The Restoration of Christian StorytellingMICHAEL D. O'BRIEN
The imagination was originally created to be God's territory, a faculty of man's soul that would help him to comprehend the invisible realities. Though the modern imagination has reverted to the pre-pagan split in consciousness, haunted and malformed by false stories, the territory can be reclaimed.
Because the Holy Spirit is always pouring out life upon God's people, we must never succumb to the temptation to think that the false culture has won. Despite its apparent powers, its noise and its glamor, it is a moribund system that has not much longer to live. At every moment Jesus stands ready to restore the world and ourselves to the Father. That restoration will necessarily entail a regaining of our courage and a willingness to respond to the promptings of the Spirit, regardless of the odds that seem stacked against us.
A regeneration of Christian culture is not only possible, it is our responsibility. We bear witness to the greatest story of all, a story that, as Chesterton said, fulfills man's greatest needs. In The Everlasting Man, he pointed out that “the sanity of the world was restored and the soul of man offered salvation by something which did indeed satisfy the two warring tendencies of the past; which had never been satisfied in full and most certainly never satisfied together. It met the mythological search for romance by being a story and the philosophical search for truth by being a true story.”(1)
The imagination was originally created to be God's territory, a faculty of man's soul that would help him to comprehend the invisible realities. Though the modern imagination has reverted to the pre-pagan split in consciousness, haunted and malformed by false stories, the territory can be reclaimed. Indeed, God wants it to be fully restored to grace, and part of that restoration will demand of Christian storytellers a consecration of their own imagination to the absolute authority of the will of God, to a poverty of spirit that kneels before the source of all true creativity, asking for inspiration. The “baptized” intellect must also be about a long labor of developing its skills and understanding Because true culture has an inherent restorative power, and furthermore because art always has an authoritative voice in the soul, we must trust that over time works of truth and beauty created from authentic spiritual sources will help to bring about a reorientation of man. It goes without saying that culture alone will not restore a society to sanity, for culture can reinforce both the good and evil impulses in man. The question we need to ask is not so much what sort of surgery should be applied to a sick body but what are the first principles of health. And in this respect, I think the classical fairy story has a great deal to teach us.
1. The Everlasting Man (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1986), 380.
O'Brien, Michael. “The Restoration of Christian Storytelling.” In Chapter 6 of Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind. (San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 1998), 117-119.
Reprinted by permission of Ignatius Press. All rights reserved. Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind. - ISBN 0-89870-678-5.
Chapter six proceeds to analyse the best fantasy literature now available describing what it is that makes the work of J.R.R. Tolkein, C.S. Lewis, and George MacDonald so exceptional.
Michael O'Brien is a professional artist and the author of a series of novels including his most recent A Cry of Stone, the best selling Father Elijah, and Eclipse of the Sun. In addition, he is the author of A Landscape With Dragons: The Battle for Your Child's Mind which looks at the proper role of children's literature in the forming of character (see sample chapters from this book on the CERC site). O'Brien's articles on faith and culture have appeared in numerous journals throughout the English-speaking world. Michael O'Brien is on the Advisory Board of the Catholic Educator's Resource Center. Visit his web site at: studiobrien.com.
© 1998 Ignatius Press
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