Finding Figments

I’m 97% sure that Sasquatch exists.

The elusive North American great ape has yet to be categorized by modern Western science, but countless eyewitness encounters (not to mention the incontrovertible evidence of the Patterson-Gimlin film) suggest that small breeding populations dot the landscape across the States.

It’s easy to believe in a flesh and blood primate. The adorable little olinguito wasn’t discovered until 2013. The little deer-like saola wasn’t confirmed to exist until 2010. My favorite hide and seek champion is the giant panda. Locals were quite familiar with it, but Westerners didn’t encounter evidence for it until 1869 (some 500+ years after Marco Polo’s famous travels to China). Native Americans have told stories about the “large hairy men” for centuries. Bigfoot is no different.

I say that because what follows might sound like wishful thinking. But I really do think the odds are in favor of the modern world discovering Sasquatch. Above is why I do believe. Now, here’s why I want to believe.

America is more enchanted than we realize.

In part, Tolkien wrote his Middle Earth stories because he was frustrated with the lack of English myths. That’s partly why N.D. Wilson wrote his 100 Cupboards series. He wanted homegrown fairy tale this side of the pond. I feel that.

The gaping lack of our American mythos is tantalizing. It draws me. It makes me want to peel back the layers of forest and canyon and mud filled lakes and find delightfully unmanaged secrets growing silently away from our eyes.

Champ. The Beast of Bray Road. Mothman. Skunk apes. Thunderbirds. El chupacabra.

I’d like to see them all. I want them all to be real. America needs a little more enchanted spaces.

And yeah, I’m 97% sure Sasquatch exists.

Beautiful Stories to Tell in the Dark

So, this one time, C.S. Lewis stayed at a haunted house.

But that’s not the part he chooses to emphasize. I would love to read a short mystery novel about Lewis at this haunted inn on a windswept hill in Ireland. But it doesn’t exist yet.

Anyway, the spooks and ghouls didn’t have nearly the effect on the locals as “the good people.” In addition to being allegedly haunted, this building was said to have faeries. And that was why the townsfolk steered clear of it. Now, having said that, I know that someone just rolled their eyes and maybe even just clicked away to a Neil DeGrasse Tyson video to remind themselves that we’ve conquered all mysteries.

But Jack had a medieval mind. Don’t forget, his day job was to teach medieval and Renaissance literature. And he took seriously what they took seriously. But to overcome the modern stereotype of Tinkerbell, he preferred to call them the Longaevi (“the long lived”). And in The Discarded Image, he takes great pleasure in subdividing them into different types with references from Milton and Spenser as his footnotes.

But my point is not to argue whether or not C.S. Lewis believed that faeries were real. His mind was thoroughly pre-modern and so was his imagination. And when he sought to explain the Longaevi (nymphs, fauns, satyrs, dryads, etc.), he sensed the tension they introduce in the medieval system. You had the seven heavens and the earth and the fullness thereof. But then we see this third category that defies tidy organization.

“They are marginal, fugitive creatures. They are perhaps the only creatures to whom the Model does not assign, as it were, official status. Herein lies their imaginative value. They soften the classic severity of the huge design. They intrude a welcome hint of wildness and uncertainty into a universe that is in danger of being a little too self-explanatory, too luminous” (Discarded Image, p.122).

A welcome hint of wildness and uncertainty. The philosopher Charles Taylor gets credit for introducing the term “disenchantment” to describe the secularization of the West. Jamie Smith, in his very helpful guide to reading Taylor’s The Secular Age, explains that the location of meaning has been moved from the world to the mind. Things aren’t soaked through with significance. Our minds, and their ability to perceive meaning internally, are drenched with importance.

The cosmos becomes the universe. Creation becomes nature. The curse of the lightbulb means that all the shadows and uncertainties have been banished from the haunted house. Things are, in Lewis’ words, “a little too self-explanatory, too luminous.” Charles Taylor calls it “the rage of order.” And faeries, sea monsters, ghosts, and goblins are that splinter of wildness wedged in the gears of a well-oiled and easily observed machine.

That’s my point in bringing all of this up. A hint of wildness and uncertainty can be a corrective to the secular mindset, the one that sees the world for what it appears to be. There’s that great scene in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader in which the children and Caspian are talking with a fallen star named Ramandu and the ever practical Eustace doesn’t quite have a category for what he’s seeing (despite meeting one already). He tried to correct the retired star on his own existence.

“‘In our world,’ said Eustace. ‘A star is a huge ball of flaming gas.’ ‘Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.’”

I remember reading that as a kid and shivering with delight. A welcome hint of wildness. Do you see? That’s why I like watching scary movies. That’s why I enjoy fantasy novels and science fiction. That’s why I’ll binge certain shows that offer up an intrusion of uncertainty into a world with too many lightbulbs and not enough shadowy corners.

We can’t put everything under the microscope, least of all God Almighty. The medievals understood that at first blush. Jack did as well. So, yes, maybe those stars really are what science tells us they are. That’s fine. But I’m holding out hope that I’ll meet Rigel enjoying his retirement on the new earth someday.

