The Elves Have Left the Building

Children, at their best, have an amazing ability to wonder. The world is fresh and new for them, with many things being seen and encountered for the very first time. They sometimes come to wrong conclusions, but even their wrong conclusions can be revealing to adults. Adults often fall into habit when it comes to experiencing the world. We drive to and from work by the same routes and routinize our lives repeatedly. These “ruts” make us blind to much that surrounds us and deadens our senses as well as our own capacity for wonder. At its worst, we become nearly immune to awe. We worry that we will be fooled.

I have made a link between “faerie” and the Kingdom of God in recent articles. What do I mean by “faerie” and what does it have to do with God’s Kingdom? How is it that children are closer to the Kingdom than adults (Mark 10:15  )?

“Faerie” (note: this is not the same as “fairy”) refers to a form of story, even a range of mythology, that suggests that there is a hidden, unseen world beside and just beneath our own. Sometimes the stories associated with it are quite ancient. They often have a strong element of folk-lore about them. They carry a teasing sense of truth, though with enough plausible denial to leave room for doubt. Faerie plays a large role in all traditional cultures (only modernity banishes faerie from the world). Traditional European cultures are replete with stories of the “little people,” whether they are called “fairies,” “leprechauns,” “elves,” “gnomes,” or what-have-you. Of course, these are not all the same. Some are water spirits, others have differing associations. They occasionally have some overlapping with the Christian story, though they clearly predate the advent of Christianity. Some Christians dismiss them as demons, while others take a modern route and simply dismiss them altogether.

The modern world is the most literal of all times. Theories of objectivity have so focused the attention of the average person that the unusual and the strange are largely banished from our observations. Of course, within the myth of modernity, many rush to extra-terrestrials and conspiracy theories to fill in the gap. In my thinking, Elvis makes a poor substitute for elves themselves.

Modern dismissals make much of the term “superstition,” but even this word is quite revealing. At its root, “superstition” means to “stand over.” This either refers to “standing over something in awe,” or to something that is itself “standing over or beside us.” It is, in essence, the assertion that there is more to the world than meets the eye.

This is where the connection comes with the Kingdom of God. Christ’s teaching on the Kingdom says not that there is more to the world than meets the eye, but that the eye of the heart has become blind to the truth of the world’s existence. In the darkness of the heart, the world would appear to be nothing more than raw competition for consumption and survival. The rich get richer and the rest of you can get out of here.

Christ points to mercy and forgiveness and a generosity of life that understands self-sacrifice and self-emptying to be the true path to fullness of being. Such assertions can only be true if the world is other than we see it. Christ does not teach that we should lay our lives down for others because it is “nice” to do so. He teaches that this behavior is actually consistent with things as they truly are. That we do not see this as obvious is due to our blindness – not to the nature of the world itself. The truth of the world is summed up in the term “Kingdom of God.” What is coming into the world is not something new, but a revealing of things as they truly are. What is now largely hidden is being made known. The greatest revelation of this reality is Christ’s own resurrection from the dead. Pascha is the truth of the world.

What we have in faerie is not the same thing as the Kingdom of God at all; but it has a kinship. Children have a natural affinity with faerie in the innocence of their hearts. That innocence often perceives the world without judging and scrutinizing it. Children allow the world to be wonderful and beyond their comprehension. This article is not an argument for or against the existence of elves and such. That anyone would want to argue against them already suggests that the conversation would be fruitless.

Of course, arguing with someone that they should embrace what they perceive to be “superstition,” is not at all the same thing as preaching the gospel. But I can say somewhat categorically that the fear of superstition is a disease of the modern mind in need of healing. There are tragic accounts of modern efforts to “heal” the superstitions of others (this article by David Bentley Hart should serve as a warning).

Christians should acknowledge that the gospel has been weaponized by some, and that many around us fear that any crack in the door of doubt will admit a dark, angry presence into their lives. They live in a dark, modern faery tale. Of course, they do better to fear rich people and those with bombs, and the corners of our lives where the light is not admitted. We all do well to become children at heart and live in wonder – lest we drive both the elves and God Himself out of our lives.

 

 

 

49 comments:

  1. Hello Father! I wanted to point out that the link to the article by Hart does not show up, at least not for me. As usual a wonderful and thought-provoking article!

