Once Upon a Time

Making friends with librarians is some of the best life advice I can give. The current BFA librarians regularly recommend good books and talk to me about what I’m reading. It’s loads of fun. This past week, I’ve read a couple great books about trees (which we all know are my favorite thing), but I also read three short collections of George MacDonald short stories.

You’ve got to be a massive Lewis and Tolkien fan to read George MacDonald. I have no shame.

Also, these stories are delightful. Lewis considered MacDonald his master when it came to learning to write well. MacDonald once said, “I do not write for children but for the childlike.” Lewis echoed the sentiment a generation later saying, “When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty, I read them openly.” Again, I have no shame, and I find myself in good company with these literary heroes. Good stories draw me in and get me excited. The best stories bridge between one another and into my own life.

This week I spent two days reading some of the best stories to my students – with mixed results. I started with an ancient Hebrew style “once upon a time…” as I read out loud “This is the account of Jacob’s family line…” but we jumped around remembering the name Canaan, the history of Jacob, and the details that made Joseph’s first declaration of his dreams rather rude and bragging though his character would be humbled twenty years later when they were finally fulfilled.

My favorite part of the Joseph story is the span of time laid out to cover the quick narrative points. Joseph was the age of my students when God gave him a dream about his brothers bowing down, but he was pushing forty by the time it actually happened. And I think eight years is a long time to be in a wheelchair… it was thirteen years that Joseph spent as a slave or in prison. Some stories take longer than others.

My other class period tracked with snippets of Scripture that told the story of the Ark of the Covenant – the special box the Hebrew people created that held significance in their worship of the Lord. Early on in the existence of the nation of Israel, these people were given specific instructions for how to care for this box and respect the Lord who came among them and physically showed up on the seat above the ark. However, generations later, they got sloppy with their care and remembering; the box was stolen by the Philistines when the Israelites tried to use it as a token – really, like an idol – by bringing it to battle instead of asking God how to win. The following generation made steps in the right direction, but they still didn’t carry the ark how God instructed, and a person ended up dead because of the incorrect transportation decisions.

This selection of Scripture had my modern teenagers struggling to see connections to their own lives. While “don’t incite rebellion against dorm staff” was a relevant connection made at one point, there was still a lot of blank stares when I tried to get them to see how they could live differently based on lessons ancient Israelites shared through these stories about a historical box we have lost. Once upon a time, the Spirit of God showed up in the form of a thick cloud on the mercy seat on top of that special ark, and that same Spirit of God shows up in unexpected ways in my life today.

I don’t see a pillar of cloud around my house, but I do see God show up. It was the same for people like George MacDonald who saw the fingerprints of God all over and wrote fairy stories deeply informed by his Christian worldview. I don’t know what was going on in Scotland in the 1800s to spark his particular flavor of goblins and fairies, but I can recognize the same devotion to the Spirit of God that reaches out to the childlike who read Scripture with their eyes open and see the desire of the Divine to engage with humanity.

I have a stack of good books checked out from the library that I’m excited to read over the coming weeks, but I’m most excited to return to the best book and see how it invites me into deeper relationship with the Spirit of God who cares about relationship with me.

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