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When I wasn’t even in school yet, my parents hung a poster on the wall  of my bedroom.  The name of the poster of was “The Land Of Make Believe”, and it was like a road atlas to the Country of Dreams.  Literally, because the whole poster was illustrated with scenes from familiar fairy-stories and nursery rhymes, connected by a road that wound through that unreal but ever so familiar geography.

It wound past the wood where Little Red Riding Hood encountered the Wolf, leaped over  a rushing stream on a bridge where the Three Billy Goats Gruff deceived the hungry Troll, and passed by the hill where Jack and Jill went to fetch their fateful pail of water.   There were, in the background, fabulous castles wherein dwelt such notables as Jack the Giant Killer, and Grandfather-Know-It-All, as well as the Emerald City of Oz.

That map did not survive my parents’ divorce.  I never saw it again until the Internet had matured enough to become the garage sale of Western Civilization, where if you are patient enough, and have good enough search engine skills, you can find almost anything. For some reason, it had never dawned on me that if I had one of these posters hanging in my childhood bedroom, others of my generation may have had the same poster and had been just as mesmerized by it as I was.  On the Internet, I learned that it was drawn by the Czech artist Jaro Hess in 1930, and the figure of the Wandering Jew in the lower right hand corner had been changed to conform to post-Holocaust sensibilities to “The Wanderer”.  It is still available, although it is not cheap.

The poster had been published in Grand Rapids, Michigan, which explains why it ended up in my bedroom.  My family has deep roots in Western Michigan and it probably had belonged to someone in my father’s family, which explains why it disappeared after my parents’ divorce.

This dimly-remembered early childhood wall decoration may have begotten in me a love of maps of imaginary places.  All I know is that, some eight years after the nursery rhyme map disappeared from the wall of my bedroom, I encountered a fold-out map of Wilderland in the front pieces of  JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit.  Immediately hooked by the depiction of rivers, mountains, and forests to which I would never be able to travel, I finished the book in a single reading.  It would not be true to say that the maps added nothing to my enjoyment of the tale.   In fact, they gave the whole story a concreteness it would otherwise have lacked.

Since the appearance of The Lord Of The Rings in the 1950s, the Fantasy Map has become something of a cliché.  I wasn’t surprised to find a map of Earthsea in Ursula LeGuin’s A Wizard Of Earthsea, and truth be told, I’m glad the map was included.  I would have been profoundly lost if I hadn’t been able to follow Ged around the numerous islands where the narrative took place.  I don’t know if The Chronicles Of Thomas Covenant would have been improved had they included a map.  I doubt it.  Jack Vance’s Lyonesse trilogy also lacked maps, although they are available on the Internet, but I had little trouble keeping track of the action as it unfolded.   Robert E Howard’s Hyborean Age was nothing more than a set of political boundaries, but that didn’t keep my youthful imagination from filling in the dark forests and choking deserts from his muscular prose.

One of the newer fantasy worlds to be painstakingly mapped is George R R Martin’s brutal Westeros.  Of course, Westeros is only one large continent in a much larger world, and a lot of the action takes place in geographies that are only hinted at in the maps in the earlier books.  Martin has an eye for detail, and the maps come in very handy.  Also, the maps appear to have evolved from the narrative, which I appreciate, since  writers who create a map beforehand have a tendency to want to take you to every place mentioned on the map whether or not they have an adventure worthy of it.  Even George R R Martin, in my opinion, spent too much time in Slaver’s Bay in A Dance With Dragons and maybe this wouldn’t have occurred had a detailed map of the area not accompanied A Feast For Crows.

A very beautiful, and very whimsical, fan map of Westeros has been produced.

Indeed, now that role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons have become so popular, it is customary for intricate campaigns in these games to come accompanied by maps.  In order to allow the dungeonmaster to guide his flock through increasingly complex scenarios, ProFantasy, a UK software developer, has produced an array of software tools that allow the cartographers of Paradise to quickly render their visions into actual maps.  

Finally, the whole idea of the map of an imaginary realm takes a metaphysical bent when you consider what CS Lewis said about fantasy stories, that they take place in the only alternative world known to us, that of the human soul.   There have been innumerable geographers of the soul, including depth-psychologists such as Sigmund Freud, Joseph Campbell,  and my personal favorite, Carl Gustav Jung, who proposed that the intricate mandalas produced by Tibetan artists revealed the  unconscious geological strata of the human soul.  Yet I believe that the Bible, with its wealth of stories and poetry, serves admirably in that regard, especially in that difficult-to-trace frontier between the human soul and the Divine.