  2. This is a wonderful set of posts you have been writing. Your one-liner about Elvis made me chortle, I must admit. Everything else makes me think deeply. Just one request: will you provide the link to the David Bentley Hart article please. It seems to be missing. Thank you very much.

  3. Thanks for the article, Father Stephen. My both sets of grandparents were very devout Orthodox Christians, but they also believed in the reality of the Russian “Domovoi” — little grandfather-type house spirits that protected the home and watched over it. I grew up believing this too, even though modern persons call it superstition. My grandparents did not consider it inconsistent with their Orthodox beliefs. Of course, I know that some persons consider such beliefs a remnant of paganism, but I can’t not believe that such things exist.

  4. The elves have left and soon the selkies will follow…this past weekend my son and I enjoyed this gorgeously illustrated gentle gem (which sadly lost the Academy Award to a Disney film):

    clip from Song of the Sea, Saoirse’s Song

  5. Dear Father Stephen,

    I cannot express the delight I felt in reading these last two articles about faerie stories–one of the only true and beautiful things our culture has had to hold onto. I love seeing deeply Orthodox people interacting with our culture in unique ways. You write so incredibly well about this particular subject among others. God has given you beautiful gifts. Thank you so, so much for sharing them.

    I wonder if you might write a little about how sci-fi fits into all of this? Though I have tried, I’ve never been able to like sci-fi (except Lewis’s Space Trilogy, obviously) or trust that it has value, but can’t completely figure out what it is about that genre that gives me such a visceral reaction. To me, it feels like a hideous modern attempt at traditional faerie stories, a travesty… I would absolutely love to hear your thought on this subject. I’m willing to be wrong and come to see the merits of that genre, if they exist.

    Wishing you good struggle in Christ,

    Sunny

  6. Bless, Father!

    Are you familiar at all with a method of catechesis for children named the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd?

    It is a Montessori-based, experiential model for children ages 3-12. Even the littlest children are assisted (with the aid of a catechist and specially prepared materials) to ponder such truths, including the Kingdom parables. The adult doesn’t “explain” the parable, but both adult and child listen to the parable thoughtfully and ponder. I’ve been privileged to sit with children during such moments, and hearing their own exclamations about such things as the Pearl of Great Price and the Mustard Seed, among others, is truly wondrous indeed.

    In light of this blog post, I would encourage, if there is an “atrium” in your area (www.cgsusa.org), that you observe a catechetical session that includes a presentation of any of the Kingdom parables. (In all of your spare time, right? 🙂 ) I’m searching for the right words this morning…the word “enjoy” seems too shallow for such an experience, but I suspect it would resonate deeply, in any case.

    In Christ –
    Pauline

  7. No doubt you’re aware from C.S. Lewis if not elsewhere, that to the medieval mind, faeries mostly favored a dark, or “fell” (nightmarish and terrifying) sort closer to the Grendel monster than Santa Claus’s “Jolly Old Elf”. Seems to me William Manchester’s description of a “World lit only by Fire” captures a sense of darkness the modern mind finds hard to fathom as friendly… unless we’ve “cleansed” the area ourselves… and thereby we often make ourselves rather terrifying…. and more akin to the Grendel feared of old than we suppose.

    In this, the modern is at one with the ancient… where as far back as Homer’s “Odyssey” sets a common prototype with the character of Calypso who holds Odysseus hostage for 7 years. Medieval poets eventually worked their way round toward “good faeries” as in Chaucer’s Wife of Bath’s Tale… but there was always an edge to the good as well… and typically our selective recall remembers scarcely more than Cinderella, and her “Fairy Godmother”. Wings and wands and a grandmotherly roundedness seem to be a “must” in making up for the otherwise flattened myth.

  8. Father,

    I wonder if you would not unpack your last paragraph a bit. I have an idea or two, but I could be wrong as to what you mean.

