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.