The Power of Myth, Mystery, and the Big Box of Darkness.

Or: “Can’t see the Magic for the Wands”

‘If I met the idea of sacrifice in a Pagan story I didn’t mind it at all: again if I met the idea of a god sacrificing himself to himself I liked it very much and was mysteriously moved by it. Again, that the idea of the dying and reviving god similarly moved me provided I met it anywhere except in the Gospels. The reason was that in the Pagan stories I was prepared to feel the myth as profound and suggestive of meanings beyond my grasp even though I could not say in cold prose what it meant. Now the story of Christ is simply a true myth: a myth working on us in the same way as the others, but with this tremendous difference that it really happened. One must be content to accept it in the same way, remembering that it is God’s myth where the others are men’s myths; i.e. the Pagan stories are God expressing Himself through the minds of the poets, using such images as He found there, while Christianity is God expressing Himself through what we call ‘real things’ namely, the actual incarnation, crucifixion, and resurrection.’ C.S.Lewis letter to Arthur Greeves, 18/10/31.

Grasp the intent of what Saint Clive is saying and you understand that far from denigrating the Christian Gospels, he’s addressing the double-standard he held concerning them: he was moved by the former but reluctant towards the latter. Eventually, he came to grips with the historical events and with the existence of God. He became a Christian.

The release of the final Potter film adds new fuel to the fire of the fiction debate. HERE and HERE One feature that strikes me time and time again is how people respond to the story. One net-friend – K.C.- was moved to tears. Far from being sappy and impressionable, she’s indicative of the power of stories to communicate so much on so many levels, to inspire, to break, to move us. Jesus preached sermons but quite often told stories to illustrate the mysteries of the Kingdom. (Please note there were those who did not, would not “get” them, and He didn’t mind one bit.)

The story, the myth, doesn’t cheapen the truth contained therein; it magnifies it. Now like all metaphors, it isn’t perfect. There are qualifiers and exceptions because that’s real life. For every woman caught in the act of adultery there’s a Lot’s wife. For every Prodigal son there’s Noah’s son, Ham.

The sad and fascinating thing is noticing which story elements audience members polarize to. Some see courage, sacrifice, loyalty, love; others see wands, monsters and *cue Lord Farquaad voice* all manner of fairy-tale creatures. In an often overlooked admonition to discern, Jesus said “Pay close attention to what you hear. The closer you listen, the more understanding you will be given–and you will receive even more.” Mark 4:24 NLT. If a person can’t weigh, divide, separate, how do they expect to get down the street, let alone through life?

More than a half full/half empty perspective, the more shrill critics become, the more I suspect their motives and priorities. They have issues. Moreover, to discern Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings isn’t the same as Jesus the Only Begotten in the New Testament is like insisting Monopoly isn’t like Wall Street. Ummm, we know? über kinderspiel

‘In making a myth, and peopling the world with elves and dragons and goblins, a story-teller is actually fulfilling God’s purpose, and reflecting a splintered fragment of the true light.’ – J.R.R. Tolkien

Storytellers have a job to do: Tell stories that reveal, that inspire, that resonate on mental and emotional levels by touching on spiritual truths. (I hold this to be the artist’s vocation in general) Christian artists have a responsibility to hold to and accurately portray those principles with the intent of bringing glory to God, but they can employ imagery, symbols, and fictional dynamics in creating the medium. That’s their calling. To saddle them with the burden of a preacher’s vocation by demanding they be strictly theologically accurate and expository reduces their art to the level of propaganda. These vocations are meant to compliment, not compete.

“Sometimes mystery is more important than knowledge.” – J.J. Abrams

The word “mystery” occurs 22 times in the NKJV New Testament. You can look up the particulars yourself. Mysteries are large, captivating. They have the power to draw us on and invoke a sense of wonder and curiosity. Of course some people hate them. Mysteries mean we aren’t in control. They get nervous, uncomfortable. They don’t like being ‘in the dark’. They want guarantees, by God… but mysteries are ‘ill-defined’ by definition. Unfortunately for those type of folks, the Bible says God, His Kingdom, His message (even life itself) is exactly that. Hence the problem.

But a God we understand completely isn’t a God at all, and our God never promises we’ll understand everything. He does expect us to trust Him however. That’s simply the way it is and we have to deal with it.

Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God’s grace in its various forms. – 1 Peter 4:10

Blaming non-believers for our society becoming ‘darker’ is to whinge and cry “victim!”. Wrong posture for Christians. There is a very real danger of deception and offense, but the Bible also says we are tempted by our own lusts. There will always be sensitive issues for certain people and they should obey their conscience in the sight of God. I have zero interest in a millstone necklace. But let’s be honest here; if our society is indeed getting darker it isn’t because J.K. Rowlings opened up a big box of Darkness in Hollywood and released Harry Potter on the world. Darkness is the absence of light. (Blinding stroke of obvious, there)

Yet it is Christians who are called the light of the world, so I suspect the problem lies with us. My reading of the N.T. brings the conviction that we are supposed to shine in whatever season, standing, vocation, time and place we find ourselves. If things are growing dim, I submit it’s due to a lack of focus and intensity on our part. Is it possible that some people aren’t doing their job, but rather playing God’s Internal Security Agent and scribbling out citations at everything that offends them? The light is under a bushel.

With the Mystery of the Kingdom being so vast, so deep, so huge, it requires all of us on task to effectively convey it to a lost and broken world. God help each of us to apprehend that for which we were apprehended.

2 Comments on “The Power of Myth, Mystery, and the Big Box of Darkness.

  1. Oh, but I AM sappy and impressionable. ::snerk::

    Not for nothing have I been called “spock” and “sherlock”. Not for nothing is my nom de web “mycropht”.

    That aside, you are perhaps closer than anyone else has come to articulating my position on this matter lately. I’m a mystic and proud of it, although I’m forever having to explain to other Christians that Mystery is not a _bad_ thing, that Christianity has always, always been a Mystery religion and that being a Christian Mystic doesn’t automatically make one a) lacking in reason b) on the fast track to Satan’s summer home.

    I think, though, that it is much easier for artists, artisans, poets, writers and those like us (assuming I’d fit in any of those four categories) to embrace mystery, because good art is a celebration of nuance.

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