Entering the timeless story of the season
I am a writer. Although I have written numerous essays for magazines and have now published eight books of nonfiction, with a ninth on the way, I especially love to write stories. I started writing stories 30 years ago when I was in high school. I haven’t really stopped since.
I write historical fiction. I write fantasy. I have written some young adult fiction. I have written a mystery thriller. My love of stories has even led me to attempt a screenplay with a present-day setting. (One of my current projects is to turn that screenplay into a novel, which is sort of backwards, I suppose.)
I really enjoy writing outdoor stories, especially about fishing. Even if I didn’t like writing stories in general, I’d probably still like writing fishing stories because they give me an excuse to do the necessary “research.” My screenplay is about a fictional fly-fishing guide on a western river. If it is ever turned into a movie, I want to be on location when it is filmed.
Some of my stories are fiction. Some are not. (Which category my fishing and other outdoor stories fall into, I’d rather not say.) Even the nonfiction essays I write are often filled with stories.
My fiction writing requires me to create and describe imaginary characters and settings. Even if I am writing about historical characters in a historical setting, I still need to imagine that time to present compelling descriptions and dialogues. My writing in the fantasy genre in particular requires me to create an entire imaginary world.
Now any successful author of fiction must at some level be able to imagine his or her characters and scenes in order to describe them. The author’s mind must enter into his or her world. This is a necessary part of good writing.
But I often go beyond that necessary practice of simply imagining my characters and scenes. I often imagine myself as a character in my created worlds. I don’t actually write myself into my books, but I do sometimes find myself laying in bed at night putting myself into my stories.
And here is the thing. When, I give way to this imaginative impulse, what I invariably do is step into my created world as a strong romantic hero. (The fact that I could be either strong or romantic might suggests just how fantastical my fantasy novels are!) I am flawless with a bow. Undefeatable with a sword, usually a magical sword with all sorts of special powers.
Although I appear brave to those around me, no bravery is really needed because I have imagined myself so powerful that I have nothing to fear. Nobody can hurt me. Villains flee before me, or fall vanquished at my feet. Through my incredible strength, skill and power, I lead the army, save the day, and become the respected hero (probably a king) of my imagined world.
Who needs sports fantasies, like being a Super Bowl-winning quarterback, when you save entire worlds with a magical sword?
As the author of these imagined worlds, I have the ability to enter them however I wish. After all, what author is going to create a world, and then willingly enter that world poor, underprivileged, oppressed and powerless?
The answer to that question, as it turns out, is God. That, in fact, is what Christmas is all about: an author who chooses to enter his own Story, but does so not as a figure of military power, but as a suffering servant living in a captive and oppressed nation. Moreover, he does so as a helpless baby.
There, in the person of a little Jewish baby named Yeshua (or Jesus as his name was later Anglicized) in Roman-occupied land, is the Author of all of creation. He has no political or military might. Though as Author of the very Story he entered into, he could have written himself a great magical sword to vanquish his enemies, or perhaps just an army of angels would have been equally good and powerful, he instead writes himself into a family where his parents are so poor that he has to be born in a stable. (He did, I will note, write himself into his story with several fishermen for friends. But that’s subject for another column.)
And throughout his 33-year life as a character in his story, this Author consistently says “no” to the sword; at every moment when he is given an opportunity to claim power and human authority (or Author-ity), he instead chooses what in human terms is weakness and submission.
And in doing so, he changes the world more dramatically than any magical sword or host of armies ever would. It’s a lesson we all could learn from.
Mark A. Nelson of Bristol
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