Of Faith and Faeries

Well, as Samwise Gamgee might say, “I’m back.” Back to my Alma Mater Kenyon College where I am now settled as Episcopal Chaplain and Priest-in-Charge of the local Harcourt Parish. And back to blogging, which fell to the wayside in the hustle and bustle of moving and starting a new position.

This being my first post in some time, I cannot help but feel some sense of pressure regarding what might be an appropriate topic for reflection. I will confess that part of me feels compelled to address the Syrian refugee crisis, specifically the experience of being newly resident in a state whose governors and other elected representatives have declared their intention to shut the doors on those desperately seeking shelter from our mutual enemy. But then it occurred to me … No. I will not reflect on this situation as if it were a mere political issue on which reasonable people can disagree. It is not. We may bar our doors to refugees in the name of security, but we do so out of weakness, not our strength as a nation. Either we stand with Germany, Canada, FRANCE, and so many other countries throughout the world in extending the hand of welcome to those in desperate need, or we admit that “American Exceptionalism” stands for little more than cowardice.

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Amanda has her very own Faerie circle. She is, after all, a bit of a goblin. 

So I’m not going to legitimize that topic as a valid point for discussion. Rather, I will share my thoughts on my most recent geeky obsession — BBC’s miniseries based on Susanna Clark’s delightful Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. The novel itself is a peculiar piece of work — one part historical fiction, one part faerie story, all of it liberally accented by whimsical footnotes. Somewhere in the midst of its sprawling, rambling pages is a story of two magicians — the dour, bookish Mr Norrell and the charismatic Jonathan Strange. One fears the uncontrollable powers of the Faerie realm and wishes to keep English magic “modern” and “respectable.” The other longs with wonder to behold other worlds.

It would be difficult, if not impossible, to draw a neat moral lesson from the story of Strange & Norrell. Nothing so simple as the trite idea that opposites must learn to work together. The story ends inconclusively with the two friends/rivals/partners posing magical quandaries to one another in perpetuity. If there is anything for us to take away from Clark’s novel, perhaps it is this. That both Strange and Norrell are correct in their tendencies, if not their excesses. Norrell is right to fear the powers of the Faerie world as he does. But Strange is right to want to behold them. We are right to yearn for something beyond this world, but we cannot expect such things to play by our rules. Wonder and Reverence go hand in hand.

I have written on this blog many times about the deep connection I feel between my faith and my love of faerie stories. I stand by what I have written. But it might be fair to say that sometimes my reflections on opening out faith up to the wondrous are perhaps too light, too easy. It is worth holding on to the darker elements of a Faerie story like Strange and Norrell, remembering the danger of those worlds that extend outside of our comprehension. The people of Jonathan Strange’s world are quite open to his “restoration of English magic”, until such restoration begins to threaten them and their traditional hold on political and social authority. When magic begins to spark a hint of revolution it is not nearly so welcome.

We are about to embark on the Christian season of Advent, when we call for the coming of Christ into our world, singing “O Come, O Come Emmanual.” But it might be worth remembering that, though we may long for a world in which no one is hungry, where children do not flee their homes and where there is true peace — such a world is not likely to be come a reality without truly overturning the powers and principalities we know now. We cannot truly call for the coming of God’s presence into our world if we are mostly concerned with safety, security and stability.

Hmm… maybe I did bring it back to refugees after all.

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2 thoughts on “Of Faith and Faeries

  1. We were practicing Advent hymns at choir last week. I don’t think I’ve ever sung “Come, Lord Jesus” more fervently. Normally, I can get into the idea that yup, Jesus is going to come eventually and Advent’s a time to prep for that, and I know that I SHOULD want Him to come again soon . . . but if Jesus comes back tomorrow, I never get to find out what my kids are going to be when they grow up. (Also, I never get to find out who ends up sitting on the Iron Throne. It’s the stupid little things as much as the big ones.)

    But this Advent, with the mess we’ve gotten the world into? Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus. Come, Lord Jesus.

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