Tales and stories are an elementary wonder because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. Wonder and astonishment can prepare our minds and hearts to receive truth just as soil receives seed; one such truth-bearer is Lois Lowry’s Gathering Blue…
According to G.K. Chesterton, tales and stories are an elementary wonder because they touch the nerve of the ancient instinct of astonishment. Their effect upon us is both simple and innate. More than that, Chesterton believed that stories are needed because they can awaken us, even startle us, when our lives feel wrought in familiarity.
…Stories remind of us of reality. These tales say that apples were golden only to refresh the forgotten moment when we found that they were green. The tales make rivers run with wine only to make us remember, for one wild moment, that they run with water. It is the same for fairytales. In the fairy tale an incomprehensible happiness rests upon an incomprehensible condition. A box is opened, and evil flies out. A word is forgotten, and cities perish. A lamp is lit, and love flies away. A flower is plucked, and human lives are forfeited. An apple is eaten, and the hope of God is gone.
Wonder and astonishment can prepare our minds and hearts to receive truth just as soil receives seed. This type of understanding, however, is so much more than the effect Chesterton mentions. More than the wonder or miracle of hearing knowledge for the first time, we have been prepared through the story itself. It’s like story is the boat that carries us through a journey—and that enables us to understand truth.
A most fascinating aspect of story is its appeal to all ages. One such truth-bearer in middle-grade fiction is Lois Lowry’s Giver series. In her futuristic and dystopian tale, Gathering Blue, on an earth that has forgotten much of its history and seems to have reverted to the Dark Ages, young Kira has just lost her mother, the only parent she’s known.
No one would desire Kira. No one ever had, except her mother. Often Katrina had told Kira the story of her birth—the birth of a fatherless girl with a twisted leg—and how her mother had fought to keep her alive… “They came to take you, Kir. They brought me food and were going to take you away to the Field.”
Kira is clearly a cripple. That’s how she is seen on the outside by everyone except her mother who is now gone. But being crippled is only the outside condition. Her status quickly reminds me of more than one account where people in Christ’s time only saw condition too. They yelled at the blind beggars to get off the road, crowds fled at the sight of lepers, and they laughed at Jesus when he said Jairus’ daughter was only asleep. They would have made fun of the Samaritan woman. Those who lived in Nazareth said Jesus was just the carpenter’s son. They saw condition, just the surface.
So now, Kira has to make her way in life, and she is afraid that her village will cast her out. As the story continues, we find out that Kira has a gift, one that’s just beginning to grow. She calls it the knowledge. She begins here by describing a keepsake:
With her thumb, Kira felt a small square of decorated woven cloth. She had forgotten the strip of cloth in the recent, confusing days… When she was much younger, the knowledge had come quite unexpectedly to her, and she recalled the look of amazement on her mother’s face as she watched Kira choose and pattern the threads one afternoon with sudden sureness. ‘I didn’t teach you that!’ her mother said laughing with delight and astonishment. ‘I wouldn’t know how!’ Kira hadn’t known how either, not really. It had come about almost magically, as if the threads had spoken to her, or sung. After that first time, the knowledge had grown….the threads began to sing to her.
It is this gift that saves her from exile or death as a cripple, and the village elders now provide her food and her own dwelling so that she can sew and embroider for them. Somehow in her deformed state, a few of the leaders see past her condition, and instead see the covenant gift within her young life. They spoke to her differently and gave her value among their people.
Christ too saw covenant, destiny, in every person. In fact, in some it was so strong when he met them that he renamed them: Simon, fisher of men, you are called Peter. James and John, sons of Zebedee, you shall be called Boanerges, sons of thunder. Zacchaeus wasn’t a despised tax collector to Jesus but a dinner host! Christ didn’t see any of the sick and diseased and demon-possessed that were brought to him as worthless. True, he saw the inside where they were crippled, but more importantly, he saw them whole before he even performed a miracle.
Consider the account of Zacchaeus in Luke 19. Jesus entered Jericho and called out to him in the sycamore tree. Jesus said, “Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today,” and Zacchaeus gladly welcomed him, regardless of what the people thought of him as a tax-collector. Zacchaeus caught a glimpse of who he was in Christ’s eyes, and it changed him. “Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount.” No one had to tell him the right thing to do. He no longer saw himself from the outside in, but from the inside out, and most importantly, without lack. Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because this man, too, is a son of Abraham. For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Zacchaeus responded in wonder as did Kira. Chesterton would say they are like “the true citizen[s] of fairyland… obeying something that he [they] does not understand at all.” But they don’t have to understand. To be truly known, to be truly seen just might be the “incomprehensible happiness resting upon the incomprehensible condition” that Chesterton references. It is the truth of who they are created to be, and in the vein of story, it is the truth of who we are created to be.
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Editor’s Note: The featured image is a detail from “The Reader” (c. 1770-1772) by Jean-Honoré Fragonard (1732-1806), courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.