    Sunny,

    Your right, modern sci fi can be (though not always) an attempt at a “modern faerie”. In that it reflects the darkness of the modern evaluation that behind the universe are either dumb/uncaring powers or simply nothing at all and thus our love and hope is in vain. However, sometimes a writer will bring his humanity along with him, and can’t help but pen a story that has something human in it, something of beauty, truth, and goodness and it’s “uncovering”. Does it rise to the level of Pascha, where death is trampled and Life triumphs – or that this is a possibility at least? No, but the human yearning for such is there sometimes…

  9. I’m remembering C.S. Lewis’ Merlin, in “That Hideous Strength,” cautioning that reality was narrowing, coming more and more to a point since his time (in the 6th century or thereabouts) and that even in his time there had been some pretty grey areas where his magical arts weren’t entirely safe or good. And by the 20th century, neutrality between good and evil was no longer possible. The conclusion, as I recall, was that we had lost the option of indulging in neutral concourse with the spirits of nature and must give ourselves wholly to Christ. We must side with the one reality or the other. We can’t go back, or at least not without great spiritual risk. I wonder, Fr. Steven, how you would respond to this view from one of the greatest master’s of imaginative writing of our time.

  10. Father, you touch upon something simple but extraordinary and remarkable here. I grew up in a devout Evangelical household but converted to Catholicism 10 years ago. One of the biggest pulls towards the Catholic faith was that it introduced a different world to me, a different pair of eyes. The Church has to be a guide or reflect (trying to grasp the right word here) the “otherworldliness” around us. Modern (non Orthodox, non Catholic) churches are extremely limited in their view of the world. Yes, they see God, they feel God but they way they connect with God and His Kingdom is extremely limited. For the sake of family spiritual unity, I have been attending Mass on my own and attending Evangelical services with my wife and children (who are not Catholic) but I recently stopped joining them because I couldn’t tolerate their church’s limited view of the world and frankly felt suffocated there. This is a topic better discussed offline but I’m so glad and thankful to you for this piece. It refreshed and encouraged me.

  11. One of my favorite English authors of the faerie genre is George Macdonald. I recommend beginning with “The Princess and Curdie”.

  12. The question I have is how to reawaken that sense in someone just enough that they can begin to entertain the possibility of God.

  13. “The conclusion, as I recall, was that we had lost the option of indulging in neutral concourse with the spirits of nature and must give ourselves wholly to Christ.”

    I don’t get the sense from contemporary Orthodoxy that any sort of change, or urgency, or “hard line” is called for. Indeed, I get the sense that the danger is just in such a thing, and leads to a kind of “weaponization” that is to be avoided. Let me correct myself, I hear this from more traditional Orthodox sources (i.e. contemporary “mother Churches”, monks, Fathers, etc.), not from contemporary english speaking hierarchs, popularizes, etc. (this is of course “in general” – exceptions can always be found).

    Indeed, the “patience” and “gentleness” (to put it one way) that some have been dealt around the anthropological issue of the day point to a belief in significant “grey areas” and that they are to be accommodated…

  14. Dorothy,
    I am a child of the Scots-Irish. My mother, a Campbell, came from a family in which (a) her mother could “talk fire out of a burn” and “stop blood,” and (b) her mother’s father could “remove warts” (with something whispered over them). Such Appalachian folk-medicine is not unusual – and probably predates Christianity in the British Isles, though both family members said it was done through Bible verses. No doubt. My parents were devout believers that for every sickness on earth, there was a natural (herbal) cure, many of which remained undiscovered.

    My mother could occasionally sound like a skeptic, but not about her mother or grandfather, or herbs, nor about ghosts and visits from deceased relatives. She converted to Orthodoxy at age 79 and died like a saint (another story for another time).

  15. Pauline,
    I visited recently in Memphis at St. John’s, where my son-in-law is now a priest on staff. They use the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd and I got a tour of their program. I was very impressed. I like what I know of Montesorri.

  16. “The Reuben my friend now saw was a sad, somewhat bitter, and rather listless man, who described himself as, above all else, deeply lonely. His health, moreover, had been deteriorating for some time.”

    The DBH article brought me to tears. Maybe because, in some small way, I find myself in similar circumstances; often sad, a little bitter, listless, and often deeply lonely. I have often tried to console myself with the idea that this is just a struggle against acedia, the noonday demon. Maybe it is.

    However, you have given me something more to ponder. Maybe it is the noonday demon, the spirit of the age, and many many more, unseen things.

  17. James,
    It is worth noting, that Cinderella actually has a basis in historical fact (not the Pumpkin or the mice, etc.). But the tale of the poor girl and the shoe and the Prince, is actually rooted in some real events in Constantinople and the “bride contests” that occasionally took place in finding a suitable queen. Really. It sometimes included a shoe fit competition, or something of the sort.

