An image and two lessons, with some recommended works at the end
I read George MacDonald’s The Princess and the Goblin last week, and came across this passage. Irene, the princess of the title, is with her grandmother (who is also rather like her fairy godmother), after saving a friend and being accused of lying to him. She is tired, dirty, and upset. So her grandmother picks her up:
“Irene wondered what she was going to do with her, but asked no questions—only starting a little when she found that she was going to lay her in the large silver bath; for as she looked into it, again she saw no bottom, but the stars shining miles away as it seemed in a great blue gulf. Her hands closed involuntarily on the beautiful arms that held her, and that was all. The lady pressed her once more to her bosom, saying— “Do not be afraid, my child.” “No, grandmother,” answered the princess, with a little gasp; and the next instant she sank in the clear cool water.
“When she opened her eyes, she saw nothing but a strange lovely blue over and beneath and all about her. The lady and the beautiful room had vanished from her sight, and she seemed utterly alone. But instead of being afraid, she felt more than happy—perfectly blissful. And from somewhere came the voice of the lady, singing a strange sweet song, of which she could distinguish every word; but of the sense she had only a feeling—no understanding.” *
Earlier this week, I had an MRI for the first time (no worries, everything fine, it was a screening for a genetic thing). I knew that I was either going to be totally fine (spoiler, I was), or panic, and also knew that the first few minutes would be the ones where I hovered on the precipice between the two. None of that is important, or even my point, but I wanted to set the scene.
I have learned to manage my anxiety relatively well, but this time I was surprised by how my mind managed it: any time I started to tip over the edge between “relaxed” and “get me out,” this image arose. I could close my eyes and imagine that I had been plunged into a bath with ‘Nothing but a strange lovely blue over and beneath and all about” me, imagine the “stars shining miles away.” And then I crossed the hump and spent the rest of the time bored and daydreaming.
Lying there in the machine, I started to think again about the power of enlivened story and song. I’ve read all the essays, by Tolkien and Lewis and Chesterton, and not only believe them but am trying to live their theories out in my own writing and research. But still, I was amazed that just two paragraphs made a difference for me in the way a few hours could progress.
This lesson was driven home for me even further during the next few days as I worked through a surprise attack of depression (or depression-like symptoms, if you want to be accurate, as it can’t be labeled as such unless occurring for two successive weeks and I’m better already, thank God). Almost unintentionally, I stumbled into a course of story and song that helped to lift me out of the mire enough to recall and take again to heart the truth I need always and always to remember: “As the rain and the snow fall / Down from the sky / and they don’t return but they water the art and they bring forth life/ . . . / so shall the word of the Lord be with a sound like thunder / and it will not return, it will not return void.”*
They are words and stories and melodies that are life-giving, encouraging, art that lantern-like lights up the darkening edges of my overwhelming emotions; they’re the dirt I can mix with the living water to make concrete and find a place to stand again. They remind me who I am, and of what I’m doing, and of where I’m going. They tell me I’m not alone.
In case this could help someone else, and to give credit to the little collection of artists who did (and do) help me stay grounded and above water, here is my current course of remedy:
It started with articles on rabbitroom.com, especially this one by Helena Sorensen on Eden, and a couple of their podcasts, especially episodes 35 and 36. Sometimes just reading (or hearing) lovely words is enough to remind me that I’m not thinking or feeling in a vacuum of space, alone in my experiences.
That led to buying Sorensen’s book Seeker for my Kindle, and grabbing Shiloh (currently free) while I was at it. I’ve been reading Seeker slowly; it’s a book that wants to be savored and pondered.
Andrew Peterson’s album The Burning Edge of Dawn makes me cry pretty much every time I listen to it. “The Rain Keeps Falling,” “Be Kind to Yourself,” and “Sower’s Song” have been especially helpful. I also bought the first book of his Wingfeather Saga, On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness, and Amazon even helped me out by delivering it a day early, a nice little surprise on my doorstep.
J. Alexander Wootton’s Her Unwelcome Inheritance. I bought the Kindle book and, halfway through, already know I’ll be buying the paper copy someday when I have money (ha).
Reviews on all the books will come when I’ve finished them.
These could be supplemented with any number of others that have and still do help me, and have challenged and inspired me, including, of course, the works of Lewis, Tolkien, Chesterton, and MacDonald. Perhaps in a later post (or posts!) I’ll discuss some of these other works.
And finally, losing myself in my own created world has helped. Sometimes it doesn’t; sometimes the words are leaden and the characters flop like ragdolls and then I have to put it away and focus on reading and listening. This time, though, it’s been helpful.
- MacDonald, George. The Complete Works of George MacDonald (Illustrated Edition): The Princess and the Goblin, Phantastes, At the Back of the North Wind, Lilith, England’s … Princess, The Golden Key and many more (Kindle Locations 1797-1798). Musaicum Books. Kindle Edition.
- “The Sower’s Song,” On the Burning Edge of Dawn, by Andrew Peterson and Ben Shive, 2015.