The greatest danger with maps, especially with a map as accurate as is the Bible,  is to mistake the map for the terrain itself.  The best maps help you achieve your destination with the least amount of surprise and the greatest comfort.   But only the most slothful and intransigent of armchair travelogues will mistake their knowledge of maps obtained in the comfort of the library for the actual arduous journey undertaken by the intrepid explorers of the psyche.


I responded to the late Michael Spencer, of Internet Monk fame, when he posted a couple of years ago about the lack of sacramentality in Evangelical worship:

But evangelicals are in sacramental chaos, and the results are quite obvious. Evangelicals are “re-sacramentalizing” in an uncritical and unbiblical way. The Planetshakers article was good evidence, but you can see and hear it everywhere. What are our evangelical sacraments? Where will evangelicals defend the idea that “God is dependably at work?”
We have sacramentalized technology.
We have sacramentalized the pastor and other leaders.
We have sacramentalized music. (i.e. the songs themselves and the experience of singing.)
We have sacramentalized leaders of musical worship.
We have sacramentalized events. (God is here!)
We have sacramentalized the various forms of the altar call.
We have sacramentalized the creation of an emotional reaction.
We’ve done all of this, amazingly, while de-emphasizing and theologically gutting baptism. We’ve done this while reducing the Lord’s Supper to a relatively meaningless, optional recollection. We’ve done this while removing any aspects of sacramentalism from our worship and even our architecture. (Public reading of scripture, hymns, tables/altars, baptisteries, pulpits.) And we’ve given over to whomever wants to speak up the power to say what God is saying, what God is doing, what God is using, what God thinks of whatever we’re doing, what the Spirit is up to and so on.
 

My response:

I hadn’t been Orthodox a year when all of a sudden it hit me why Evangelicals, my former self included, believed that Catholics and Orthodox **worshipped saints**, statues, icons and Mary. We treat them the way Evangelicals treat God. That is to say, we do religious acts in their presence, directed to them. No wonder. Since there is no [official] sacrifice in Evangelical worship, there is just “dylia” offered to God, religious acts done in His presence, directed to Him.

Any Cathodox would be aghast, and rightly so, at offering the Eucharist to anyone except the most Holy Trinity. Without the Eucharist properly understood… You have kind of a Jesusism, an ideology extracted from a text, subject to all of the vicissitudes and mutations of any ideology.


Apparently, that is the Paschal Greeting in Tolkien’s constructed Elvish language Quenya. It was fun tracking down the exact translation of this phrase. Apparently, it comes from Tolkien himself, who also translated several Christian prayers into Quenya, such as The Lord’s Prayer and the Hail Mary.

Naturally, this leads to some speculation as to what significance the Incarnation, Passion, and Resurrection of Eru Ilúvatar has for the Elves. There is precious little to go by either in The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillon. Human piety or apostasy is measured in these works by the human group’s faithfulness to the alliance with the Eldar, and by extension, to the Valar.  Yet there is a line drawn between the Elves, who are bound to this world and cannot transpass it, and Men, whose fate lies “beyond the circle of the world, and what it is, even Mandos cannot tell.”

Nevertheless, Tolkien constructed his mythology to be, at the least, compatible with the worship of the Blessed Trinity.  I view the Valar as Elementals, roughly corresponding to the των στοιχειων του κοσμου [“the elements of this world”], mentioned so coyly in St. Paul’s Letter to the Colossians (2:20).  Alas, the Elves never finish their apprenticeship.  The virtual immortality in this world which is so coveted by the fallen Numenoreans, turns out to be a perpetual submission to the Valar.    Men would eventually come, because of their participation in the Divine nature, to overshadow their titular overlords.  So, the First would be Last, and the Last, First.

The number and depth of human-Elvish relationships show that the Elves have at least a capacity to enter into the communio sanctorum, except that they would be participating from the streets of Tirion and Alqualondë, rejoicing in the good fortune of their younger brethren and awaiting their own eventual redemption.  I am certain that the learned among them, on this bright Feast of Feasts, would greet each other with the Paschal greeting:

Ortanne Laivino! Anwa ortanne Laivino! 

laivë noun “ointment” , hence Laivino, “the Anointed, the Christ”

orta vb. “rise”, also transitive “raise, lift up”, pa.t. ortanë (Nam, RGEO:67, ORO; misreading “ortani” in Letters:426). According to PE17:63-64, this pa.t. form ortanë is only transitive (*”raised”), whereas the intransitive pa.t. (*”rose”) is orontë

anwa adj. “real, actual, true” 

From an online Quenya dictionary


Remind me, again and again, of my own utter ignorance of the lives that surround me, and whose uneasy, restless surfaces are all I see; all I can see. How again and again You have taken the turbulent, the unharmonious, the rebellious, and out of this unpromising material You have fashioned Your Saints.