  18. Xenia,
    I think this is Lewis’ genius very much at work. He is connect the world of faerie with our own context by narrowing faerie, but not by eliminating it. There is something in what he says, I think. Christianity’s coming into the world had a way of “unseating” many of the powers. The result should have (and truly is) the revelation of the world as sacrament and the seat of the good God. Instead, we have the disenchanted world of modernity. And just as the old gods and faeries have disappeared, and we refuse the good God His proper throne, we instead find ourselves in a world that invites power much darker and older than the old gods. Chaos itself is slouching towards us.

  19. Christopher,
    You’re complaining. I couldn’t argue with it. The “weaponizing” I have in mind is the Christianity of my native South. It can be brutal. The penal substitution has created many atheists. So, I’m at least aware that some people are cautious around Christians because they’ve been beaten up a bit. They are returning the favor these days.

  20. “The Secret of Roan Inish” is a wonderful film! I have it in my DVD collection.

    Many thanks for this writing, Father!

  21. As an FYI, for a few years now, some Orthodox Christians have been looking into the intersection of Orthodoxy and fantasy/sci-fi. Those with Facebook can take a look at “Doxacon” for further information. I just checked their wall, and the latest post is a link to this post of Father Stephen’s.

  22. True – is it habit from a sense of powerlessness, or worse. I will ponder. Closer to home, we have a certain catechumen. During coffee hour, this person says something that I have heard before, and it runs something like “in Orthodoxy, there is room for opinion about certain things, room for disagreement”. I don’t comment. Based on experience, I probably know what these “things” are (heck, hardly any “probability” to it). Background suggests “penal substitution” demons. Most of the time such persons don’t make it through to baptism or chrismation. This person will I think. I say all this to note that this reality is not simply “out there”, but then you already know that…

  23. Father bless. I feel I’m a recovering secularist in the sense you’re describing here. I’m really trying to reawaken that awe and wonder I had in childhood, but it’s very difficult. I do pray daily. I try to fast and adhere to the other disciplines of the Church. Is there anything else I can do?

  24. “Thank you Fr Stephen for these posts on faerie. I’ve been appreciating them a lot. They ring so true!

    In first grade my teacher told my class that clouds were not what they seemed, that they were only water vapor. This was around 1953 when “realism” was replacing fairy tales in the schools.

    There is no way I can adequately describe what a profound impact that one single disenchanting statement had on my life. It was like pulling a curtain down before my eyes, preventing me from having any connection to Creation, Nature, the World. These were my formative years: everything became just atoms.

    Interestingly, this habit of thinking that the whole material world was “just atoms” stayed with me even when I came to know there was a God and that He knew every thought in my heart (I had somehow “met” Him in the Sermon on the Mount as a teenager). I knew I was supposed to “appreciate” and “be grateful for” creation, but the ruts in my mind would always go to “just atoms”. That disenchantment sapped life of all normal feelings, so that in spite of my trust in God (and I did learn to leave everything with Him as a child trusting a loving father) I still puzzled over meaning and wondered why I felt so bereft of it, why every issue, every activity, felt utterly meaningless and futile. I think I could be the “poster child” for what happens when stories, enchantment, magic are removed from one’s life.

    Reenchantment for me was and is a long ongoing process. In college I entered that wardrobe closet into Narnia. This was a first tentative step away from deadly realism. Eustace, in Voyage of the Dawntreader, tells Ramandu that in his world (our modern world) a star is a huge ball of flaming gas, and Ramandu responds, “Even in your world, my son, that is not what a star is but only what it is made of.”

    Yet … habits die hard and ruts in the mind take years to level off, especially if those ruts were created in early childhood. Even now in my old age I battle with an “I and it” relationship to nature. I have a feeling Owen Barfield’s writings would be a great help in understanding all this, but he is so difficult to follow (at least for me).

    Interestingly, it was also only imaginative works that could rescue and heal me from incredibly bad theology inflicted on me in my childhood. Since I had been taught (also in the formative years) a deadly mixture of Calvinist and Covenant theology, I couldn’t escape seeing the Scriptures through that lens and thus could not bring myself to read the Bible at all. But Lewis’s Space trilogy came sweeping in and revolutionized my life. By putting Christianity into an unspoiled, “faerie” context, damaged lives such as mine could access its truths. The image of the wave and the Green Lady in Perelandra did for me what no preaching could possibly do: I learned I could actually trust God to be Love and that every “wave” that came to me was from a God whose every action is meant for our good. I still couldn’t read the Bible for decades, but God was rebuilding me.