Wouldn’t that be wild?

Adoration, not Speculation

I really enjoy church history. Without a grounding in the early church fathers, we’re a bit rudderless. They see with different eyes and I deeply appreciate their perspective. They help me glimpse Jesus a bit better.

I have especially loved Nick Needham’s devotional that takes the reader through twelve different church fathers. He takes a verse that a father wrote or preached on and then gives a few paragraphs worth of an excerpt from the father to expound the text.

Jerome pondering. And look at that beard!

While this month is Gregory of Nyssa, June was full of excerpts from St. Jerome (A.D. 347-420). I had always understood Jerome to be a bit of a jerk. From what I’ve read of him, he was irritable, very short with people, and had a biting tongue. But I also knew he was a brilliant scholar, the only Latin father to be fluent in biblical Hebrew, and was responsible for getting the Scriptures into the vulgar tongue of the Roman Empire (the Latin Vulgate).

Yet I had never read him. But in the first excerpt for the month of June, going off of Ecclesiastes 5:2 (Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter anything before God.), Jerome considers the majestic mysteries of the Trinity, the Incarnation, the atonement, hell, angelology, the soul, the doctrine of the resurrection, and then mocks the naive critic who hears one sermon and dismisses Christianity out of hand.

“When Paul encountered the mystery that was hidden from the past ages and generations, and the depth of the riches of God’s wisdom and knowledge, he didn’t so much discuss it as gaze in adoration.” Rather than putting the Trinity under the microscope, Jerome is content to lay down his telescope and wipe the tears from his eyes and worship.

Theological study and contemplation are wonderful and necessary in the life of a believer. But from Paul to Jerome to Calvin, “speculation” – the rash and hasty dissecting of what ought to be awe-inspiring- is seen as something that is ultimately mistaken. When we come across God’s wisdom or his grace, perhaps our first response should be simply “gaze in adoration.” A little adoration might just go a long way.

I’ve Forgotten How to Long for What’s Beautiful

vangoghmuseum-s0176V1962-1920This is not a comeback attempt at a worn down, underused blog. Those sorts of things are like attempts to start a diet or stop smoking “on Monday” or “on the 1st”. Such ventures wither. This is an attempt to claw out my cluttered thoughts, to smear some of my pent-up affections onto a white page. And what really frustrates me lately is my half-heartedness when it comes to the pursuit of beauty.

Now, the woman I married is my definition of beauty, in a sense. That pursuit has ended and she is the culmination that daily inspires. But when it comes to letters, the belletristic quality that pushes me into the next page, that itches through my bones until I find just the right chord or just the right phrase or just the right smell? I’ve forgotten how to long.

I think that’s the problem, honestly. I could probably blame social media or any number of new technological anesthesia, but hearts grow cold over time and through remorseless neglect. But when, in the course of human events, you stumble across the prologue of the Lord of the Rings, something wakes up in your chest. It feels like an increased heartbeat, a rhythm placed where it probably didn’t belong. Or in a bland and stuffed state of mind, eyes completely half-closed, a song about Vincent Van Gogh (your long-lost kindred spirit) spills through the sand in your head. Or a Trappist monk in Kentucky, dead these past 49 years, reminds me that I was born into a mask and suddenly I’m “woke” and desperate for a good cry or a knife fight.

What do you do in those moments? A Gustave Doré painting, Eeyore the Donkey, and a French poodle in a Steinbeck novel all remind me that God fashioned my heart uniquely? The most motley choir ever assembled reminds me that I am not my emotions, but my emotions are not the misfit toys that I have exiled into the cellars of my rational mind.

I’ve got a lot of fiction on my reading list. No one spoil the new Star Wars for me. I’m learning to long for the good stuff again and I think God is pleased that I’m rediscovering his gifts.

Cultivate a Little Wonder

G.K. Chesterton (a wonderful balloon of a man) once said, “The world will never starve for want of wonders; but only for want of wonder.” This world is stuffed full of wonders. Right now, I’m re-watching Planet Earth, that excellent BBC documentary about God’s green earth. It’s not just David Attenborough’s beautiful narration that makes this series wonderful. It’s the sense of wonder that it instills in me.

Yes, it is full of wonders. That’s obvious. The largest living organism in the world (a sequoia named General Sherman) stuns me even as I sit on the couch covered in blankets. The fledgling flight of mandarin ducklings makes me giggle. The loss of a snow goose gosling to feed starving arctic fox kits fills me with cringing shock and somber acceptance all at once. One dies so another can live and God feeds them all.

But this world of nature does more than show me splendors. It creates a space of fullness within me. It fuels worship, I think. It makes me realize how small I am in this blue speck of dust that slingshots through a vacuum. And that makes me smile.

Watch nature shows. Look at birds. Listen to Bach. Climb a tree. Do a math problem (if you enjoy math). Have a hug. However you get at it, cultivate wonder. And be thankful.