Through the film "Big Fish", Tim Burton has me thinking more about stories and their role in our lives. I loved how the son learned the trade in the end, and how the father's eyes were bright with fulfilled purpose and love after (and during) his son's story. He had made a believer out of him in the power of myth, the reality of myth. His experience became his son's. He was, therefore, ready for the river and for the goodbyes. That is so cool. I want to be ready too.
I have a story that I've only shared this morning to a new, smart friend who loves C.S. Lewis. I kept it inside for over 20 years as a private secret. But, as I was constructing the story for her, self-consciously, I became released again to release it. And, now, I think, "why not?" The people who know me already know that I'm a little strange. Why not add more to the stew?? I love this story which is factual to my experience. Yet, I could easily be made fun of for it! Resist the temptation! :)
Anyway, in my earlier years, I had an experience which was a touchstone of faith for me. Actually, the experience always makes me smile to think of, and I'm sure God smiled and laughed while observing it. In fact, I feel that when I bring the event up in recollection, that we're both smiling again at the fancifulness (and the rural innocence) of it.
I had a Jesus-with-fangs upbringing, what with my Preacher Grandma Fay sneaking up behind me all the time with apocalyptic news flashes, what with me despising my "mean" sister, what with walking that thin, shaky line of heaven and hell in every waking moment. When I turned 16 and was able to drive to church consistently on my own, I accepted the love of God, yet the church and my inner habit were still promoting the "sinners in the hands of an angry God" mentality. Therefore, I tried to be perfect for the Big Man. Man always meant dominant too in my background. Uneasily dominant.
When I enrolled in college, I took a CS Lewis class. My h/s boyfriend had already introduced me to Lewis' wonderful space trilogy, and we had read Mere Christianity in a 101 type of college class. I knew of CS Lewis just a bit. Well, in class, we read his "Chronicles of Narnia", and the characterization of God through Aslan floored me. Here was a God who rescued, who allowed the kids to bury their heads in his mane, who romped, who roared ... an untameable beast whose love couldn't be subdued, even by their bad deeds, even by evil powers, even by facing it head on with expectation. Wow! It was a new picture, a better version, of God which released me in a very, very therapeutic way from the tighthold of ill-defining, controlling people who thought they knew what He was about. (They didn't and still don't.)
I must have been home when I finished reading the series. At the time, we lived on a 60 acre dairy farm. I was always the Thoreau/Wordsworth/Annie Dillard type who loved walking outside in our woods to think. With a small old two bedroom house (three kids and two parents),the outdoors was expansive and necessary.
This day, I remember going outside to think and walk, but the sight of my dad's new dairy barn and the recently-poured cow lot drew me from my customary path. The barn offered something clean and new, like a big house built just for us (and soon the cows). So, I walked through the barn, admiring the bright new tank, the pit with the stalls, the clean concrete floor, and I climbed the back stairs to go out into the lot. And, there, in the manure-free, brand new cow lot, I was sheltered by weedy growth and a mulberry tree for a private stage.
Only a farm girl has such an opportunity to express in her spirit what Lewis' new revelations about the characteristics of God meant to her. I felt a fullness and an approachability that I never could conceptualize before. It made me so happy. And, so there in the cow lot, I began to twirl around, pretending that I was at a wonderful dance, where everyone was laughing and not caring that I was in a shoddy t-shirt and cut-offs, but where everyone else knew that God was a spirit of happiness and generosity and love.
I danced and danced, going back into my earlier childhood of ballerina pretension. I remember leaping and moving my arms back and forth. And, I remember smiling and laughing, and, finally, with humble love, crying that I was special enough for this dance with the Creator of me and everything that had movement around me. I especially felt a reconciliation with the memory of the sixteen year old boy who gave me my first kiss. The boy who died three months later in a car accident. God was comforting me at the same time He was celebrating life in its diverse forms.
I'm even crying now as I remember it. That dance was special, it shone, even though it was a bit strange!
Afterwards, I remember feeling a bit self-conscious, like I was hoping my mother wasn't hidden behind the weeds watching! But, it became my secret communion which a church would never allow, one that only God allows in private, invitational moments that needed simply my response, and my feet, and my waving arms, and my heart, and the brand new cow lot. :)
Later, unfortunately, not much later, I became forgetful of that encounter of freedom. Three or four years later, I became tangled up with lots of depressing philosophy that I encountered. I gave into a sort-of fatalism, one without relational, lasting dances. One that allowed the idea of love to become archaic, fantasy, not my reality, and I gave in to manipulation and abuse and dark years. Those were my twenties.
Without going into much more of the story, I can say now that I found the path to the river, that lovely archetype of freedom (especially when it looks like an Ozarkian river). And, I can acknowledge that those leaps in the cow lot were mine to keep and hold on to and re-establish contact again with. The dance (and the partner) were always waiting once the belief in love could be untangled again inside of me.
For that, I'm very grateful. Thanks for the story.....