    We go through our experiences for a reason, and as Fr Thomas Hopko says, life is about dealing with what you have been dealt. It is not hopeless to be denied a normal childhood no matter how it may feel so. Rather, it is an opportunity to trust Him in the midst of overwhelming feelings that scream hopelessness, nothingness, and discouragement. 🙂

    The following quotes I have found particularly helpful:

    C.S. Lewis on Stories: “The value of [all stories] (myth) is that it takes all the things you know and restores to them the rich significance which has been hidden by the veil of familiarity. The child enjoys his cold meat, otherwise dull to him, by pretending it is buffalo just killed with his own bow and arrow. And the child is wise. The real meat comes back to him more savory for having been dipped into a story. You might say that only then is it real meat.”

    Fr Andrew Cuneo, about child rearing: “Lewis believed you can sculpt, train, hone your emotions just as you can the body. The first step in training children is to shape their feelings.”

    An Orthodox monk (whose name I can’t remember): “Until you can have ordinary human feelings you’re not ready for character formation.” (Response to someone’s question about a picture of Dickens on his wall with only one icon.)

    And a final quote from Lewis in his introduction to Phantastes and Lilth: “The quality which had enchanted me in [MacDonald’s] imaginative works turned out to be the quality of the real universe, the divine, magical, terrifying and ecstatic reality in which we all live. I should have been shocked in my ‘teens if anyone had told me that what I learned to love in Phantastes was goodness. But now that I know, I see there was no deception. The deception is all the other way round – in that prosaic moralism which confines goodness to the region of Law and Duty, which never lets us feel in our face the sweet air blowing from ‘the land of righteousness,’ never reveals that elusive Form which if once seen must inevitably be desired with all but sensuous desire – the thing (in Sappho’s phrase) ‘more gold than gold.’ ”

  25. Chris,
    What you are describing is quite difficult…though don’t lose heart. First, as much as possible, practice giving thanks for all things. Ask for mercy and healing as well. It is God’s work to heal hearts…not ours.

  26. The Sailor

    There he was –
    the Sailor,
    holding onto the mast of his ship
    leaning out into the wind, free hand shading his eyes
    in search of the Lost Horizon –
    a boy of nine or ten.

    Some day soon
    someone will point out to him
    that his ship is an iron red mound of dirt,
    his mast a clothesline pole
    and the shimmering sea
    just the bleak, windswept flatland behind Bakersfield
    strewn with broken glass.
    And then perhaps he’ll understand
    that the cost of growing up in a practical world is the loss of wonder

    and he’ll save his heart, sail away on a sand dune
    and leave the rest of us
    stranded.

  27. Nuevo Mundo

    Looking for a new world
    somewhere
    on an old
    Horizon.
    Columbus
    must have felt like this
    a hundred sunrises,
    must have turned uneasy
    beneath
    a hundred moons.
    And was it really
    a New World calling
    or the old one
    driving him away
    that brought him
    from across the sea?

    Standing on the shore
    of WestOblivionMyHomeTown
    I am
    waiting for a ship.

    Fr. Stephen, you wrote some weeks back that you believe what unites us is our sin. I know, this comment clashes somewhat with the discussion of faerie. But I think I see a connecting thread. Fr. Thomas Hopko pointed out that sin is missing the mark, it’s an archery term. He further stated that the problem in our culture and our world is that we’ve long since lost sight of what the mark is. The idea (or reality) of sin is now more of a moralistic hobgoblin in the make believe story of our world.

    I think part of what you’ve been describing in the last four posts is what we’ve lost and that is what really unites us. These are the consequences of generations of what Fr. Hopko colorfully called “living in the pig-pen”, an image drawn from a modification of the story of the Prodigal Son.

    Another part, however, faerie as you’ve called it, is at least close to re-establishing some positive idea that there could actually be a mark. Buried somewhere deep in our hearts is the notion that there must be something better somewhere past fear and doubt and suspicion and aimlessness and loss and it sometimes sneaks out in stories..

