Imagination, not dialectic, rules the world.
— Russell Kirk
Yesterday was one of those days. You know the ones I’m talking about, right? The ones where you feel like a bad human being — because you are. Where you grouch and grump, and no one can make you happy. Where you stop before you start because you know you’ll lose your patience if you try. Where you can’t seem to talk (or discipline) yourself into behaving as you know you ought. What can I say? I think there might be a wrong side of the bed after all.
I read my Bible, but it seemed like nothing could get into my hardened heart.
I apologized to my children.
It was just a no good, very bad day. Today is a Good Day and so, in retrospect, it all seems so silly. Why exactly was I short-tempered and completely unbearable to be around?
To be honest, I have no idea. Try as I might, I can’t come up with an excuse, and I venture to say that this is because there isn’t one.
When we finally got a chance to sit down, at the very end of the day, we read. We read Nicholas Nickelby, just one chapter, and I felt like an even worse human being than before. I woke up in a funk, for no particular reason that I can think of, and at the end of the day I tortured myself by reading about Miss Nickelby, who will suffer all pains and insults with gratitude, comforting herself that her dear brother is doing well — who will work for her bread, even though she is not accustomed to it, that her mother might be secure.
Who will sacrifice herself with grace and dignity.
She is something like a martyr, only even more endearing because she is willing to live through day after day of sacrifice.
I could have read my Bible for hours, but it was Kate Nickelby who made me want to repent.
Lest you think I’m diminishing my belief in sola scriptura, I assure you that I’m not. But perhaps God gave Story an open door into our hearts?
I know I quote Kirk all the time in this regard, and perhaps it’s getting tiresome, but is it not a powerful thought, what he said about Pilgrim’s Progress?
Being brought up on Bunyan was some protection against being swallowed by Hobbes’ Leviathan.
Think about that! A story written in a humble prison protected the soul from a horrendous but highly intellectual piece of political philosophy!
Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever things are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things.
How is that for a lifelong curriculum? Think on these things! Think on the things that are true and honest and just and pure and lovely and virtuous. Think on the things that are worth thinking about.
What is interesting about the mind is that we don’t usually think about abstract ideas; we think about incarnations. We don’t think about the idea of a hero. We think about heroes. We require a narrative. We can’t meditate on the idea of good manners as long as we can ponder a story — or a person — in which (or by whom) they were embodied. I can try to think of what it is like to be a good mother, or I can think about Caroline Ingalls and Marmee. I can say that the greatest love is when one lays down his life for his friend, but it really hits home when I read the story of the Crucifixion, or Yonge’s Book of Golden Deeds.
A story works its way into our souls, and suddenly, for a moment at least, we want to be better people. It is almost as if, briefly, we remember what God created Man to be, and instead of being crushed by how very far we’ve fallen, we see a hope of greatness. Perhaps, by God’s grace, some of us really can follow in Christ’s steps, and do the things that are pure and honest and lovely — do the things worth thinking about.
I think this is why Longfellow, in his poem about Florence Nightingale, wrote:
Whene’er a noble deed is wrought,
Whene’er is spoken a noble thought,
Our hearts, in glad surprise,
To higher levels rise.
Is this not true? Do not our own hearts swell when we read of a good deed done and a noble life lived?
Longfellow goes on:
The tidal wave of deeper souls
Into our inmost being rolls,
And lifts us unawares
Out of all meaner cares.
We read about people better than ourselves, and we forget our own petty troubles, at least momentarily.
I wish I could write stories like that. Maybe someday I will. But for now I recognize that in good stories, God has allowed us a powerful lever, lifting our hearts out of the mire. This is why He tells us to think on these things. If we choose good books, the fruit is there for the taking.
And with Longfellow we might pray:
Honor to those whose words or deeds
Thus help us in our daily needs,
And by their overflow
Raise us from what is low!
I needed raising yesterday. Did you?
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