularly,

    “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 … I would describe the role of imaginative literature in my own spiritual development with one word: essential.”

    This is very true of me as well, as I read the LOTR and the Silmarillion in the year before I became a Christian at age 15.

    I was completely unchurched, and so when I got to the Silmarillion and found that there was a GOD very much like the God of the Bible at the heart of the LOTR, I was surprised.

    I cannot draw a direct line from that event to receiving Christ into my life within the year, but I do know that God was working in my heart, and like you said, the truth of that “universe of such moral clarity” had slipped in like the mist.

    Thanks for writing this.

    -Robert

  13. Pete

    I just stumbled across your blog (thank’s to Tony H), and have been lurking for a bit. This posting was a good reason to come out and add my $0.02.

    The piece was well and truly said.. Good literature (good in the sense of both “well written” and in the sense of “leading towards truth”) is one of the best tools for building a moral compass in our children. My 10 year-old son read the Harry Potter books (all 3500 or so pages) about a year ago, and my 8 year-old daughter is currently on the 4th book, and plowing through them at a rapid pace. They’re pretty bright kids, and have been able to draw numerous comparisons between the story and “The Great Story” told in Scripture. I can’t even begin to count the times we’ve had deep conversations about the plot lying in bed and snuggling just before calling it a day. On that note, “Looking For God in Harry Potter” by John Granger is a great resource for parents with children who’ve read the book – he does quite the job of showing how the books parallel many of the themes of great stories through the ages. It’s also a good read in its own right.

    It’s extremely fun seeing my kids piece things together, and seeing their reactions to good literature and film is priceless. I still remember their reaction during the Chronicles of Narnia movie when Aslan was sacrificed (I hadn’t told them it was coming so they’d get the full impact). When Lucy and Susan went to As;an’s corpse, they stared open-mouthed with tears running down their faces (much like Christ’s followers must have). Then when Aslan reappeared a bit later, they they were so happy, they cheered. I get it – the scene still brings a lump to my throat, and I’m old and jaded. Because of that scene, they’re much more able to understand the disciple’s emotions on Easter morn.

    I have a “Lewis-ian” view of literature – that all great stories reflect the one True Story, much like the shadows on Plato’s cave wall. So, I believe there are few more worthwhile things we can do for our kids than expose them to good stories and spark their imaginations.

    Keep up the good writing.

  14. S. D. Smith

    @sdsmith

    Robert– amazing story about how God worked in your life to point you toward that True myth in part from fantastical ones. Which goes to Pete’s comment about CSL’s view. Ginger, nice summary.

    It is encouraging to be a part of a group in which CSL’s own description of friendship is so true…

    “Oh, you too? I thought I was the only one.”

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