Monday, June 25, 2012

Relaxation, Prairie Home Companion, and George MacDonald on Faith and Doubt

I am currently sitting in my bedroom on Monday morning very thankful that I do not have to get in an airplane or drive a long distance any time in the near future. My last two weeks in Boston, Seattle, and various parts of Minnesota have been good, but I have learned that I would make a terrible traveling salesman or anything that required frequent flights or hours of driving. I seem to have a knack for finding the seat nearest the crying baby, the neurotic teenager who talks from take off to landing, and the small lady who takes both arm rests and seems to expand like gas to the size of whatever container she is put in.  Anyway, today I will be reading, watching a Woody Allen documentary and The West Wing, going for a run, playing piano, doing a crossword puzzle or two, maybe taking a nap, and generally relaxing.

On Saturday, I made it back to Chicago just in time (seriously, I didn't even stop at my house - just went and picked up Matt and headed back North) to meet up with Matt and Elsa and the larger Wallgren family at Ravinia (an outdoor concert venue in the northern suburbs) to see Garrison Keillor and Prairie Home Companion. It served as a sort of halfway house that helped me acclimate back to Chicago from the beautiful and incomparable Minnesota. As a bonus, we stayed on the lawn and listened to the Philip Glass concert that was right after. Sitting on the lawn in perfect weather listening to his repetitive and beautiful music was like falling under a spell or trance of some kind. He did one piece set to an Allen Ginsberg poem, and they actually had a recording of Ginsberg reading of it, which I thought was really fascinating to hear Ginsberg's voice booming over the speakers.

So, I got a gift card from Amazon for playing at Kelsey and Tom's wedding and am wondering if people have any good suggestions for novels I should read? What's your favorite?

As I said in previous posts, I'm reading a bunch of works by George MacDonald, a 19th century Christian poet, pastor, and fantasy writer who heavily influenced C.S. Lewis, Tolkien, G.K. Chesterton, T.S. Eliot, etc. I find his voice so refreshing because he upholds mystery, fantasy, the love of God, and child-like faith and wonder as central to the faith. Not to mention he's one bad-looking dude:

When asked about doubt and faith, he wrote in a letter:

"Even if there be no hereafter, I would live my time believing in a good thing that ought to be true if it is not. No facts can take the place of truths; and if these be not truths, then is the loftiest part of our nature a waste. Let me hold by the better than the actual, and fall into nothingness off the same precipice with Jesus and John and Paul and a thousand more, who were lovely in their lives and with their deaths make even the nothingness into which they have passed like the garden of the Lord."

To me, that is a foundational truth that the Christian faith is not simply a ticket into an eternal paradise but a better way to live by the foundational truths (or truths that should be foundational) of love, wonder, and faith. It is probably exactly what C.S. Lewis was thinking of when he had Puddleglum the ever-pessimistic Marshwiggle stuck underground with Eustace, Jill, and a prince they have just rescued in The Silver Chair. They are escaping from the underground kingdom when they come face to face with the witch who rules this underworld. The witch is trying to convince them that this underworld is all there is, that what they thought of as the sun was only a dim lamp that they wished was brighter and more beautiful, and Aslan the lion was only a cat that they hoped could be bigger and stronger. Puddleglum turns to the witch and says, "All you've been saying is quite right, I shouldn't wonder. I'm a chap who always liked to know the worst and then put the best face I can on it. So I won't deny any of what you said. But there's one thing more to be said, even so. Suppose we have  only dreamed, or made up all those things - trees and grass and sun and moon and stars and Aslan himself. Suppose we have. Then all I can say is that, in that case, the made-up things seem a good deal more important than the real ones. Suppose this black pit of a kingdom of yours is the only world. Well, it strikes me as a pretty poor one. And that's a funny thing, when you come to think of it. We're just babies making up a game, if you're right. But four babies playing a game can make a play-world which likes your real world hollow. That's why I'm going to stand by the play-world. I'm on Aslan's side even if there isn't any Aslan to lead it. I'm going to live as like a Narnian as I can even if there isn't any Narnia. So, thanking you kindly for our supper, if these two gentlemen and the young lady are ready, we're leaving your court at once and setting out in the dark to spend our lives looking for Overland. Not that our lives will be very long, I should think; but that's small loss if the world's as dull a place as you say."

And here it is in those terribly awesome BBC production of The Chronicles of Narnia:

On that theme, we have a new poll. What's your favorite work of fantasy? Feel free to comment. And now, my day of relaxation shall commence! Later.

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