When I was young, one of the best gifts my mother gave me was a small green card that gave me access to the wonders of the grand ole' Prattville Public Library, a midcentury brick building shaded by trees and situated near the river, faithfully guarded by overgrown, thorny bushes. It was a decent size for a small town book building. Families pulled up in minivans for story time, and the cheerful sentinel of the children's "wing" was constantly bringing her greyhound dog on Thursdays. The floor was dressed in very flat and very firm green carpet in the large room, and one had to ask aloud for a key in order to use the cramped restrooms. This key was fixed on a large plastic placard as big as my head. No one doubted what you were about. I never dared unless I was quite desperate.
The Prattville Public Library sounds very commonplace to the average eye.
But the wonders were not physical. Words lept off yellowing pages into living scenes in my mind, creating a labyrinth of memories and lives inside of my very own brain. So many stories that I have never lived, but have...
I would carry my heavy stack of books into the tiled area before the front doors and sit on a long and plushy bench thing against a wall of paneled wood, too excited to delay the cracking open of mysteries untold until I hopped inside our noble grey van with the automatic doors.
I was a Boxcar kid, a Saddleclub member, a friend of Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys, a faithful cat in the Warrior clan. I rode the Black Stallion, racing along a deserted beach, and I climbed into a spinning treehouse time after time after time. I belonged in Narnia like nowhere else. I fell in love with Percy Jackson, got "Left Behind," lost myself in the passages of Hogwarts, watched nervously as Frodo crept into the Lonely Mountain, tasted the eversweet waves with Reepicheep, galloped the Phantom Stallion through the Nevada canyons, lost countless numbers of my fictional friends and family members to death.
I wept when little Anne died, when Prim died, and I hated Death when he took Rudy in that ashy street. I floated with Zamperini on a raft and felt my heart catch when the Nazis tapped on the wall. I have chased baby Moses along the shore and watched breathlessly as God brought creation to life. I have sat shell-shocked for hours after closing a book, sat praying to be swallowed into a story, cried tears of joy, and have dearly loved those I never met but through imagination.
Stories have captured me, heart, soul, and mind.
Funnily enough, this past year or so, I felt like I had read all the stories worth reading. Furthermore, I became convinced that reading fictional stories was rather a waste of my time, like I could be doing more important things.
So, for the most part, I have been consuming books that gave advice and told me what to do. They were knowledge books. They did a good job of telling me how to live, of teaching me more about God.
These were good books to read, but not as a steady diet. Starved of adventure and the delight of a good story, I found out for myself what Tolkien and Lewis and all those have always preached: the power of story. The magic of it.
I believe stories contained in books, true and fictional, can speak truth and beauty to our hearts more deeply than any other medium. They do a better job than any lesson or command ever could. Jesus was constantly teaching parables. We connect with them because we live them. All of life is a story.
They don't just tell us how to be a hero but show us in living color. They play on the sacred stage of our imaginations. We mentally know many things... But stories... they are what pumps my heart.
They inspire us and encourage us and breathe a thousand lives into our one. We feel truth, feel beauty, feel the weight of sin and darkness in the sentences of a life, of a great story. Good stories capture us heart, soul, and mind, giving depth and experience to our lives. We know this: If you want to impassion people for a cause, don't just give them the graphics of poverty in a city; tell them a story, introduce them to a person.
We all may be called living stories, breathing books.
As I gave story a chance again, as I dove into fiction, I found out my imagination had become a little dusty and rusty. To some extent, I pushed back against plot lines and stared cynically at pages. In my time of exile from the land of stories, I realized that I had stopped believing in real heroes and villains, my imagination a little too shaped to the opinions of my professors and colleagues. I had been finding it harder and harder to eek out awe for beauty, to stop that hand from reaching for that phone.
You can shout a hundred different opinions and truths from the rooftops. You can know a million things.
But it is story that holds our hearts, that shapes our beliefs. The story of our lives. The story we are always telling ourselves. The stories of those around us. Stories in books and in songs and on screens. The stories that the media are always telling.
And don't forget the Instagram stories.
Our imagination is shaped by all these, and it is central to our very core. We must guard it with our lives and nurture it with every breath, every choice.
To thrive on this planet of words, in this age of information, to live, we must ceaselessly read and tell and preach to ourselves the Greatest Story Ever Told. The pages of this story have been flying since the dawn of time. We are all in it, you, me, the cashier at Walmart, Churchill. All our stories are intertwined to form a larger.
The ornate pages of this great book are stained with violence, with war and betrayal. But there is so much beauty too. The pages are stained with the blood and love of the son of the great author. He gave His son up to Death for 3 days that we might stay in the story, that we might follow him on into eternity and begin "Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on forever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.”
A few things pushed me to write this post.
One: because of a book I am reading called "Living the Braveheart Life" that made me realize that I had become cynical of heroes and numb to the power of story. I was reading it this evening under swaying pine trees and felt a call, a whisper.
The second reason is all the inspiring fiction I have read lately.
And the third.. I was listening to end of The Dawn Treader on audio. The scene on the sand at the edge of Aslan's country has long been one of my favorites in literature. Aslan has just told Lucy and Edmund that they can't enter his country now and will never return to Narnia, and my heart aches with them.
“Oh, Aslan,' said Lucy. 'Will you tell us how to get into your country from our world?'
'I shall be telling you all the time,' said Aslan. 'But I will not tell you how long or short the way will be; only that it lies across a river. But do not fear that, for I am the great Bridge Builder.”
The Bridge Builder. The Sunrise Painter. The Savior. The Shepherd. The Storyteller. The Storywriter.
I believe Lewis writes it down in A Horse and His Boy...
"HE seems to be at the back of all the stories."
Therein lies the magic.