“What if I promised you that you would be able to see clearly all the way to where the earth and heaven meet?”
I peered up at it. When I looked at it, I saw clearly. When I looked away, all was dark again. But I had not lived my life as an orphan for nothing. I did not give my trust easily. “Why should I want to see that?”
“Why should you want to miss it?” The creature scolded me with a hiss. “You are asking the wrong questions, Wen Ming. You have not asked who I am or why I call to you.”
“I think you are an evil spirit.”
“Or I might just be your imagination. Since your world is so small, I suppose you don’t have much else to do other than create monsters in your mind.”
— Lucky Baby, by Meredith Efken (Howard Books, 2010)
Is perception a pipe dream? We must in some sense say yes. Sensory input and memory are both subject to the vagaries of a brain originally designed for accurate perception, but subject to the corruption of sin—in a purely spiritual sense, and in the corruption of a universe that groans under the weight of entropy.
Christians are taught in no uncertain terms that the two options are to rely firmly on a clear doctrinal framework, or discard it for the morass of experientialism. Neither is entirely reliable, and it’s for this reason, I’d suggest, that we walk by faith—not by sight.
There probably could not be a title better matched to its story than Athol Dickson’s Lost Mission. Part of the novel’s fantasia is its incredible voice. With zero contortion or contrivance, we encounter a Hispanic-accented narrator who begins a forgotten story. Over and over, as the smoke of fires drifts mysteriously upstream, against the wind, the scene shifts between time and place as if the universe’s continuum were a fluid fog.
Over and over again, the questionable power of broken faith seeks to build the kingdom of God. And suffers the plague that besets mankind—in literal and figurative form. We come face to face with a world that turns onward in relentless oblivion to the spiritual, seen through a curtain where time does not matter. The best-laid plans of mice and men go aft agley; yet lostness and aloneness have a witness.
No name or persona is credited to the narrator, though he is unquestionably there. No need is felt to attribute his existence to the personage of an angel, a demon or the voice of God—the three stock choices of Christian fiction. The narrator is so very real, however, that the standard advice to avoid author intrusion is inapplicable. He is a character, an undefined one. He simply exists, and his presence is truthful in the vein of I think, therefore I am.
This concept of a witness to the mystical is far from the American evangelical testimonial pattern—another breach with standard practices in Christian fiction. Not only does it defy the tidy cookie-cutter, it challenges our ingrained need to establish an authoritative source in connection to the work’s argumentation. God stuff, good. Agree with God, unless the writer runs afoul of one’s personal image of God, in which case label as suspect. Angels, good unless a deceiving angel. Angels, controversial. Demons, bad. Oh, okay, easy. This approach to categorizing all spiritual fantasia by a personal hit list of good and evil is less real than we think.
Moreover, it’s a truly flawed approach to fiction. The imposition of analysis is both a cause of the complaint that Christian writing is inferior, and an open door to false doctrine, because we cannot structure a book with much for spiritual specifics at all if it’s going to be analyzed and discarded according to the tyranny of postmodern personal preferences. If the biblical fantasium—which is in fact more real than we want—need be invoked, might it not be better to allow it to stand on its own two feet?
In the ultimate Christian narrative, it’s far from strange to diverge from the modern and postmodern schizophrenic blend of experientially rationalistic foci:
“How then were your eyes opened?” they asked.
He replied, “The man they call Jesus made some mud and put it on my eyes. He told me to g to Siloam and wash. So I went and washed, and then I could see.”
“Where is this man?” they asked him.
“I don’t know,” he said.
They brought to the Pharisees the man who had been blind. Now the day on which Jesus had made the mud and opened the man’s eyes was a Sabbath. Therefore the Pharisees also asked him how he had received his sight. “He put mud on my eyes,” the man replied, “and I washed, and now I see.”
Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not keep the Sabbath.”
But others asked, “How can a sinner perform such signs?” So they were divided…
A second time they summoned the man who had been blind. “Give glory to God by telling the truth,” they said. “We know this man is a sinner.”
He replied, “Whether he is a sinner or not, I don’t know. One thing I do know. I was blind but now I see!”
John 9: 10-16, 24-25
The moral point of the incident, the medical reasoning behind the Saviour’s treatment, and the relative position of the blind man in symbolic relation to the generic American saved soul have been treated and mistreated with great fortitude. Since the recipient of this magically real act was unwilling to give a full and proper testimonial, we are only doing our duty by filling in the missing pieces.
But that’s much too easy. As we struggle and fail to build a kingdom that can only be built without hands, or at least a pleasant substitute thereof, we forget—we long to forget—that sometimes, there is a thing that happens. That in the redeeming hands of God, entropy can be as much magical and as much real as miracle.
There—in the presence of God’s touch—is the lost edge of magic realism. When perception and truth meet, we accept the risk that we’ll be blind; or that, perhaps, we’ll see as never before.
I gave the creature the most obscene hand gesture I knew. “My sight is only the size of a fen coin. Everything else has been taken from me. Why do you want my sight?”
“I don’t want it. I’m only here to take it.”
Stay on the ground where it was safe, or climb the trees and take my chances? If the beast did not lie, I could at least taste the independence of climbing a tree before losing my sight entirely.
I would take the chance.
She can be found online at ScitaScienda.com.