  28. A few weeks ago someone on facebook linked to a reddit article about the strange things someone has seen when doing search-and-rescue in deeply forested areas–stories of faceless men, children disappearing for weeks under their parents’ eyes and turning up dead without having digested the food they ate the day they vanished, stairs in the middle of the woods–I found myself following the comments and getting more and more scared. The fear only went away when I spent time praying. I’ve always believed there’s more out there than angels and demons, but these things are not safe to mess with.

  29. Meg,
    You are very correct. The wisdom has given us stories and warnings. Do not play with elves. Christians need to stick to the Church and the sacraments. But we need not go down the road of modernity in doing so. Before long, the road of modernity will lead us to deny God Himself.

  30. Father Bless,

    “Russians can be very one-storey about almost everything. I’ve met Russian physicists whose account of the world would freak you out.”

    Can you please expound on this?

  31. I ordered “Laurus” from Amazon based on Dreher’s recommendation . It’s coming via USPS and expected delivery is, from what I can tell, sometime before the Second Coming.

  32. Yes, Fr. Freeman, thank you. I have heard of the “Secret of Roan Inish”, wasn’t sure how good it was. I’ve place it on our watchlist. 🙂

  33. MGT,
    Well, the Soviets attempted to put in place a Materialist world view to a culture that had been permeated by Orthodoxy. So, I would run into Physicists who had no doubt about icons and their importance, but sought to explain it through “rays” and stuff like that. The Russian fascination with ESP and similar research is, I think, just a materialist attempt to account for their deep one-storey feel for things. I don’t know if this is changing…but I doubt it.

  34. Relative to this discussion thread, it may be of interest that there is a seminar called “Doxacon,” now in it’s third year, which has the intention, “Where Faith and Truth meet Science Fiction and Fantasy.” It is the brain child of one of my fellow priests in the Romanian Episcopate of the OCA, Fr. David Subu.

    I’m elated to be able to go this year, as the specific theme is “Doxacon Meets Harry Potter” and the keynote speaker is John Granger, an Orthodox Christian who is well respected as a “Potter expert” (he goes by the moniker of “Hogwarts Professor”). It turns out the Potter series is thick with Christian “ciphers,” and is perhaps the best current stab at “faerie.” I’ve been using it in my youth group as a way to convey spiritual principles.

    Anyone close to Washington D.C. might want to consider attending, if this kind of thing intrigues you. The dates are November 13-14, next weekend. Here’s the website: http://www.doxacon.org

  35. I have been thinking over this post. Forgive my impertinence, but elves? Really? Elves? I went and read some Bultmann for the first time after reading this post, and then I read some Austin Farrer on Bultmann to balance things out. I can go in for the Virgin Birth, the miracles, and the resurrection, but elves?

  36. Way off topic here 🙂 but I need some help with this one (and maybe it won’t prove to be so off topic?):

    Father Sophrony states that the comfort we receive from the Holy Spirit, the Comforter is “neither psychological no physiological but ontological, having to do with Divine eternity.” (p 53 – 54, We Shall See Him As He Is)

    Fr. Sophrony, prior to this quote, was writing about the the tears one’s soul sheds when experiencing separation from God.

    Fr. Freeman, perhaps these are also the tears we will be blessed to shed when (and if) we finally grasp the enormity of what we have lost in the process of ‘growing up’ of becoming wonder-less?

    And could this be what Fr. Sophrony refers to as repentance? An ontological repentance? A repentance for having lost wonder (for lack of a better word) – having exiled the ‘faerie’? A repentance for refusing to be like a child?

  37. Boyd,
    I don’t think I’ve suggested that you should believe in elves, or that I do, nor are they necessary to the Christian faith. They are, at the moment, simply part of a discussion about faerie, to which, in some traditions, they belong. Icelanders have a very strong belief in elves, btw. Pixies are the favorite in England. Neither, of course, are necessary. However, Bultmann is an unbeliever for whom Jesus (if he ever existed) is to be understood in the terms of German existentialism. Worse than useless. Bultmann is positively harmful.

    But, in Orthodoxy, the world is filled with weeping icons, relics of saints, incorrupt bodies, bi-locating saints, saints who shine with the uncreated light, saints who float in the air, saints who can read your mind, and blog-writers. That last one is a bit scary. I’m not sure that I believe in them.

