Settling into the Neighborhood
"We demand windows," said C.S. Lewis speaking of the role of literature in our lives. Why occupy our time and hearts with accounts of characters and events that are not real? Why enter vicariously into the fictional life of one who behaves in ways we wouldn't or shouldn't? Lewis explains, "We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own.... We demand windows. Literature as Logos is a series of windows, even of doors...."(1)
The literature I have loved most has taken me to windows of other worlds and other countries. Whether a Hobbit in the Shire or a rationalist in 19th century Russia, I have been a thousand characters in a thousand places and know more about myself and my world because of it. Crossing the bridge into Terabithia, I was introduced to another world and my own at once. The characters that came bounding out of Katherine Paterson's pages pulled me through their window and voiced my very first questions about life, death, and my own mortality. When I first followed Charles Wallace and Meg through a wrinkle in time and a window to Camazotz, I saw that darkness can overwhelm, and wondered at the idea that there is yet a light that cannot be overcome. Likewise, Lewis's own wardrobe provided the door that carried me to Narnia, a world that introduced the suggestion of signs and possibilities of another Kingdom within my own.
The windows we find in our literature teach us to see windows in our own worlds. The stories and places that pull us in and spit us out again show us our own lives as stories, our own place in a bigger story, our role in a better country. Perhaps we demand windows into other worlds simply because we are looking for another world, a world without suffering, or injustice, or our own pettiness.
The ancient psalmist voiced something similar about the world he was a part of and the world he imagined, "Hear my prayer, O LORD, listen to my cry for help; be not deaf to my weeping. For I dwell with you as an alien, a stranger, as all my fathers were" (39:12). Years later, the author of Hebrews wrote of Abraham, "By faith he made his home in the Promised Land like a stranger in a foreign country... For he was looking forward to the city with foundations, whose architect and builder is God" (11:8-10). God made humanity, Elie Wiesel once said, because God loves stories.
As we wake to life, whether in our own story or vicariously in other, we wake with questions. "How did we get here?" the Pevensie children asked with good reason. "And why are we here?" Of course, they got to Narnia through a wardrobe, but how they didn't know. And what did it all mean? Who among us has at times not been floored with the same questions of our own world: How did we get here? Why are we here? And what is the point of it all?
Our questions of this world are as valid as our questions of any other. Had the Pevensies' settled into Narnia without asking questions such as these, a great deal of the story would have been incomplete. Likewise, Annie Dillard writes of life in this place where we find ourselves, "Some unwonted, taught pride diverts us from our original intent, which is to explore the neighborhood, view the landscape, to discover where it is that we have been so startlingly set down, even if we can't learn why."(1) We are citizens in a world that would be easy to settle into and go about our lives. But what crucial part of the story do we miss by doing so?
The Christian story imagines a world where there are windows and doors that open to the Kingdom of God all around us—here and now and coming. There are places where heaven and earth meet at great crossroads, moments when we are given opportunities to see things beyond us, to see things as they really are. God is always leading us toward the many-roomed house Christ left us to imagine. The question is whether or not we will take the time to explore and enjoy the neighborhood.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) "We Demand Windows," Leland Ryken, ed. The Christian Imagination, (Colorado Springs: Shaw, 2002), 51.
(2) Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, (Bantam, 1977), 12.