Receiving the Gift: Experiencing the fairy tale of Christianity

I’m currently exploring the intersection of fantasy/fairy stories and faith formation. What I’m coming to recognize, with the help of others, is that the process of deification (being transformed into a person who is more & more holy, like God) and the creative process of story-telling are linked.

And this got me thinking, an obvious conclusion to this linkage of the two would be to see my own life as a fairy tale. Now, what do I mean by this? Do I mean that I start imagining, Don Quixote style, that I’m fighting off dragons on a desolate moor when in reality I’m just chasing a goose across a golf course? No, that’s not what I’m saying.

John Milbank says that the central characterization of a fairy story is that it centers around the concept of a gift-exchange and a character who is a sender-helper. Essentially, a fairy story, unlike a myth, is not as concerned with the hero character, but with the objects (or objective knowledge) being offered to the hero.

Milbank points out that a myth, like the ancient Greek poem The Oddessy, is about the hero, Odysseus. This hero is the focal point of the action. Even the gods and the universe (fate) are engaged with this single character.

In a fairy story, however, the “hero” is not the focal point. Instead, an object of some sort is the actual main character. The Ring of Power, the sword Excaliber pulled from the stone, the gift of the knowledge of magic to the boy in the cupboard under the stairs. The fairytale’s main character is the gift given, the “hero” who receives this gift is just the latest character in the much larger story.

And this gift is almost always offered by another character on the scene, the sender-helper. The newly endowed “hero” must then go forward on some journey, compelled by this gift, perhaps one day becoming a sender-helper for someone else.

Milbank suggests (and I think he’s on to something) that when reading it as a fairy story, Christianity is much more helpful. We are all characters within a much larger tale. And though we are entirely ordinary, like Harry Potter or Frodo Baggins, we are given a gift. It may be an experience, a new knowledge, a diagnosis; whatever the gift is, it changes everything and sends us on a journey.

Seeking the Kingdom

So I’ve been thinking about all of this, and it reminded me of the verse in the Gospel of Matthew, “seek first God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness, and all these other things will be given to you.” (Matt. 6:33)

If I read this verse within the framework of the fairy tale of Christianity, I recognize that the offered gift is the knowledge of God’s Kingdom and righteousness. I have received, let’s say, a promise of abundant life, but to fully experience that life, I must seek this Kingdom. It’s out there; I gotta look for it.

This word seek requires action. It needs me to make a concerted effort. It compels me in a particular direction. If I want to find God’s kingdom and righteousness, then I’m going to have to do some seeking, some searching, some asking around.

How do I do this? I cannot seek on my own; or, not very well. I cannot seek without curiosity or the assumption that I do not have all the answers. If I’m prideful, I have nothing to find. Humility is a prerequisite for this journey. And seeking for God’s kingdom and righteousness is a journey. It’s an epic adventure in which I face challenges, I meet friends and guides (if I would have them), and all the time I’m seeking for that which I desire.

Desiring the Kingdom

Of course, this question of desire will prove tricky. What do I desire? Comfort? Ease of life? The approval of others? My competing desires will cause challenges along the way.

So do I desire something more than these lesser things? Do I wish to discover God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness? In short, do I want to find God?
If so, then I must seek.

Receiving Help

For me, this means asking for help along the way. Remembering that in a fairy story, every gift is given via a sender-helper. Every Harry needs a Dumbledore; every Katniss needs a Haymitch.

My part in this grander story will be short and inconsequential indeed if I try to do it on my own. So I must look for help. I must expect it. I must assume that wisdom and guidance are waiting around every corner, spilling out of the mouth of every person I meet.

And if I receive enough help, I might be able to return the favor at some point. It’s all a part of this journey.