The meaning of the fairy tale

I wanted to add some notes about my final dream / short story fairy tale I spoke about in my last post. I read it and realized that nobody would be able to understand how it defined my life.

The grandmother represents the Christian church I grew up in similar to how C.S. Lewis describes the allegorical character of Mother Kirk in his book Pilgrim’s Regress. This was a complete coincidence (or was it??) – I read Pilgrim’s Regress years later. The church told the stories (the Bible) about God (the princess), but only managed to put within me the desire. They were simply the messenger, and the stories were only stories, testimonies of something or someone beautiful and real.

Even after I came to believe in God, it was hard figuring out what to do with Him amidst the pulls of the world and culture around me. I was drawn to all the different kinds of pursuits a young, shy, and intellectual guy could find to do. I dove headfirst into the arts – drawing and painting, and literature: SF, the classics, and then spiritual books – mostly C.S Lewis and crowd (the Inklings), the sciences (astronomy and physics), and creative writing. Each new area I encountered, I would engorge myself on it. For instance, when I first got into fantasy and SF – I would read 2-3 200+ page books a week.

Each pursuit had something exciting about it, some mysterious quality that attracted me to it. But the closer I got to it, the more its mystery and exciting qualities seemed to wane. Eventually they would all settle into the role of comfortable pastimes rather than passionate pursuits. So I would jump and engorge myself on the next thing.

I finally reached a point where I felt I had thoroughly investigated all pursuits that interested me. Writing, reading fantasy and SF literature, apologetic and spiritual literature, science and theoretical physics, a great web design career, a nice car, and a great apartment. The only thing I was missing from my experiences that I longed to have was a romantic relationship. I never had a serious relationship with anyone, never had a girlfriend, never had any sexual experiences with anyone, ever, and now I was 23 years old (this was 8 years ago). This thought dawned on me that night as I paced around my apartment:

When you do find a romantic relationship, guess what’s going to happen? It will be fun for a while, but in the end, it won’t be what you’re looking for either…

I knew this was true as soon as I thought it. I became frustrated… everything… everything was a picture; a pointer!! What was the thing they were all pointing to?? Why were none of these things fulfilling? Why did they never satisfy? Why could I never devote myself to them fully without waking up one day and find that they had become just another pastime?! What the hell can I do with my life when my passion dies with every pursuit? Where can I find passionate fulfillment in what I do? A whole lifetime of the mundane was stretching out before me – writing great stories, being a great designer, being a great father and husband, being a great Christian teacher and writer, and with reason and logic honed to a fine art, to understand the heart of God and the nature of the universe. They were all exciting when I first found them, but they all had become only mild interests, and so I hated them all. God spoke to me then, in that moment. She called out to me within my heart.

Come, stay with me. Who knows what life will bring our way, but let’s live it together, forever.

That is where the source of joy and mystery is, the one that never dies but is reborn every morning, every day, every year, every decade that passes between now and the final days of my life. As long as God and I are close, my other passions come to life. Without Her, they all loose their mystery and the essence that made them beautiful to me in the first place. If I drift too far away from God, all reality becomes desaturated and fades into the shadows. The forests loose their wonder, the sunsets their beauty, the smell of the breeze in the evening stops catching my heart. Desire and dreams slowly fade into the darkness of memories without emotion or life.

    8 Responses to “The meaning of the fairy tale”

    1. Elise

      Wow…..I just read the past three posts one after another and I’m still processing it all. 🙂

      I completely agree with your second to lat paragraph about the source of the joy and mystery – I too feel more passionate about everything else when I’m close to God, a passion that dissipates when we get further away. I am totally confused by this phenomenon and it has been especially frustrating me in the past year or so, because I can’t explain it based on a scientific worldview, but it is there nonetheless. It is validating and enlightening to read of your similar feelings/thoughts.

      I agree with what John said a couple of posts back, it sounds like you were raised in an incredible environment that fostered real thinking and learning. I’m fascinated! Thanks for sharing your story.

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    2. Asara

      Thank you for sharing this. It’s got me thinking.