Evelyn Underhill

There is no substitute for the gift of discernment, no set of rules nor institutional polity by which we can be released from the responsibility for discernment. The world can never be made safe from all possible risks. The Faith must ever be placed at risk in the commerce of ideas.

Lesslie Newbigin

Likewise, sin can never be destroyed in a person’s heart through pruning or abandoning certain vices or habits. Regardless of how many branches are pruned from it, a live tree will not die but put out new shoots. Anyone who wishes to destroy sin must tear out its very roots – roots which lie deeply and firmly planted in the heart. This can never be a painless process, but it is at least possible now that God has sent the Great Physician, Jesus Christ.

St. Innocent Of Alaska

The allegorical method of Biblical interpretation, the method by which the sense, meaning one thing literally and meaning another thing morally or mystically or analogically, …is the most valuable, perhaps the only valuable way to proceed with much of the text of Bible. It depends for its value on an illumination of greatness; these meanings must be self-evident once they are pointed out, for they can never be proved. Like prayer, their true aim is interior conviction.

Charles Williams

The flesh recoils at living by faith.

St. Theophan The Recluse


When I was five or six years old, my troubled parents moved to the nation’s capital in a fruitless attempt to halt my father’s descent into mental illness. Within a year they were divorced, and somehow, I discovered church. My mother brought the three of us every Sunday to Westminster Presbyterian Church, which at the time was located close to us in Silver Springs, Maryland, being just across the state line in the District of Columbia. I was unceremoniously dropped into the nursery where, with dozens of other Baby Boomers, I was left pretty much to fend for myself.

There was a book of Bible stories in that nursery. It is likely familiar to many because I have seen the same volume in doctors’ and dentists’ offices. I believe it is published by the Seventh Day Adventists, and it is richly illustrated. At five years of age, the book’s illustrations seemed to me to be backlit with the very Uncreated Light of Tabor itself. The account of the Creation, the Fall, and the Flood, ignited my young imagination and made me an instant evangelist. There was a young teenaged girl watching us in the nursery that Sunday, and I approached her with the book opened to the account of Noah and the flood. Breathlessly, I retold the story of how a man built a boat and God brought all the animals to him, and then He made it rain a long long time…

The teenaged girl looked at the book and smiled at me. With the all authority early adolescence could muster over against the earnestness of childhoold, she informed me: “That’s like a fairy story, you know. It’s a nice story but it didn’t really happen.” When I returned to read the book, the light had died on its pages. I threw the book into a corner and picked up some plastic dinosaurs.

There are a lot of things I don’t remember from my very early childhood, but I do remember that incident. The idea that ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny, so long discredited in biology, seems to me to have some bearing in spiritual formation, so that at the tender age of five or six, I had thrust upon me the soul-choking infidelty and unbelief of mid twentieth century liberal Protestantism at floodtide. Interestingly, that particular congregation takes great pride in the continuity of this particular mindset in its midst down to the present day.

But I remembered the Light I saw on the pages of that book. All my life, whenever I had to make a conscious decision about divine or moral things, I have had to choose between moving towards that Light or away from it. In my early twenties, early in my conscious Christian walk, I was given a package of Watchtower material to read. It contained a lot of teaching about the Bible, but the Light wasn’t there, not like it was in the Baptist, Pentecostal, and Catholic material I was devouring at that time. It was as if someone was trying to dance a waltz while the orchestra was playing a quadrille.

I shudder to say that I didn’t immediately sit down with my Bible and a Strong’s Concordance and puzzle through every Scripture reference in the Watchtower material to see, like the Bereans, if these things were so. Had I taken such a puntillistic approach at that time, who is to say whether I would not have ended up as a Jehovah’s Witness. Subsequent contacts with members of this sect have shown them to have a strong belief in the power of argument, debate, reason, comparing text to text, and acrimony to establish the truth of Scripture, and subsequent experiences with the Scriptures have informed me that they do not yield their treasures easily to the disputers of this age.

CURRENTLY READING

The Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams