Wednesday, August 15, 2018

George MacDonald

In Christianity Today an article about the importance of books in religious formation: "How Fiction Fueled Madeleine L’Engle’s Faith......":
.... Her engagement with these books—Scripture included—was deeply formative. They nourished “the same hunger in me, the hunger for the truth that is beyond fact, the hunger for courage and hope in a difficult world, the hunger for something more than ordinary vision.”

George MacDonald
The one author who not only cultivated that hunger but fed her solid spiritual meat was the 19th-century Scottish minister and writer, George MacDonald. Author of At the Back of the North Wind and The Princess and the Goblin, among other fairy tales, MacDonald saw storytelling as a moral enterprise. He wrote, “In physical things a man may invent; in moral things he must obey—and take their laws with him into his invented world as well.”

By this vision, the storyteller is not, ultimately, the source of storytelling: God is. Furthermore, according to MacDonald, we cannot avoid accountability to the original Storyteller for the moral universe he has created.

However, that doesn’t mean we bludgeon our readers over the heads with overt statements of Christian belief. MacDonald wrote in his essay “The Fantastic Imagination,” “The best thing you can do for your fellow, next to rousing his conscience, is—not to give him things to think about, but to wake things up that are in him; or say, to make him think things for himself.” For a preacher, this was particularly hard; MacDonald, throughout his fiction, seemed unable to occasionally refrain from sermonizing. But his chief desire was that “if there be music in my reader, I would gladly wake it.”

And wake, it did. C.S. Lewis, for example, was in his teens, already an avowed atheist, when he picked up MacDonald’s Phantastes at a train station sometime in 1916 and, a few hours later, knew he had “crossed a great frontier.” What it did to him, Lewis claimed, “was to convert, even to imagination.” The conversions of his conscience and intellect were to come much later, but the initial experience of “goodness” or holiness in the story—and the longing that it sparked in him—was the first catalyst for transformation. Lewis would go on to credit MacDonald for influencing everything from his understanding of heaven to his trust in the great love of God.

The same was true of L’Engle. In a little-known essay on the topic titled, “George MacDonald: Nourishment for a Private World,” she described how MacDonald shaped her understanding of God. MacDonald depicted God as “a loving Father who knows that sometimes ‘No’ is the only possible answer of Love, a Father who can be trusted, who understands laughter and tears, a Father who is nothing like the stern, Victorian image.” ....

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