      I used to have a similar belief: that being close to God allowed the rest of my life to have meaning. Then I started to wonder if I had the cause-effect relationship right. What if that sense of meaning had a different source (perhaps simply natural, unexplainable mood shifts), a source that also allowed me to feel that I was close to God? Was I simply defining having a sense of meaning as being close to God because I had been taught to associate all goodness with God? Or was I really doing something that improved my relationship with God and thus spawned that sense of meaning? Or what if that mood shift also gave me the energy and desire to make the effort to seek God, but if I had not done so, it would not have effected the mood shift or consequently the sense of meaning?

      When I looked back and reflected on the times that I had been making a concerted effort to be close to God (praying and reading scriptures, attending church, performing service for others, strictly obeying His commandments, and trying to remain always attentive to His presence), I realized that these times did not always coincide with having that sense of meaning. Conversely, I have felt that sense of meaning without feeling close to God. Thus, for me, I no longer accept as true this premise.

      I’m glad, though, that you have found a way to maintain that joy and mystery and passion for life.

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    3. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Elise – yes, I was raised in an incredible environment! It was in many ways a utopia for the spiritual intellectual. After I left home, I had a lot of trouble relating with other Christians who didn’t question their faith, and got in BIG trouble with atheists, who were horrified by what I believed while I was horrified by what they believed 🙂 It all worked out in the end, though… I really love those guys (and girls).

      Asara – I really like where you are going here! Your question is a great one and should be asked – where is the source that gives meaning to a pursuit in life? When we feel meaning, where do those emotions come from? Mood shifts? A bad breakfast? An associated memory that is emotionally charged? Something chemical? Something spiritual? I have noticed that when something bad or good happens to me, my whole outlook towards external events afterwards becomes biased towards pessimism and hopelessness, or towards a more positive outlook and hope. What’s the difference? Not the external events, but my mental state of mind. Maybe it’s not so obvious – maybe my state is shifted by something I have no clue about, like something subconscious. I am moved to tears one day by something, and then the next day, the same thing has no effect whatsoever. My wife tells me that her hormones during pregnancy drastically effect her emotional reactions to things, like crying about a silly TV commercial. I also find that the feelings I have when I experience God are similar to the feelings I have when being with good friends, or when I come home to visit my family. I also noticed that I have the same feeling in my stomach when I am in intense pleasure or intense pain. The difference seems to be the context of the feelings.

      Relying entirely on emotions and emotional experiences for the foundation of one’s spiritual life is definitely a dangerous road to go down. For the passionate spiritual person, a very bad fall is waiting in their future. It’s a fun ride at first, but one day, the feelings won’t come. One day, they will reach out to God to pray, and they will feel nothing. Maybe they will feel nothing for weeks, or months, or years. One day, two people who loved each other so passionately now find themselves without emotions for each other at all. What happened? Was it God or was it me? Was it the one I love, or is it me? Was it external circumstances that led to this loss of emotion, or was it something within me that changed?

      Romantic love starts out fiery and wild, filled with passion and unspeakable joy. It never lasts though. One day you wake up, and the reality of the person you fell in love with begins to dawn on you. Something then comes to take its place, if you allow it. True love. True love is an act of the will, based on the decision to give yourself unconditionally to the one you love, even when the feelings come or don’t come, even when the passion has cooled or when it is in full blast, even when they don’t return the same love to you. You love because it is right, not because you feel like doing it. With true love guiding all action, the relationship lasts, and feelings can come and go as they please – it doesn’t matter how they come or go so much anymore. Romantic love was a pointer to the higher thing – it is true love that lasts forever.

      And so I believe the spiritual life is the same. Feelings and emotions are a part of it, but they cannot be solely relied upon. There must be something more. What is it that makes true love right to do regardless of emotions? What is its equivalent in the spiritual life that drives me on regardless of how I feel?

      Sorry – these are random thoughts about your questions – but I am beginning to go down a new road here. I think I will post about that next.

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    4. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Oh.. i forgot the most important point! When determining if a spiritual experience is indeed genuine, it is in the recognition of the speaker (God), and not at all in the feelings that the message triggers. Recognition of who is speaking to your heart is the absolute key. Sound weird? Take my earlier post’s example – Listening to my wife talk about the same thing to me in the same way one day will elicit different feelings than if said on a different day or in a different context. How do I know who is speaking to me? Not by my emotions! I know it is my wife speaking to me because I recognize her from a visual, audible, and some indescribable spiritual, standpoint. And so it is with God. 🙂

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    5. Asara

      There are important differences between recognizing your wife as your wife even though interaction with her elicits different emotions in you at different times, and recognizing God as God. For one, outsiders can always agree that your wife is your wife in each case. This is not so with regards to interaction with God.

      If one day you thought you were talking to your wife and an outsider told you that you were actually talking to yourself, wouldn’t you then question your belief that your wife was in fact there? If everyone else you asked told you that your wife was not there when you thought she was, including people you knew well and trusted, what would you believe? To you, the visual, audible, and spiritual recognition was there. Does one trust one’s own senses even when they are not in agreement with what others perceive?

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    6. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      You have a great point… Is who I recognize as God, can He/She be recognized by others I respect and trust? In the case of those that recognize my wife and who I trust, if they told me I was not talking to my wife and all, but hallucinating, I would begin to wonder if I were sane. But let’s just say that I wasn’t hallucinating, but talking to a real person who I thought was my wife, but was actually another person. My friends would again tell me that I was mistaken – that the person I was talking to was not my wife. I would begin to wonder about my sanity again, and then wonder about who it is that truly recognizes my wife. If it isn’t me, who or what is it that has the final say on true recognition?!

      If we were judging recognition purely on visual or audible traits, I immediately think of SF scenarios where people can be cloned and have identical DNA. If this were possible today, how could I ever know the difference between clones, or even today, identical twins? I guess it would be memories that only my wife and I shared that would prove she was my wife and a clone of her was not. However, memories seem to be something that in the SF world could be duplicated. If this were the case, how could I tell the difference between my wife and a clone with duplicated memories? Is the essence of a person solely composed of their memories and their physical attributes? I would say not. There seems to be another dimension to people that I can only refer to as being ‘spiritual’, and this is a person’s truest signature and the most essential part of others recognizing someone.

      I’ve been to many funerals. This seems to be a place where everyone there seems to talk about one person. When my grandfather died, he had 2 funerals, with more than 200 people at both. As a kid, I would walk around the room and listen to conversations people had with each other about him. I had many other conversations with others myself. It wasn’t too hard to see that many of the detailed conversations about him were not physical, but were about his personality, his dreams, goals, behaviors, etc. In some spiritual sense, you could tell that they were all talking about the same person just based on their discussion of him – all these hundreds of stories seem to paint a similar picture about the nature of this one man. It wasn’t so much the details of the stories, such as names and places and events, but more about how my grandfather responded and behaved and thought. These weren’t people recalling memories that my grandfather told them, they were memories they had experienced with him. Their stories rang true with my experiences with him.

      I could very well be wrong about this, but there seems to be a recognition on a spiritual level of people, and I guess that is how a shared consistent recognition of God is possible. Spiritual ‘sight’ or ‘hearing’ or recognition seems to be another sense, like tasting or touching or seeing. God seems to speak on a spiritual level to people, and when I talk to others about God, I believe we are talking about the same person because our experiences with Him match up – when they talk about Him, I will recognize if it is Him they are talking about or someone else. This is not because of our shared knowledge of the Bible either, which isn’t always specific about such things, but rather a shared experience of a spiritual encounter. You can tell when someone is talking from book knowledge rather than experiential knowledge. One knowledge is dead, the other is alive.

      So anyway… a great question. Thats my best guess on it. 🙂

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    7. Asara

      Jonathan, thank you for being willing to address my questions. For me, I cannot so easily conclude that the interactions, experiences, beliefs of all people (or even all people I trust and respect) in relation to the “divine” or “spiritual” point toward one existent person.

      Your mention of SF is interesting. I’m wondering, though, if there is in fact a spiritual dimension that is used in recognition, could this be duplicated as well? That is just a random thought. I’m not really expecting an answer.

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    8. Jonathan
      Author Comment

      Thank you for asking them! I really enjoy challenging questions to keep me thinking. The dialog helps me understand things better. Yea – I don’t blame you for not agreeing – this is wild stuff, and it has taken me nearly 2 decades of thinking and observation to reach some of these conclusions, which of course, I don’t hold with 100% certainty anyway. They are just my best guess 🙂 But I’m always striving for more certainty.

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