There Is No Room Inside a Box

Here’s an evidently home-made YouTube music video with which I digress before I even start talking, so you’ll know that I didn’t make up that title myself. But I do think of it a lot. When I am feeling boxed in, I guess.

Back in my early 20’s, I went through a “Christian mystic” phase. One of my grandmothers is really into the mystics, and then I went to London and worked and worshiped in a church which ran the gamut from charismatic to contemplative (not necessarily opposites, as it turns out), so I read a lot of books by and about people who seemed to have stunning revelations from God and who did sometimes really socially awkward things in the name of Jesus and . . . oh. Kind of like Christians often still do. A lot of times they were sickly. They seemed to have trouble with relationships. But the best of their writings are bracing and inspiring and made me want to be the best kind of Jesus-lover I could be. Even though it kind of sounds like it, I’m not making fun of them. I could (and maybe sometime will) tell you stories about how their stories messed with my head at times, but for now suffice it to say there is still a genre of literature that could probably best be described as “Saints’ Lives.”

In the early days of that phase, I remember asking my mystical grandmother (whom I had taken on as kind of a mentor) whether she thought it was ungodly to read other types of literature than Christian-religious. I was probably hoping she’d say no, but expecting she’d say yes–and maybe hoping for that a little, too, as it would give me the chance to do something difficult and self-sacrificial. She didn’t really say either. She kind of hemmed and hawed a little bit and then said something about how it was certainly acceptable to read novels (which were, of course, what I was really asking about), but probably not very beneficial, like reading Saints’ Lives would be, for example. I came away with the feeling that reading novels (“good” ones, of course–there would be scandalous ones that should be avoided, but I’m sure it never occurred to Grandma–or me, at the time–that I would ever consider reading any of those) was like eating iceberg lettuce–it wasn’t going to have any effect on my emotional and spiritual nutrition–unless that was all I read–but it was kind of pointless.

I wasn’t sure whether to feel disappointed or not.

Now I think I disagree–and I’m reading novels, so I guess you can tell which side of the issue I came down on. I still enjoy reading theology and Saints’ Lives, believe it or not, but if a book is a really good one–no matter what the author’s personal philosophical bent, I still feel like I’m “getting something out of it.” I’m a fairly standard Evangelical when it comes to the Bible–though I wouldn’t consider myself “fundamentalist.” I think it is a book unlike other books and that God really did inspire all of it (though not by, say, hypnotising the scribes–I believe they were actual writers) in a way that other books are not inspired, even if they are. When it says, in the book of Hebrews, that the word of the Lord is “alive and powerful. It is sharper than the sharpest two-edged sword, cutting between soul and spirit, between joint and marrow. It exposes our innermost thoughts and desires” (Hebrews 4.12, NLT), I agree. I can’t think of any other book I have or would reread as many times as I’ve read and reread this one, nor one out of which I would ever get as much.

After that, though? Other books are just books, and I really don’t think it matters what genre it is, whether or not it’s going to “speak.” It has more to do with the author (whether writing is actually a gift of his or hers, or not) and the reader (whether the style is something I can resonate with). I realise I might be (definitely am) in the minority here, but I guess I believe that God, being, you know, kind of creative Himself, and creating with a Word, invented the arts, and that when they are operating most truly, they express Him in the end. I absolutely love it when I am reading something, or–to touch on the other arts for a minute because it applies to them, too–watching or viewing or listening to something and discover something somehow Redemptive in it, whether that was the artist’s intent or not. (Actually–I kind of love it more when I “see Jesus” somewhere when the person precisely didn’t intend it. Evidently I’m not the only one.) I don’t go around consciously hunting for that–anymore–but I guess after a lifetime of playing Hide-and-Seek with Jesus among the arts, He’s probably just going to keep on jumping out at me even when I wasn’t quite paying attention. Thank God.

As for “God’s favourite genre,” it may well be the lives of saints (understood more broadly), but not necessarily written down. Other than that, all due respect and love to my really quite amazing Grandmother, but I think pinning God and His ability to communicate down to one genre is really quite foolish and limiting. As the Bible itself would indicate, since it’s full of just about every genre out there.

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