Be Childlike, Not Childish.
Chill air makes me pull my covers closer just as my alarm buzzes. I roll over, swat my phone, and snuggle back under the blankets. Then I slit open one eye to see what the morning has brought. Suddenly I am all awake: the sky is grey, but the evergreens are shadowy jade, frosted with feather-flakes of snow. Snow! It is early this year, and cold, and…delightful. I can hear sleigh bells in my dreams, and though I am quick, I can never quite catch a glimpse of Jack Frost as he paints my windowpanes—which is a stunning feat, as I have a dozen panes before my desk.
My blood quickens at the thought of wandering out in those downy flakes, listening to the strange hush that snow always brings with it. My body is slower to answer the fairy calls—after all, covers are warm, the air in my house is decidedly not. After a good amount of standing by the heater, I am layered enough to sally forth into a world drenched in cold and quiet. There is wonder in the wintry wind. Magic laces the limbs of Old Man Cottonwood.
I stop on the bridge to watch the morning. Great puffs of snow shake off branches and glide into the stream. They are gone, liquid water once again, what moments before were airy snow-castles. The aching chill in my legs prods me to walk again. Still I watch the morning—the dancing snow, the plump little birds along my path—and I wonder about things. Do other people wonder about “things?” I wonder. I walk on, thinking of how the brown hedge next to me was teeming with living colour this Summer. How I clipped a lavender flower from it to wear in my hair. Do people my age wear flowers in their hair?
I question more and more whether I am an adult, or just a child inside an adult’s body. Certainly I have learned some tact since childhood. Wait, is that tact, or have I learned to lie? Have I learned to gloss over something that I obviously see and am curious about? And when does snow lose its magic and become merely an obstacle on the road? Do you become a grown-up when you step around a puddle rather than jump in it? Does progress in years mean regress in seeing details like feathery finch bellies, pale peach against the snow? Does paying bills mean you stop chasing the rainbow’s end? Does reality awaken us from our dreams?
The lenses of child-eyes have been mine for quite a long time. I think folks snicker at me sometimes after I walk by, wreathed in flowers or Autumn leaves. People often try to tell me that reality will burst my bubble—enumerating various horrors, as if they are reality’s servants, sent with sword in hand. One of my neighbours thinks I only appreciate happy endings, that I just pretend the Fall didn’t happen, and that I need a dose of darkness to snap me out of fairy tales. Yet I am aware that the real fairy stories had plenty of dark and morbid moments; many end unhappily-ever-after. I know the darkness of the Fall in my own heart and brain; in bitterness, betrayal, and broken bodies. I know Sorrow’s shears, clipping off friendships that should have grown; snipping life out of loved ones, far too soon. It is always too soon, too young, too much…The Fall is too much with us.
The Fall is too much with us—should we shrink away in fear? Do we pretend it isn’t real? No, that is a childish response, like hiding under the blankets from invisible night-fears. Thin quilts won’t turn the blade of the Black Riders. What then is our defence? A heap of philosophy books to explain away the evil in the hearts of men? That is a cheap grown-up trick. Let us then be childlike—not childish—and revel in the fairy snows, walk so that we may see Beauty—not to burn calories. Let us know that the Fall happened, but not allow it to be the end of our stories. As Chesterton asserts, “Fairy tales do not give the child his first idea of bogey. What fairy tales give the child is his first clear idea of the possible defeat of bogey.”* Indeed, I need childlike belief that Smaug can be defeated—I already know that he exists. So for the Fall, I need to know it will one day finally and fully come untrue, because it daily threatens to undo me.
Yes, there is roadkill by the sidewalk, graffiti on the dumpster, and scraggly undergrowth along the river path where I walk. I do not deny these things. But there are majestic trees, glimpses of a snow-capped peak between branches, delightful bridges, and cheery little birds piercing the morning with sweet songs. It is Beauty that leads us to worship. Beauty, that restores sanity to our weathered souls. It is Beauty that redirects our focus toward the One who made all things Beautiful in their time. That One is trustworthy and true, and He will make everything sad come undone one day…Interweaving myth into a Man and fairy stories into facts.
*Chesterton, G. K., “The Red Angel” in Tremendous Trifles (New York: Dodd, Mead and Company, 1920) 130
Jody Byrkett is the editor of the Pray channel. She lives in picturesque Colorado where she enjoys hiking by sunshine or by starlight, foggy mornings and steaming mugs of tea, reading classic literature and theological essays, studying words and their origins, and practising the art of hospitality. (She also has a habit of spelling things ‘Britishly’.)