I stood in church, my brothers and sisters standing, too, all of us singing our praises. One song ended, another began, a song I have loved since we first started singing it three years.
The words washed over me as I sang, and toward the end, these words struck with particular force:
O hold on to the promise – The stories are true.
And then—the flash.
That’s what Emily Starr called it, those momentary partings of the veil between heaven and earth. Madeleine L’Engle called it kairos, when chronological time seems to stop and we glimpse eternity, when we see with a sense that is not physical and know with a knowing that transcends mere knowledge.
That morning in church, the world fell away, and I stood as if on a promontory. In the far distance, a fair city gleamed through mist. The land between that city and me lay fertile and green, a patchwork land of counterpane, and all the patches were stories, and every story pointed the way to the fair city. A whole, shimmering Reality unfolded before my gaze—and yet surrounded me, too—and I knew it was…Real.
I saw—truly saw—not just believed or surmised or accepted, but saw—that the stories were true. All the stories that have most shaped me, the writers whose words have mattered most in my life—L.M. Montgomery and Jane Austen, C.S. Lewis and Elizabeth Goudge, George Eliot and the poet-king David, Asaph and the sons of Korah, Saints John and Luke and the Apostle Paul, Charles Sheldon and Sheldon Vanauken and Madeleine L’Engle, and so many others too numerous to count—I saw them all in one shining moment, saw them whole and alive and true—and I saw how much they matter. How much they signify. They exist to point to God, to show us how to live, to reveal us to ourselves, and help us see that we are not alone.
And with that last gift of (in)sight, I suddenly knew, too, that I was not the outsider I had always felt myself to be, that my particular way of being in the world is not wholly new and therefore has been charted before. There are maps, blessed be God, and I don’t have to blunder through the wilderness of my being as if it were all new, uncharted territory. I have compatriots and kindred spirits to light my way and companion me through the dark places.
They surrounded me. Even as I stood above them, looking out from my mountaintop vista, they were beside me, even within me. I was not alone! The glorious company of the saints—real saints and fictional ones—marched before me through that land of counterpane, each of them bearing her own story to the fair city, a story that mattered beyond her story, that touched thousands of other stories beside and before and behind her. The stories were knit together, a patchwork of such beauty that tears swam in my eyes.
I stood, singing the words—hold on, rise up, awake!—and weeping for joy. The stories were real. They were true. I didn’t simply believe it. I knew it.
It was a strong knowing—a deep and abiding sense that the stories mattered, and that they mattered deeply, because we needed them desperately. We were starving in a paradise of plenty, dying of thirst in the midst of a freshwater sea, lost in a land that was charted and known.
In the silence after the song I almost shouted aloud, “The stories are true! They’re true! Oh, friends, they’re true! For the love of God, take up and read!”
I didn’t, of course, because I’m a good Presbyterian, and we do things decently and in order. But sometimes, I wish I had.
I think people need to know. They need to know they’re not alone. They need to know the road they’re traveling has been traveled before. They need to know there are signposts to show the way, and inns where you can stop for a pint and a good night’s sleep, and friends for the journey. And that no matter how alone you feel, someone, somewhere, has felt that way before. And they’ve written a book about it.
The stories are true. Oh, friends, thanks be to God, they’re true!
What are you waiting for? Take up and read!
K.C. Ireton‘s beautiful piece especially speaks to me and encourages me to remember all the truth I came to know first through story before I met it in sound doctrine and good theology. Andrew Peterson speaks about this here – He Gave Us Stories.
* “All Things New” lyrics by Andrew Peterson; music by Andrew Peterson, Andy Gullahorn, and Ben Shive. Andrew Peterson – All Things New
The opening image is one I shot at C.S. Lewis’s home called The Kilns in Oxford. The image for “This great Story” was shot at Taylor University in their amazing Center for the Study of C.S. Lewis and Friends.
This particular book is Joy Davidman’s personal copy of Mere Christianity given to her by C.S. Lewis before they were married. It contains her pencilled in notes about the text.
Many blessings to you, friend, and happy reading!
K.C. Ireton is the author of The Circle of Seasons: Meeting God in the Church Year and Cracking Up: A Postpartum Faith Crisis. An avid reader, she is especially fond of old books and home-schools her four children so that she can spend her days reading and learning all sorts of interesting things. K.C. is pleased as punch to be writing for The Cultivating Project!
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