  38. Father,
    I’ve been thinking about the opening sentence in this article and have been trying to relate it to something I long ago heard a psychotherapist say, that children are born with very good intuition which parents, in effect, negate, by teaching them to think concretely and the intuitive abilities subsequently atrophy from lack of use. He believed this was a mistake and that children should learn to pay attention to their intuition hand in hand with concrete thinking. It had been his experience for instance that intuitive children could, in a general way, correctly judge the trustworthiness of a given adult with “deadly accuracy”. They couldn’t tell you exactly why an adult was good or bad but they just knew. The problem there was that that intuition needed to be fleshed out with facts or it risked being easily swayed with a piece of candy.

    I’m trying to discern the connection between intuition/instincts and the ability to grasp “faerie”. The only conclusion I’ve come to thus far is that the individual with functioning intuition can see or hear what the mind weighed down with rational, concrete thinking processes cannot.

    I was “born into” the Orthodox faith 23 years ago because my instincts and intuition just “knew” with absolute certainty that it was the truth. I was catechized of course, but I was also blessed early on to have had a wise spiritual father. From him I learned the “story” of the Faith. He had lots and lots of stories and I just love stories! When I heard the story of Orthodoxy I just knew it was true. I still have to look theological issues up in the books he gave me but it’s mostly because someone has asked a question to which I don’t recall the answer. My next door neighbor thinks my belief and how I arrived at it is “intellectually reckless” and “childish”. I prefer “child-like”. He has ulcers and lots of tension headaches; I do not.

  39. What you describe is still a form of psychological repentance. Fr. Sophrony does not disparage the psychological – he even notes that for many, it is the most they will see in this life. The ontological repentance is something quite different. But repentance is not about repenting for things we have done or not done. Repentance is the state of a broken and contrite heart (that even should one be without sin would still be the right state of heart). Ontological repentance is one that goes far deeper than the mind and into the very fabric of our being.

  40. I grew up ‘sort of’ believing in Santa Claus, which is to say that I believed with an occasional bout of unspoken doubt. My parents never actually ‘told’ me the story (‘Twas the Night before Christmas, etc.). They simply went along it and didn’t discourage my belief. When I was old enough to grasp the logistics of traveling the world in a single night with sufficient presents for all the people of the world packed into a single sleigh, I finally asked my mother directly. She,somewhat reluctantly told me the truth, adding with a warm smile, “But wasn’t it wonderful?” It WAS wonderful, and in my case it had no impact whatsoever upon my continued belief in God or the miraculous Bible stories I knew well. Some today would say that my parents lied to me. I would say they allowed me to know the experience of wonder. My children also believed in Santa Claus and remain faithful Orthodox believers while my grandchildren are being reared in the truth of the real Saint Nicholas with no objection from grandpa.

    This isn’t an argument in favor of encouraging children to believe in Santa Claus. It is to relate the experience of wonder that in many respects has stayed with me. I no longer wonder over flying reindeer during Advent, but the wonder largely remains – the awe and wonder of the Incarnation and all that it implies about the world that draws me in a similar, albeit more concrete, fashion outside of the banality of what THIS world would have us believe the world is in reality.

    These words…

    “Christ points to mercy and forgiveness and a generosity of life that understands self-sacrifice and self-emptying to be the true path to fullness of being. Such assertions can only be true if the world is other than we see it. Christ does not teach that we should lay our lives down for others because it is “nice” to do so. He teaches that this behavior is actually consistent with things as they truly are. That we do not see this as obvious is due to our blindness – not to the nature of the world itself. The truth of the world is summed up in the term “Kingdom of God.” What is coming into the world is not something new, but a revealing of things as they truly are. What is now largely hidden is being made known.”

    …are among the most beautiful and illuminating I have ever read of the wonder that surrounds me. May they be forever engraved on my heart. Thank you!

  41. Meg Photini — i was curious about the reddit you mentioned. I ended up finding it. I read all the stories. Creepy. There were some links in some of the comments that took me to some other interviews regarding similar incidents. Someone told me that 99% of the stories on that particular reddit are fiction. But perhaps that one is not. It is freaky. Goodness.

  42. That DBH article reminded me somewhat of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest. There is something hauntingly attractive about McMurphy’s request for the big Indian to end his life if the psychiatrists ever managed to rob him of his spirit.

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