As some of you will already know, I am writing my dissertation on narrative ethics, thinking about how we use story to express and explore ethical ideas, both in the Christian tradition and in popular culture. (And you though I was just writing about Doctor Who!) As I’ve been reading for it over the last couple of weeks, I’ve found a number of quotes that have both inspired and challenged me.
You might remember that a while ago I posited the idea of scripture as myth, not in the sense that it is invented, but in the sense that it is intended to communicate deep truths. Well a number of other authors have talked in a similar way about the gosepl as fairy story.
JRR Tolkien, who understood the importance of myth and was a devout Catholic, said this in his essay On Fairy Stories: “The Gospels contain a fairy-story, or a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy-stories…This story begins and ends in joy…There is no tale ever told that men would rather find was true, and none which so many sceptical men have accepted as true on its own merits…This story is supreme; and it is true”.
And Frederick Buechner, whose book Telling the Truth: the Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale is heavily indebted to Tolkien, puts it this way: “That is the Gospel, this meeting of darkness and light and the final victory of light. That is the fairy tale of the Gospel with, of course, the one crucial difference from all other fairy tales, which is that the claim made for it is that it is true, that it not only happened once upon a time but has kept on happening ever since and is happening still”.
For me, that is the inspiring part, and I don’t really want to add anything to it, but simply offer it to you. The challenge comes from Beuchner, who goes on to say this: “With his fabulous tale to proclaim, the preacher is called in his turn to stand up in his pulpit as fabulist extraordinary, to tell the truth of the Gospel in its highest and wildest and holiest sense…Let him preach this overwhelming of tragedy by comedy…as the tale that is too good not to be true, because to dismiss it as untrue is to dismiss along with it that catch of the breath, that beat and uplifting of the heart near to or even accompanied by tears, which I believe is the deepest intuition of truth that we have”.
I know I have a tendency to err on the side of the apologist, but I want so much to be the fabulist. I want to “tell the truth of the Gospel in its highest and wildest and holiest sense” because it is glorious and it is joyous and it is supreme and it is true. I want people to be as excited when I speak as I am when the words first find their way out of me.
But this isn’t just about me as a preacher. Everyone who follows Christ has a duty to bear witness to him and to tell his gospel, and so we must all find ways of telling this high and wild and holy story. The question then is ‘how?’. A couple of months ago, a group I am part of at college spent an hour sharing what the good news is for us. Not just giving a neatly packaged presentation of the gospel story, but speaking from the heart about what it has meant for our lives.
I’d never framed my story or the gospel in quite that way before, but it was a really interesting and moving experience. Others spoke of finding acceptance and purpose, but I found myself speaking of the presence of God. I have experienced this through the Spirit, but I also see it in the way the incarnation assures me that Jesus has entered and understood what it means to be human, so that nothing I experience is outside of his care.
Perhaps this week you might take some time to think about how you could tell the high and wild and holy story of what the gospel that is the supreme and true fairy story has meant for you.
Picture is cover image from Tolkien’s On Fairy Stories