God spins fantastic tales, writes C.S. Lewis | VailDaily.com
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God spins fantastic tales, writes C.S. Lewis

Rev. Jack Van Ens

Why didn’t God mount His heavenly pulpit and on the first Christmas preach a sermon about glad tidings of great joy?Why didn’t He massage our hectic lives with a celestial soap opera, reciting God’s woes when coming to earth, so that our hearts heave and our eyes turn moist?Why didn’t God deliver a tightly argued lawyer’s brief, so that His reality is proved beyond a doubt?Why did God weave a story, fashion a plot, and spin a tale that reads as if it reeks of sheer fantasy? How could the Lion of Judah be tamed, forsaking king of the mountain status to sink into the valley of an ordinary manger? Why did the unknown One become revealed, descending into mother Mary’s embrace of her firstborn, Jesus?God didn’t preach. He didn’t tickle our emotions. Nor did He offer a jury incontrovertible evidence that we are not kooky by putting our trust in Him. Instead, God chose to tell a story, a story full of fantastic truth, of how the Lion of the tribe of Judah (Revelation 5:5), a metaphor the early Church used to describe Christ Jesus who didn’t prowl or growl. This beast took upon itself uncomely beauty, the form of a beautiful Savior. No explanation defines what God has done. No syrupy make-believe convinces our hearts. No logical proof clinches the argument of how God definitively arrived on earth. Only a story hints at the truth of God’s incarnation. And what a story it is, ringing with angelic voices, rustic shepherds and a virgin birth that may strain our credulity. How ironic that a celebrated defender of the Christian faith, Clive Staples Lewis, used more than logic to suggest how God operates in our world. C.S. Lewis wove fantasies, using strands of Christian truth. He wrote the Chronicles of Narnia, a series of seven books that employ myth enriched by lavish fantasy. “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” one of the books in the Chronicles of Narnia, flashes on big movie screens across the nation. This imaginative narrative is a fairy tale that only the ignorant dismiss as a silly leap into fantasy reserved for simple children. Lewis surmised that fantasy embraces meaning mere description couldn’t contain. Fairy tales, myths and fantasies stick to us, no matter what our age, because they arouse longings within of an ideal world, a nobler realm toward which we strive. Lewis corrects those who dismiss fantasy as child’s play. A boy, he notes, “does not despise the real woods because he has read of enchanted woods: the reading makes all real woods a little more enchanted.” I formerly saw myself as primarily a preacher. Now I am a storyteller. Why the descriptive change?For years as a preacher I knew I failed to connect at a level deeper than what words express. Listeners appreciated the literary analogies, the pacing, the biblical roots and the fascinating historical insights I wove into sermons. But merely appreciating a sermon is not the same as being moved by it. Sermons inform; they seldom move our hearts. Before the sermon, I beckoned children to sit with me on chancel steps. Rarely did I try to explain the faith to them. I didn’t quote scripture, heap holy words on them, or recite a catechism. With youngsters gathered around, I told stories, stories about Jesus and his love. Eyes widened wide, young hearts became merrier and eager questions interrupted my story. I felt God’s story making contact in their stories.At the door after worship, adults remarked, “Wow! Jesus spoke to me during the Children’s Talk. I’ll not forget how curious those kids were. I found your story with them the most wondrous part of the service.” Sermons explain, coax, score points, clinch arguments, chide the heathen and recite beliefs the Christian Church claims are true. Stories excite the imagination, prodding us to wrestle more deeply with what is really, really true.A few years ago, Luci Shaw reflected on the theme “Bridging the Gap: How Story Shapes Our Thoughts About God” in a Christian Writers’ conference at the college from which I graduated. Luci writes poetry. She creates stories that describe pilgrims’ wild and toilsome adventures, spurred on by faith in Jesus.Luci mentioned how Eugene Peterson, a contemporary C.S. Lewis, described God’s prime expression. “The Holy Spirit’s favorite genre of choice is story,” claims Peterson. Then Luci expertly expressed why I tell stories. God’s story reflected in our stories doesn’t impose on our lives; it invites us to experience life on deeper levels. Sermons are rhetorical devices that impose. Preachers pose arguments, quote scripture, setup straw men to smash them down, answer questions and declare much. Stories suggest. They infer. They allow listeners to draw good, noble conclusions. “All this Jesus said to the crowds in parables; indeed he said nothing to them without a parable” (Matthew 13:34). C.S. Lewis agrees with the storytelling Christ. And he converted me from a frustrated preacher into a storyteller. In the dedication of his book, A Preface to Paradise Lost, Lewis gave away the secret why he spun tall tales and wove fantasy into life’s fabric for children of all ages. “…when the old poets made some virtue their theme, they were not teaching but adoring, and that what we take for the didactic is often the enchanted.” Sermons say. Stories suggest a better way. We become entranced. Christian faith grows within when we hear, “Once upon a (Christmas)time. …” The Rev. Jack R. Van Ens is a Presbyterian minister who heads Creative Growth Ministries, enhancing Christian worship through imaginative storytelling and dramatic presentations. Van Ens’ book, “How Jefferson Made the Best of Bad Messes” is available in local bookstores for $7.95.Vail, Colorado


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