From All Things New
He thought his happiness was complete when, as he meandered aimlessly along, suddenly he stood by the edge of a full-fed river. Never in his life had he seen a river before – this sleek, sinuous, full-bodied animal, chasing and chuckling, gripping things with a gurgle and leaving them with a laugh, to fling itself on fresh playmates that shook themselves free. All was a-shake and a-shiver – glints and gleams and sparkles, rustle and swirl, chatter and bubble. The Mole was bewitched, entranced, fascinated.
(Kenneth, Grahame, The Wind in the Willows)
I think I remember every tent I ever slept in. My father owned an old WWII army surplus model; we would take it on fishing trips into the Kern River. The musty smell of oiled canvas still means high adventure to me, fifty years later. I still have the first backpacking tent I bought myself in 1979; it leaks too much to use, but I can’t bear to let it go, with all those memories it carries for me. Right up through this summer, when I took a solo trip into the mountains to remember backpacking with Craig, I love waking up in a tent. It reaches back to that magical sense of adventure that comes so naturally to a boy, when I would wake in my little tepee and realize that a day of endless adventures was waiting right outside my door.
There is nothing like stepping out your door into a bright and beckoning world. This is why people vacation in beautiful places. It is also the secret to the stories you love – that magical moment when the hero or heroine steps into a brave new world. You might still remember that lovely catch of breath and skip of heartbeat the first time you followed Lucy through the back of the wardrobe into a snowy wood. Older readers may recall a scene from the first Star Wars film, when young Luke Skywalker steps out of his home in the deserts of Tatooine to watch not one but two suns setting into the horizon. Two suns brilliantly evoked in a moment that sense of “otherness” and wonder. Personally, I love the moment in The Alchemist when Santiago embarks with the caravan across the Sahara.
We are preparing our hearts to receive the hope that alone can be the anchor of our souls. One day soon you will step into a renewed Earth, a young Earth, sparkling like an orchard of cherry trees after a rain shower. Joy will be yours. How do we open our hearts to this after so much pain and disappointment? We have lost many things as we’ve passed through the battlefields of this war-torn world; our humanity has been stripped of such essential goodness. One of our greatest losses is the gift of wonder, the doorway into the kingdom heart. But each of us has special places and favorite stories that are still able to reawaken it.
We love being taken into the homeliness of the hobbit’s shire, but our hearts begin to race when Frodo learns he must flee and never return. Wonder grows as we push farther into the unknown realms – the Old Forest, the Inn of the Prancing Pony, the journey through the wilderness with a Ranger they know as Strider. Rivendell enchants, but that tang of dangerous adventure returns again when the fellowship sets forth on the quest upon which all Middle Earth depends:
They crossed the bridge and wound slowly up the long steep paths that led out of the cloven vale of Rivendell; and they came at length to the high moor where the wind hissed through the heather. Then with one glance at the Last Homely House twinkling below them they strode away far into the night. (The Lord of the Rings)
Sometimes even a single phrase like “they strode away far into the night” can awaken in us a sense of longing that almost pierces. There are parts of us, no matter how deeply buried, that still remember we were made for this.
The hero in the movie Avatar is offered “a fresh start in a new world.” I think that helps explain the film’s wild success; it still holds the global box office record, grossing more than $2 billion. To be honest, it is not the most remarkable story ever told; in fact, it is like every story ever told. The enchantment lies entirely with the fresh start the hero is given and the magical world itself, Pandora, a tropical Eden-like moon. It is a world straight out of a fairy tale, with wonders at every turn – islands that float in the sky, mythical beasts, flowers that glow at night then fly away when you touch them.
Narnia, Middle Earth, Pandora, Tatooine – they are all new worlds and yet not entirely new. There are trees and streams, deserts and animals like enough to our own world to be familiar, yet different enough to be enchanting. Chesterton believed this was the secret to romance – the blend of the familiar and new, “to be at once astonished at the world and yet at home in it.” (Orthodoxy) He felt the reason every age still reads fairy tales is actually not to escape our world but to re-enchant it: “These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. They make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water.” Or run with the water of life.
Our hearts long to recover a sense of wonder; it is one of the reasons only the child-heart can receive the kingdom. Remember now – we shall be as children again:
Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the Kingdom of God belongs to such as these. Truly I tell you, anyone who will not receive the Kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. (Mark 10:14-15)
The adult in us says, How touching, and dismisses it the next moment in order to go on with our very grown-up lives. But Jesus is being utterly serious, and thank God. For it is the child-heart still in us that loves Mos Eisley, Middle Earth, Narnia – these fairy-tale worlds that in hope-beyond-hope we long to be lost in ourselves. (Thus the allure of video games that let us do so, in an artificial way.) I believe it is right here that we can discern the longing for the kingdom most clearly – the child in us longing for wonder and a “new world”; the promise of the Earth in its wildest and most radiant moments whispering back, It is coming; it’s just around the corner.
This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It’s adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike, “What’s next, Papa? God’s Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children. And we know we are going to get what’s coming to us – an unbelievable inheritance! We go through exactly what Christ goes through. If we go through the hard times with him, then we’re certainly going to go through the good times with him!
That’s why I don’t think there’s any comparison between the present hard times and the coming good times. The created world itself can hardly wait for what’s coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens. (Romans 8:15-21, The Message)
“What’s next, Papa?” indeed.